In this paper I hope to prove that the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion was 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 dvisors. The result of the invasion caused a rise in tension between the two great superpowers and ironically 39 years after the event, the person that the invasion was meant get rid of, Fidel Castro, is still in power.
On April 17th 1961 the assault on the Bay of Pigs began at 2 a.m. with a team of trained Cuban exiles who went ashore to stake out the area for the main task force. At 2:30 a.m. and at 3:00 a.m. two battalions came ashore at Playa Girn and one battalion at Playa Larga beaches. The troops at Playa Girn had orders to move 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 well.
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 were the command and control ship and another vessels carrying supplies for the invading forces. The Cuban air force took out the supply ships, sinking the command vessel the Marsopa and the supply ship the Houston. 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 operation soon broke down as the other supply ships were kept at bay by Castro’s air force.
Over the 72 hours that the invasion lasted the Cubans pounded on the US backed exiles of about 1500 men. By Wednesday the invaders were pushed back to their landing zone at Playa Girn. Surrounded by Castro’s forces some began to surrender while others fled into the hills. In all 114 men were killed while thirty-six died as prisoners in Cuban cells. Many where left in the Cuban cells for over 20 years as prisoners of war.
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. The invasion was called Operation Pluto and it had originally been suggested by the Eisenhower administration yet carried over when John F. Kennedy became president. American policies having to deal with Latin America in the late 1950’s to the early 1960’s were based on America’s economic interests and its anti-communism.
In 1950 George Kennan spoke about the American policy with 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 about 25% of American exports, and 80% of the investments in Latin America was also by the United States.
In the spring of 1960, President Eisenhower approved a plan to send small groups of American trained, Cuban exiles to work on overthrowing Castro. By the fall, the plan was changed to a full invasion with air support by exiled Cubans in American supplied planes. The 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, “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 yet he didn’t. There were a few key factors in which he believed it was a good idea to go with it, one 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 traveling 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 weak on the international scene. Furthermore by 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.
The failure at the CIA led to Kennedy into 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 in itself it 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 was 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 a past Guatemalan adventure, but the situation in Cuba was much different than that in Guatemala. In Guatemala the situation was still chaotic and Arbenz, the Guatemalan president, never had the same control over the country that Castro had on Cuba. The CIA had the United States Ambassador, John Puerifoy, working on the inside of Guatemala coordinating the effort, in Cuba they had none of this while Castro was being supplied by the Soviet block. In addition, after the overthrow of the government in Guatemala, Castro was aware that this may happen to him as well and probably had his guard up waiting for anything that my indicate that an invasion was imminent.
The second problem was that the CIA was a new organization, which felt that it had to prove itself, it saw its opportunity in Cuba. Obsessed with secrecy, it kept the number of people involved to a minimum. The intelligence wing of CIA was kept out of it, their Board of National Estimates could have provided information on the situation in Cuba and the chances for an uprising against Castro once the invasion started. Also kept out of the loop were the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff who could have provided help on the military side of the adventure. In the end, the CIA kept all the information for itself and passed on to the president only what it thought he should see. Lucien S. Vandenbroucke, in Political Science Quarterly of 1984, based his analysis of the Bay of Pigs failure on organizational behavior theory. On the CIA’s behavior he concludes that, “By resorting to the typical organization strategy of defining the options and providing the information required to evaluate them, the CIA thus structured the problem in a way that maximized the likelihood the president would choose the agency’s preferred option.” The CIA made sure the deck was stacked in their favor when the time came to decide whether a project they sponsored would go through. President Kennedy’s Secretary of State at the time was Dean Rusk, in his autobiography he says that, “The CIA told us all sorts of things about the situation in Cuba and what would happen once the brigade got ashore. President Kennedy received information which simply was not correct. For example, we were told that elements of the Cuban armed forces would defect and join the brigade, that there would be popular uprisings throughout Cuba when the brigade hit the beach, and that if the exile force got into trouble, its members would simply melt into the countryside and become guerrillas, just as Castro had done.”
As for senior White House aides, most of them disagreed with the plan as well, but Rusk says that Kennedy went with what the CIA had to say. Yet he said that he “Did not serve President Kennedy very well,” because he should have told him about his concerns. He concluded that “I should have made my opposition clear in the meetings themselves because he [Kennedy] was under pressure from those who wanted to proceed.” When faced with biased information from the CIA and quiet advisors, it is no wonder that the president decided to go ahead with the operation.
For an organization that deals with security issues, the CIA’s lack of security in the Bay of Pigs operation is ironic. Security began to break down before the invasion when The New York Times reporter Tad Szulc “learned of Operation Pluto from Cuban friends” earlier that year while in Costa Rica covering an Organization of American States meeting. Another breakdown in security was at the training base in Florida, local residents near Homestead [air force base] had seen Cubans drilling and heard their loudspeakers at a farm. As a joke some firecrackers were thrown into the compound. The resulting incident was the Cubans firing their guns and the federal authorities having to convince the local authorities not to press charges. Operation Pluto was beginning to get blown wide open, the advantage of surprise was lost even this early in the game.
After the initial bombing raid of April 15th, and the landing of the B-26s in Florida, pictures of the planes were taken and published in newspapers. In the photo of one of the planes, the nose of the model of the B-26 the Cubans really used had a plexiglass nose, the CIA had taken the pains to disguise the B-26 with “FAR” markings [Cuban Air Force]. All Castro’s people had to do was read the newspapers and they’d know that something was going to happen, that those planes that had bombed them were not their own but American.
In The New York Times of the 21st of April, stories about the origins of the operation in the Eisenhower administration appeared along with headlines of “C.I.A. Had a Role In Exiles’ Plans” revealing the CIA’s involvement. By the 22nd, the story is fully known with headlines in The New York Times stating that “CIA is Accused by Bitter Rebels” and on the second page of that day’s issue is a full article on the details of the operation from its beginnings. The conclusion one can draw from the articles in The New York Times is that if reporters knew the whole story by the 22nd, it can be expected that Castro’s intelligence service and that of the Soviet Union knew about the planned invasion as well. Tad Szulc’s report in the April 22nd edition of The New York Times says it all, “As has been an open secret in Florida and Central America for months, the C.I.A. planned, coordinated and directed the operations that ended in defeat on a beachhead in southern Cuba Wednesday.” It is clear then that part of the failure of the operation was caused by a lack of security and attention to detail on the part of the Central Intelligence Agency, and misinformation given to the president.
On the international scene, the Bay of Pigs invasion lead directly to increased tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. During the invasion messages were exchanged between Kennedy and Khrushchev regarding the events in Cuba. Khrushchev accused the Americans of being involved in the invasion and stated in one of his messages, “A so-called “small war” can produce a chain reaction in all parts of the world . . . we shall render the Cuban people and their Government all necessary assistance in beating back the armed attack on Cuba.” Kennedy replied giving American views on democracy and the containment of communism, he also warned against Soviet involvement in Cuba saying to Khrushchev, “In the event of any military intervention by outside force we will immediately honor our obligations under the inter-American system to protect this hemisphere against external aggression.” Even though this crisis passed, it set the stage for the next major crisis over Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and probably led to the Soviets increasing their military support for Castro.
In the administration itself, the Bay of Pigs crisis led to a few changes. First off someone had to take the blame for the affair and, as Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles was forced to resign and left CIA in November of 196. Internally, the CIA was never the same, although it continued with covert operations against Castro, it was on a much-reduced scale. According to a report of the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence, future operations were “To nourish a spirit of resistance and disaffection which could lead to significant defections and other by-products of unrest.” The CIA also now came under the supervision of the president’s brother Bobby, the Attorney General. According to Lucien S. Vandenbroucke, the outcome of the Bay of Pigs failure also made the White House suspicious of an operation that everyone agreed to, made them less reluctant to question the experts, and made them play “devil’s advocates” when questioning them. In the end, the lessons learned from the Bay of Pigs failure may have contributed to the successful handling of the Cuban missile crisis that followed.
The long-term consequences of the Bay of Pigs invasion are a little harder to assess. The ultimate indication of the invasions’ failure is that 39 years later Castro is still in power. This not only indicates the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, but American policy towards Cuba in general. The American policy rather than undermining Castro’s support, has probably contributed to it. As with many wars, even a cold one, the leader is able to rally his people around him against an aggressor.
When Castro came to power he instituted reforms to help the people and end corruption, no longer receiving help from the Soviet Union things are beginning to change. He has opened up the Cuban economy for some investment, mainly in telecommunications, oil exploration, and other ventures. In an attempt to stay in power, he is trying to adapt his country to the new reality of the world. Rather than suppressing the educated leaders, he is giving them a place in guiding Cuba. The question is, will they eventually want more power and a right to control Cuba’s fate without Castro’s guidance and support? If the collapse of past regimes is any indication, they will eventually want more power.
When Castro came to power in 1959, the major opponents in America to him, as with Guatemala, were the business interests who were losing out as a result of his polices. The major pressure for the Americans to do something came, not only from the Cuban exiles in Florida, but from those businesses. Today, the tables are turned and businesses are loosing out because of the American embargo against Cuba. It is estimated that if the embargo were lifted, $1 billion of business would be generated for US companies that first year. Right now, 100 firms have gone to Cuba to talk about doing business there after the embargo is lifted. Will American policy change toward Cuba because of pressure from business interests and growing problems with refugees from Cuba? Given the reasons why the United States got involved in Latin American politics in the first place, it is very likely that their position will change if they can find a way to do so. American policy at this time though is still stuck in the cold war, the former chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jesse Helms said that, “Whether Castro leaves Cuba in a vertical or horizontal position is up to him and the Cuban people. But he must and will leave Cuba.”
The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion was caused by misinformation and mismanagement, the consequences of for the Americans was an increase in tension between the superpowers at the height of the cold war. We will only have to wait and see if the Americans have really learned their lesson and will not miss another opportunity to set things right in Cuba.