This day in history, April 17, 1961, a CIA-sponsored paramilitary group landed in Cuba and attempted to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro. The failed coup became what many have called the worst foreign-policy decision of Kennedy’s administration.
When Kennedy entered the White House in January 1961, he inherited a conflict with the leftist regime of Cuba from his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. When Kennedy assumed the presidency, he retained Eisenhower’s CIA and military advisers who helped plan a mission to overthrow Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro.
U.S. officials concluded that the Cuban leader was a threat to U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere as he moved toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union and took part in anti-American rhetoric.
At their urging, Kennedy made the final decision to send approximately 1,200 CIA-trained Cuban exiles to land at the bay on Cuba’s southern coast called the Bay of Pigs.
The attempted coup failed miserably, largely due to faulty intelligence. The landing force met with unexpectedly rapid counterattacks from Castro’s military and the tiny Cuban air force sank most of the exiles’ supply ships. The United States refrained from providing necessary air support and over 100 of the attackers were killed,while more than 1,100 were captured. Kennedy and the CIA leaders in charge of the mission believed that Cuba’s people and its military would rise up to help the exile army overthrow Castro’s government.
The CIA blamed JFK for the failed invasion, citing his failure to order prolonged offensive air strikes against Cuba’s air force while the land operation was taking place. JFK and his advisors blamed the CIA for keeping information from the president, including several analysts’ conclusions that the plan’s success was always in doubt.
For many Latin Americans, the Bay of Pigs Invasion served to reinforce the already widely held belief that the U.S. could not be trusted. The invasion is often recognized as making Castro even more popular for his stance against U.S. interference and imperialism.