Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro

After seizing power in Cuba on 1 January 1959, Fidel Castro quickly became America’s closest enemy. He gradually introduced a Communist system on the island, just ninety miles from the United States, nationalizing business and heavily repressing opposition.

Thousands fled to Florida and these anti-Castro Cubans became the main source of opposition to his rule within the United States. Right-wingers, including businessmen who had had property nationalized, also became vocal opponents as Cuba increasingly became friendly with the Soviet Union, culminating in the decision to put nuclear missiles on the island.

The U.S. government pursued a number of plans to unseat Castro, most notably the Bay of Pigs invasion on 17 April 1961. The plan was initiated by the CIA under President Eisenhower, but it was his successor, John F. Kennedy, who approved it.


A group of 1,500 exiles landed on Cuba, but the Cuban army quickly defeated them—Kennedy had refused to authorize U.S. air support and the Cubans were expecting the invasion as the exiles’ training had been widely reported in the press.

The failed invasion led to criticism of Kennedy from conservatives and renewed pressure within the administration to get rid of Castro. The president’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, took charge of a new campaign to destabilize and/or assassinate the Cuban leader.

Operation Mongoose was launched in late 1961 and was a CIA-run plan to destabilize the Cuban economy through acts of sabotage. There were also attempts at assassinating Castro and suggestions of bizarre schemes such as poisoning Castro to make his famous beard fall out.

Cuban army after bay of pigs invasion
Cuban army after bay of pigs invasion

In 1962, the pressure against Cuba came to a head with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union over Cuba led to a U.S. pledge of noninvasion that ultimately strengthened Castro’s position.

However, the director of the CIA, Richard Helms, later told the Church Commission in 1975 that the CIA had continued to plot against Castro until 1965. It was unclear whether or not Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson, his successor, knew about these plans as Helms stated that he had acted on presidential hints and felt no need to go into detail with them.

The CIA and other parts of the intelligence community have also been accused of involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy, partly because of his perceived failings over Cuba. The lack of air support for the Bay of Pigs invasion and the non-invasion pledge following the Cuban Missile Crisis were seen as having provoked them into orchestrating the assassination. Similarly, anti-Castro Cubans, including some then under training for a future invasion, provided a possible source of manpower to carry out any plan.

This, however, largely remains a source of speculation and, indeed, Castro himself was widely seen as a probable sponsor of the assassination in the years immediately after it. The idea has lost credence, though, as Castro was seemingly on the path to better relations with Kennedy and it is unlikely that he would have preferred the more stringently anticommunist Johnson as president.