Front Door to Cuba

1961

Front Door to Cuba

INVASION at Bay of Pigs

"Events are the ephemera of history."
Fernand Braudel

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The Plan

Vice President Richard Nixon was devoted to the idea of opposing Castro as early as April 1959, when Castro visited the U.S. as a guest of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "If he's not a communist," said Nixon, "he certainly acts like one." On March 17 1960, President Eisenhower approved a CIA plan titled "A Program of Covert Action against the Castro Regime."

The plan included: 1) the creation of a responsible and unified Cuban opposition to the Castro regime located outside of Cuba, 2) the development of a means for mass communication to the Cuban people as part of a powerful propaganda offensive, 3) the creation and development of a covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba which would respond to the orders and directions of the exile opposition, and 4) the development of a paramilitary force outside of Cuba for future guerrilla action. These goals were to be achieved "in such a manner as to avoid the appearance of U.S. intervention."

Official diplomatic relations were broken on January 1961, nine months after the plan was approved.

The operation came to life when Eisenhower approved an initial budget of $4,400,000. The budget included $950,000 for political action; $1,700,000 for propaganda; $1,500,000 for paramilitary; and $250,000 for intelligence collection. The actual invasion, a year later, would cost U.S. taxpayers over $46 million.

In a meeting at the White House on January 3 1961, described by Richard Bissell, CIA Director of Plans, in his book Memoirs of a Cold Warrior: from Yalta to Bay of Pigs, Eisenhower "seemed to be eager to take forceful action against Castro, and breaking off diplomatic relations appeared to be his best card. He noted that he was prepared to 'move against Castro' before Kennedy's inauguration on the twentieth if a 'really good excuse' was provided by Castro. 'Failing that,' he said, 'perhaps we could think of manufacturing something that would be generally acceptable.' …This is but another example of his willingness to use covert action-specifically to fabricate events-to achieve his objectives in foreign policy."

By the time Kennedy took office in January 1961, he had already made serious commitments to the Cuban exiles, promising to oppose communism at every opportunity, and supporting the overthrow of Castro. During the campaign, Kennedy had repeatedly accused Eisenhower of not doing enough about Castro.

Eisenhower, Kennedy and other high ranking U.S. officials continually denied any plans to attack Cuba, but as early as October 31 1960, Cuban Foreign Minister Raúl Roa, in a session at the U.N. General Assembly, was able to provide details on the recruitment and training of the Cuban exiles, whom he referred to as mercenaries and counterrevolutionaries. [The CIA recruits were paid $400 a month to train, with an additional allotment of $175 for their wives and more for their children.]

The original plan called for a daytime landing at Trinidad, a city on the southern coast of Cuba near the Escambray Mountains, but Kennedy thought the plan exposed the role of the United States too openly, and suggested a nighttime landing at Bay of Pigs, which offered a suitable air-strip on the beach from which bombing raids could be operated. Once the bay was secured, the provisional Cuban government-in-arms set up by the CIA would be landed and immediately recognized by the U.S. as the island's legitimate government. This new government would formally request military support and a new "intervention" would take place.

Bissell wrote: "it is hard to believe in retrospect that the president and his advisers felt the plans for a large-scale, complicated military operation that had been ongoing for more than a year could be reworked in four days and still offer a high likelihood of success. It is equally amazing that we in the agency agreed so readily."

A nighttime amphibious landing (which, according to Bissell had only been accomplished successfully once in WWII) diminished the possibility that a mass uprising would be able to join the invading forces. In addition, the new location made it practically impossible to retreat into the Escambray Mountains.

The plan, however, seemed to breed what Néstor T. Carbonell describes in the book, And the Russians Stayed: the Sovietization of Cuba, as infectious optimism. "Castro's fledgling air force was to be destroyed prior to the invasion," he writes. "Enemy troops, trucks, and tanks would not be able to reach the brigade; they would be blasted from the air. To allay any fears of a Castro counteroffensive, the CIA briefer asserted that 'an umbrella' above would at all times guard the entire operation against any Castro fighter planes that might remain operational."

Once Kennedy became aware of the plan, opposition to the invasion was subtly discouraged. Various memos and notes kept from meetings prior to the invasion warned of potential problems and legal ramifications. At a meeting on January 28 the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke strongly against invasion on the grounds that Castro's forces were already too strong. At the same meeting, the Secretary of Defense estimated that all the covert measures planned against Castro, including propaganda, sabotage, political action and the planned invasion, would not produce "the agreed national goal of overthrowing Castro."

On March 29 Senator Fulbright gave Kennedy a memo stating that "to give this activity even covert support is of a piece with the hypocrisy and cynicism for which the United States is constantly denouncing the Soviet Union in the United Nations and elsewhere. This point will not be lost on the rest of the world-nor on our own consciences."

A three-page memo from Under Secretary of State Chester A. Bowles to Secretary of State Dean Rusk on March 31 (Foreign Relations of the United States, Cuba, 1961-1963, Doc. No. 75, page 178) argued strongly against the invasion, citing moral and legal grounds. By supporting this operation, he wrote, "we would be deliberately violating the fundamental obligations we assumed in the Act of Bogota establishing the Organization of American States."

At a meeting on April 4 in a small conference room at the State Department, Senator Fulbright verbally opposed the plan, as described by Arthur Schlesinger in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Thousand Days: "Fulbright, speaking in an emphatic and incredulous way, denounced the whole idea. The operation, he said, was wildly out of proportion to the threat. It would compromise our moral position in the world and make it impossible for us to protest treaty violations by the Communists. He gave a brave, old-fashioned American speech, honorable, sensible and strong; and he left everyone in the room, except me and perhaps the President, wholly unmoved."

Five days before D-Day, at a press conference on April 12, Kennedy was asked how far the U.S. would go to help an uprising against Castro. "First," he answered, "I want to say that there will not be, under any conditions, an intervention in Cuba by the United States Armed Forces. This government will do everything it possibly can… I think it can meet its responsibilities, to make sure that there are no Americans involved in any actions inside Cuba… The basic issue in Cuba is not one between the United States and Cuba. It is between the Cubans themselves."

"One further factor no doubt influenced him," wrote Schlesinger, "the enormous confidence in his own luck. Everything had broken right for him since 1956. He had won the nomination and the election against all the odds in the book. Everyone around him thought he had the Midas touch and could not lose. Despite himself, even this dispassionate and skeptical man may have been affected by the soaring euphoria of the new day."

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