Bay of Pigs Invasion

Failed Bay of Pigs Invasion
Failed Bay of Pigs Invasion

Situated on the southern coast of Cuba, the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) was the location on 17 April 1961 of a failed invasion of the island by Cuban exiles hostile to the “Marxist” government of Fidel Castro, which had taken power in January 1959.

The invasion, which was orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and approved by President John F. Kennedy, was just one episode in the broader “conspiracy” to provoke confrontation with Cuba that had been initiated under Kennedy’s predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and that continued to operate, after the Bay of Pigs, through and beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Intending to raise support among the islanders and lead a coup against Castro, the invasion force instead encountered heavy resistance from the Cuban army, and was defeated within two days. Commentators disagree on the number of casualties involved, but most accounts agree that around 100 of the Cuban exiles were killed, and that around 1,200 were taken prisoner.

“Bay of Pigs” quickly became a byword for the most embarrassing incident in the history of the U.S. intelligence organizations. Indeed, in a secret memorandum by Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin that was made public in 2001, Goodwin noted a conversation with the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, who had thanked him for the “great political victory” the CIA had handed the Castro regime.

CIA plans for an invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro exiles had been under way for some time before Eisenhower suspended diplomatic relations with Castro in January 1961. By March 1960 Eisenhower had resolved to overthrow the Cuban government, and had formally endorsed a CIA plan (“A Program of Covert Action against the Castro Regime”) whose aim was to oust Castro in such a manner as to avoid the appearance of U.S. intervention.

In keeping with the objectives of the “Program of Covert Action,” the Bay of Pigs invasion was modeled on a previous coup staged by the CIA in Guatemala in 1954, where U.S.-led aggression against the left-wing President Jacobo Arbenz was presented as the work of disgruntled exiles, and where U.S. forces made extensive use of radio propaganda to mobilize local support for the coup.

Despite the acute embarrassment caused by the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. military and intelligence services followed the failed invasion with an astonishing set of covert initiatives designed to discredit Castro and provoke military confrontation with Cuba.

These initiatives, code-named Operation Northwoods, included plans to assassinate Cuban exiles, attack the U.S. Navy, and commit acts of terrorism in major U.S. cities, in order to blame the aggression on Cuba and generate support for military action against the Castro regime.

Operation Northwoods was formally endorsed by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, but was rejected by the Kennedy administration in 1962. Determined to reverse their humiliation at the Bay of Pigs, however, the Joint Chiefs of Staff continued to plot scenarios (or “pretexts”) that would justify U.S. action against Cuba.

These included plans to provoke the shooting down of U.S. spy planes over Cuban air space, the possibility of stimulating a Cuban attack on U.S. forces stationed on the island at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, and forcing other Latin American countries into armed confrontation with Castro.

The Bay of Pigs and the Assassination of JFK

The Bay of Pigs has been linked with two of the most momentous U.S. conspiracy theories of the twentieth century: the conspiracy (or multiple conspiracies) to assassinate President John F. Kennedy, and the Watergate conspiracy, which would lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Among the CIA operatives who helped plan the Bay of Pigs was E. Howard Hunt, who would later be sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for his part in the break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building.

In the early days of the Watergate investigation, Hunt’s involvement, and rumors that the break-in was staged by anti-Castro Cubans monitoring the “proCastro” stance of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, led to links being established in some conspiracy theories between the Bay of Pigs and Watergate.

More enduring links have been explored between the Bay of Pigs and the Kennedy assassination. Although Kennedy followed Eisenhower in approving plans for the invasion of Cuba, his reluctance to deploy U.S. air-power in support of the operation made him enemies in the military and the CIA, where his caution, and his desire to avoid implicating the United States in the attack, were seen as the principal factors behind the dismal failure of the mission.

One conspiracy theory about the Kennedy assassination, a version famously played out in Don DeLillo’s novel Libra and Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, suggests that Kennedy was killed by the CIA and/or by anti-Castro exiles, who were resentful of the manner in which the president had dealt with the Cuban issue during and after the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Another version views Kennedy’s assassination as a revenge-killing carried out by agents of the Castro regime in response to the attempted invasion of their island and the numerous U.S. plots to kill Castro.