Russian-supplied Cuban artillery fires on the "Bay of Pigs" invaders
It is 60 years since right wing Cuban exiles, funded and armed by the US government, attempted to invade Cuba on 17 April 1961. The invasion was a disaster and humiliation for the Americans and their Cuban puppets.
In 1959, the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, was overthrown by the guerrilla forces of Fidel Castro. Castro established a radical nationalist regime and introduced several reforms which shocked the Americans who regarded Cuba as their ‘backyard’. After Castro’s regime nationalised US oil and other interests, President Eisenhower responded with an embargo on Cuban exports. Castro needed friends and the Soviet Union stepped in to supply oil, military hardware and buy Cuba’s valuable sugar crop. Under these pressures and influences Castro began to move to the left and eventually embraced a type of Stalinist-Third-World-leftism, close to that of the Soviet Union and his comrade-in-arms Che Guevara.
The Americans, deeply enmeshed in the Cold War, were horrified that a regime aligned with the Soviet Union had established itself off the coast of Florida. Eisenhower pledged the USA to intervene militarily. Kennedy, who took in January 1961, continued the policy. It was important however that the USA was not seen to be involved.
The invasion was disguised, not very effectively, as an operation mounted by Cuban exiles from their bases in Florida. In fact, it was wholly funded and equipped by the US government, via the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who provided money (initially $13m), military hardware and training. Originally planned as a guerrilla-type operation based in the mountains, it was shifted to a more conventional beach invasion. Kennedy dithered and refused US air support.
The invasion went ahead on the morning of 17 April 1961. 1,200 combatants of "Brigade 2506" disembarked on the beaches; but many of their supplies were lost in the sea and those dropped by parachute landed in a nearby swamp. Cuban forces had been caught unawares, not expecting an attack on the western coast and the area was lightly defended. Castro rushed his forces, including tanks and artillery, to the Bay of Pigs. Heavy fighting ensued for the next few days.
Although the Cuban air force was small it proved decisive in cutting off sea-borne supplies to the invasion forces, and the "CIA air force" was ineffective. The invaders, exhausted and running out of ammunition, were pushed back to the beaches and eventually surrendered. All the surviving members of the invasion force were rounded up. Those who had served under Batista were often executed on the spot. Others received long prison sentences. In December 1962, an American lawyer, James Donovan, negotiated their release to the USA in exchange for $53m in medicine, agricultural equipment and food.
The Cuban victory at the Bay of Pigs showed that US imperialism, despite its might and technology, could be beaten. It was a lesson not lost on the Vietnamese people who in the coming years were to inflict their own resounding defeat on the US.