The Bay Of Pigs

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The Bay of Pigs

The Bay of Pigs Invasion.

The story of the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs is one of
mismanagement, overconfidence, and lack of security. The blame for the
failure of the operation falls directly in the lap of the Central
Intelligence Agency and a young president and his advisors. The fall out
from the invasion caused a rise in tension between the two great
superpowers and ironically 34 years after the event, the person that the
invasion meant to topple, Fidel Castro, is still in power. To understand
the origins of the invasion and its ramifications for the future it is
first necessary to look at the invasion and its origins.

Part I: The Invasion and its Origins.

The Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961, started a few days before on
April 15th with the bombing of Cuba by what appeared to be defecting Cuban
air force pilots. At 6 a.m. in the morning of that Saturday, three Cuban
military bases were bombed by B-26 bombers. The airfields at Camp Libertad,
San Antonio de los Baos and Antonio Maceo airport at Santiago de Cuba were
fired upon. Seven people were killed at Libertad and forty-seven people
were killed at other sites on the island.
Two of the B-26s left Cuba and flew to Miami, apparently to defect to
the United States. The Cuban Revolutionary Council, the government in exile,
in New York City released a statement saying that the bombings in Cuba were
". . . carried out by 'Cubans inside Cuba' who were 'in contact with' the
top command of the Revolutionary Council . . . ." The New York Times
reporter covering the story alluded to something being wrong with the whole
situation when he wondered how the council knew the pilots were coming if
the pilots had only decided to leave Cuba on Thursday after " . . . a
suspected betrayal by a fellow pilot had precipitated a plot to strike . . .
." Whatever the case, the planes came down in Miami later that morning, one
landed at Key West Naval Air Station at 7:00 a.m. and the other at Miami
International Airport at 8:20 a.m. Both planes were badly damaged and their
tanks were nearly empty. On the front page of The New York Times the next
day, a picture of one of the B-26s was shown along with a picture of one of
the pilots cloaked in a baseball hat and hiding behind dark sunglasses, his
name was withheld. A sense of conspiracy was even at this early stage
beginning to envelope the events of that week.
In the early hours of April 17th the assault on the Bay of Pigs began.
In the true cloak and dagger spirit of a movie, the assault began at 2 a.m.
with a team of frogmen going ashore with orders to set up landing lights to
indicate to the main assault force the precise location of their objectives,
as well as to clear the area of anything that may impede the main landing
teams when they arrived. At 2:30 a.m. and at 3:00 a.m. two battalions came
ashore at Playa Gir›n and one battalion at Playa Larga beaches. The troops
at Playa Gir›n had orders to move west, northwest, up the coast and meet
with the troops at Playa Larga in the middle of the bay. A small group of
men were then to be sent north to the town of Jaguey Grande to secure it as
When looking at a modern map of Cuba it is obvious that the troops
would have problems in the area that was chosen for them to land at. The
area around the Bay of Pigs is a swampy marsh land area which would be hard
on the troops. The Cuban forces were quick to react and Castro ordered his
T-33 trainer jets, two Sea Furies, and two B-26s into the air to stop the
invading forces. Off the coast was the command and control ship and another
vessel carrying supplies for the invading forces. The Cuban air force made
quick work of the supply ships, sinking the command vessel the Marsopa and
the supply ship the Houston, blasting them to pieces with five-inch rockets.
In the end the 5th battalion was lost, which was on the Houston, as well as
the supplies for the landing teams and eight other smaller vessels. With
some of the invading forces' ships destroyed, and no command and control
ship, the logistics of the operation soon broke down as the other supply
ships were kept at bay by Casto's air force. As with many failed military
adventures, one of the problems with this one was with supplying the troops.

In the air, Castro had easily won superiority over the invading force.
His fast moving T-33s, although unimpressive by today's standards, made
short work of the slow moving B-26s of the invading force. On Tuesday, two
were shot out of the sky and by Wednesday the invaders had lost 10 of their
12 aircraft. With air power firmly in control of Castro's forces, the end
was near for the invading army.
Over the 72 hours the invading force of about 1500 men were pounded by
the Cubans. Casto fired 122mm. Howitzers, 22mm. cannon, and tank fire at
them. By Wednesday the invaders were pushed back to their landing zone at
Playa Gir›n. Surrounded by Castro's forces some began to surrender while
others fled into the hills. In total 114 men were killed in the slaughter
while thirty-six died as prisoners in Cuban cells. Others were to live out
twenty years or more in those cells as men plotting to topple the
government of Castro.
The 1500 men of the invading force never had a chance for success from
almost the first days in the planning stage of the operation. Operation
Pluto, as it came to be known as, has its origins in the last dying days of
the Eisenhower administration and that murky time period during the
transition of power to the newly elected president John F. Kennedy.
The origins of American policy in Latin America in the late 1950s and
early 1960s has its origins in American's economic interests and its
anticommunist policies in the region. The same man who had helped formulate
American containment policy towards the Soviet threat, George Kennan, in
1950 spoke to US Chiefs of Mission in Rio de Janeiro about Latin America.
He said that American policy had several purposes in the region,

. . . to protect the vital supplies of raw materials
which Latin American countries export to the USA; to
prevent the 'military exploitation of Latin America by
the enemy' [The Soviet Union]; and to avert 'the
psychological mobilization of Latin America against us.'
. . . .

By the 1950s trade with Latin America accounted for a quarter of
American exports, and 80 per cent of the investment in Latin America was
also American. The Americans had a vested interest in the region that it
would remain pro-American.
The Guatemalan adventure can be seen as another of the factors that
lead the American government to believe that it could handle Casto. Before
the Second World War ended, a coup in Guatemala saw the rise to power of
Juan Jose Ar,valo. He was not a communist in the traditional sense of the
term, but he ". . . packed his government with Communist Party members and
Communist sympathizers." In 1951 Jacobo Arbenz succeeded Ar,valo after an
election in March of that year. The party had been progressing with a
series of reforms, and the newly elected leader continued with these
reforms. During land reforms a major American company, the United Fruit
Company, lost its land and other holdings without any compensation from the
Guatemalan government. When the Guatemalans refused to go to the
International Court of Law, United Fruit began to lobby the government of
the United States to take action. In the government they had some very
powerful supporters. Among them were Foster Dulles, Secretary of State who
had once been their lawyer, his brother Allen the Director of Central
Intelligence who was a share holder, and Robert Cutler head of the National
Security Council. In what was a clear conflict of interest, the security
apparatus of the United States decided to take action against the
From May 1st, 1954, to June 18th, the Central Intelligence Agency did
everything in its power to overthrow the government of Arbenz. On June 17th
to the 18th, it peaked with an invasion of 450 men lead by a Colonel Carlos
Castillo Armas. With the help of air support the men took control of the
country and Arbenz fled to the Mexican Embassy. By June 27th, the country
was firmly in control of the invading force. With its success in Guatemala,
CIA had the confidence that it could now take on anyone who interfered with
American interests.
In late 1958 Castro was still fighting a guerilla war against the
corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista. Before he came to power, there was an
incident between his troops and some vacationing American troops from the
nearby American naval base at Guantanamo Bay. During the incident some US
Marines were held captive by Casto's forces but were later released after a
ransom was secretly paid. This episode soured relations with the United
States and the chief of U.S. Naval Operations, Admiral Burke, wanted to
send in the Marines to destroy Castro's forces then but Secretary of State
Foster Dulles disagreed with the measures suggested and stopped the plan.
Castro overthrew Batista in 1959. Originally Castro was not a
communist either and even had meetings with then Vice-President Richard
Nixon. Fearful of Castro's revolution, people with money, like doctors,
lawyers, and the mafia, left Cuba for the United States. To prevent the
loss of more capital Castro's solution was to nationalize some of the
businesses in Cuba. In the process of nationalizing some business he came
into conflict with American interests just as Arbenz had in Guatemala. ". .
. legitimate U.S. Businesses were taken over, and the process of
socialization begun with little if any talk of compensation." There were
also rumours of Cuban involvement in trying to invade Panama, Guatemala,
and the Dominican Republic and by this time Castro had been turn down by
the United States for any economic aid. Being rejected by the Americans, he
met with foreign minister Anasta Mikoyan to secure a $100 million loan from
the Soviet Union. It was in this atmosphere that the American Intelligence
and Foreign Relations communities decided that Castro was leaning towards
communism and had to be dealt with.
In the spring of 1960, President Eisenhower approved a plan to send
small groups of American trained, Cuban exiles, to work in the underground
as guerrillas to overthrow Castro. By the fall, the plan was changed to a
full invasion with air support by exile Cubans in American supplied planes.
The original group was to be trained in Panama, but with the growth of the
operation and the quickening pace of events in Cuba, it was decided to move
things to a base in Guatemala. The plan was becoming rushed and this would
start to show, the man in charge of the operation, CIA Deputy Director
Bissell said that,

. . . There didn't seem to be time to keep to the
original plan and have a large group trained by this
initial cadre of young Cubans. So the larger group was
formed and established at La finca, in Guatemala, and
there the training was conducted entirely by Americans .
. . .

It was now fall and a new president had been elected. President
Kennedy could have stopped the invasion if he wanted to, but he probably
didn't do so for several reasons. Firstly, he had campaigned for some form
of action against Cuba and it was also the height of the cold war, to back
out now would mean having groups of Cuban exiles travelling around the
globe saying how the Americans had backed down on the Cuba issue. In
competition with the Soviet Union, backing out would make the Americans
look like wimps on the international scene, and for domestic consumption
the new president would be seen as backing away from one of his campaign
promises. The second reason Kennedy probably didn't abort the operation is
the main reason why the operation failed, problems with the CIA.

Part II: Failure and Ramifications.

The failure at the CIA led to Kennedy making poor decisions which
would affect future relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union. The failure
at CIA had three causes. First the wrong people were handling the operation,
secondly the agency in charge of the operation was also the one providing
all the intelligence for the operation, and thirdly for an organization
supposedly obsessed with security the operation had security problems.
In charge of the operation was the Director of Central Intelligence,
Allan Dulles and main responsibility for the operation was left to one of
his deputies, Richard Bissell. In an intelligence community geared mainly
for European operations against the USSR, both men were lacking in
experience in Latin American affairs. Those in charge of Operation Pluto,
based this new operation on the success of the Guatemalan adventure, but
the situatio

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