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Bay of Pigs Invasion

The Bay of Pigs invasion was a failed attempt by the U.S. and Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961. Despite U.S. support, the invasion was poorly planned and executed, leading to a strengthened Castro regime and closer ties with the Soviet Union. Created by Sal Khan.

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Video transcript

Before jumping into the details of the Bay of Pigs invasion I want to make sure we understand the environment in Cuba and the United States leading up to the invasion. So, going into the late 1950's Cuba was controlled by this guy right over here: Batista and he was a dictator that was supported by the United States. Just to give a sense of what he was like. Here's a quote from John F. Kennedy in 1963. So this is after he's already had, you know, the Bay of Pigs has happened, the Cuban Missle Crisis has happened. He is not a big fan of Fidel Castro. But with that said, in hindsight, JFK did say this. This is pretty objective assessment of what Batista was like as the dictator of Cuba. This is John F. Kennedy saying this: "I believe there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country's policies during the Batista regime. To some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins." So even JFK in hindsight is saying that Batista was really not the best person and it really was not a good idea for the United States to support such a corrupt dictator for so long in Cuba. This is Batista right over here, riding with some U.S. generals in a parade when he visited DC. So you can imagine he was not a popular person in control of Cuba and in 1959 you have a successful revolution against him. In 1959 there is a revolution and the revolution is led by this character, Fidel Castro, and his kind of two right hand men are Raul Castro and Che Guevara right over here and they take control of Cuba. They're part of this nationalist, revolutionary movement. Now the one thing they do do, and they are left-leaning from the beginning, people assume that they are maybe communists or quasi-communists. But even from the get-go as soon as they take power, they start taking over lands that were owned by, well, one that was private Cuban property, some of it that was United States property. Their arguement would have probably been that this was wealth, private property that was ill gotten, that was gotten in the time of Batista, but they did in a broad sweep , so they took over a lot of private land, a lot of private property, which also led to people thinking hey, this is not just a nationalist revolution, this is also a communist revolution but you could also imagine that once they take over there this huge migration of Cubans to the United States and there, it's primarily middle class, upper middle class Cubans, educated Cubans, who were really afraid of what Fidel Castro is doing in terms of taking over of private land, taking people's property. So you start having this Cuban exile community really focused around Florida and mainly Miami and they're still there. And they're very unhappy with this Fidel Castro character right over here. So when we fast forward into 1961 John F. Kennedy becomes president, He gets elected in 1960, becomes president in early 1961. We're now fast forwarding to April, 1961 so JFK has only been president for a few months. But you can imagine a lot of levels you have all of these Cuban exiles, upper middled class, educated, middle class, Cuban exiles who hate Fidel Castro. He's taking over their land he's turning it into what looks like a leftist state. This is all happening within the context of the cold war, the US is afraid of countries falling to communism. It looks like Fidel Castro is a communist, so the US decides the fact that you have all of the exisles who wanna oust him to the US porbably wants to oust him just because he's a communist and they're afraid that he's going to align himself with the Soviet Union. So in conjunction with the Cuban exiles and the CIA, and this right here is the director of the Central Intelligence during the Kennedy administration or at least the beginning part of the Kennedy administration, this is Allen Dulles, his brother is John Foster Dulles, where Dulles Airport is named after and he was a US Secretary of State. They decide that they want to oust Fidel Castro, but they want to do it in a way that the US does not look like it's the one doing the invasion, so what they do is they plan an invasion where they take Cuban exiles and they get 1400 men to sign up to be kind of part of this CIA backed , US backed force to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro. And a lot of this was based on the premise, and you can imagine this even happened in the iraq war, where the CIA, the American President, they kind of surround themselves with people who tell them, who one give them a very optimistic, hopeful scenario telling them "Look. We represent what the rest of the Cuban people want," They'll say, "Look if we just start a revolution Fidel Castro will be overthrown." The reality that came out, at least at that point in time, in early 1960's, Fidel Castro was actually pretty popular with the Cuban people and you can imagine he was at that time popular with the poor people who did not have land and now all of the sudden you have this leader for the people, I don't know about his popularity now but at that point he was probably a lot more popular than the exiles and the CIA would have had Kennedy believe. So they plan this attack Kennedy says oh, if we can get rid of Fidel Castro then that derisks the possibility of having this communist nation right off of the Florida coast. So they plan this invasion and you know it's shady to begin with because they didn't want to make it look like an official U.S. invasion. They wanted to make it look like a pure Cuban counter-revolution and to some degree that really mixed up everything and made it look, and well it really was suspect because they really were doing something that was not what it really was. But the invasion the way it all worked out is that by April 15th, and this is just going into the details of the invasion, So they had the fourteen hundred exiles They had some ships, some planes they marked them They either removed the markings so that it didn't look like they were American ships or planes Or they put false markings of the Cuban military So that it would cause some confusion or whatever So on April 15, 1961, Remember this is only a few months into Kennedy's administration, they start air attacks and these air attacks launch from Nicaragua and they go to Cuba. And the whole point of these air attacks was to kind of soften the Cuban Air Force for an eventual invasion by the 1400 exiles. And so they have eight aircraft, eight bombers leaving Nicaragua. They bomb Cuba at a base outside of Havana and a base near the south, actually not too far from the current Guantanamo Bay. And the point or their goal was to destroy the Cuban Air Force It turns out they didn't do it. And once again, to kind of cause confusion, they did it not under the U.S. markings, but they put Cuban Air Force markings on the planes. You had eight planes going and doing the bombing One of them gets shot down and a ninth plane actually leaves from Nicaragua and they falsely put bullet holes in it to look like it was hit with anti-aircraft guns and had it defect to Florida. So I guess the idea behind this was to make it look like there is a Cuban pilot who takes off from Cuba or somehow gets out of Cuba with a Cuban plane (that's why they put the markings there) and then tries to destroy a bunch of Cuban aircraft and then defects to the United States. That's the impression that they wanted to convey. It's not so clear that the Cubans actually fell for it. And so that happened in 1961. Most everyone kind of saw this as a U.S. attack, or at least said they viewed it as a U.S. attack. Then you fast forward to the night of April 16th and this whole time everyone was expecting a US attack This all leads to the fact that this was not a well orchestrated series of events It's pretty well established that some of these exiles were just not as tightlipped as they should have been about the invasion. It got out to Soviet intelligence. The Cubans knew that an invasion was imminent. So on April 16th you have kind of a false attack - a decoy attack - at Bahia Honda right over here, with a bunch of decoy boats with loudspeakers on them that made it sound like they were firing to cause confusion and it did temporarily cause Castro to look in that direction because they were on hair trigger notice expecting an imminent invasion that was not the real one. This was on the evening of April 16th When you go to the early morning of April 17th you have the real invasion where you have the 1400 Cuban exiles with CIA and US military support (but all of that was hidden ) to actually invade at the Bay of Pigs. And to make a long story short it was kind of a invasion that did not go well. It has been blamed on bad planning, on incompetance at some parts of the invasion. The invasion lasted from April 17th which was the first day of the invasion. By April 19th the invading force, or counter-revolutionary force, the 1400 cuban exiles, had been pushed back to the beaches. And for the most part a little over 100 of them were killed and most of them, over 1000 of them, were captured. And then later on in the year Fidel Castro, - and some were executed after after being captured - but later on in the year Fidel Castro makes a deal with the United States where he hands over the captured exiles to the United States in exchange for $58 million in aid and supplies and all the rest. So this, at least from a military point of view, was a complete debacle from the United States point of view. You can imagine after this happened people in the United States started pointing fingers You have the CIA (and this is Allen Dulles right here) and the exiles blaming the Kennedy administration saying that look he wasn't willing to do what it takes to actually do a proper invasion. He wasn't willing to supply the proper air support once the invasion started happening. He was not willing to commit more U.S. troops once the invasion started looking like it was not going in the direction of the exiles. Kennedy on the other hand blames the CIA. He says look this was just done and planned incompetently He also says that "You gave me all sorts of misinformation. You told me that once the invasion started there was all sorts of resentment against Fidel Castro and it would cause this broader uprising, which never ever happened." This is actually a quote from John F Kennedy that he said after the Bay of Pigs invasion: "The first advice I am going to give to my successor is to watch the generals and to avoid the feeling that because they were military men their opinions on military matters were worth a damn." This is John F. Kennedy saying this after the Bay of Pigs invasion. You can dig deeper and figure out who probably was in the right here, but the bottom line here is that it lead to all-round negative consequences for the United States. After this kind of strengthened Fidel Castro's hold on Cuba. He was like, "Hey that was the United States' best shot." Huge embarrassment for them. It allowed his to concentrate his control. It also caused him to now become very openly communist Before the Bay of pigs invasion he was kind of trying to get the U.S. to somewhat like him. Although they wouldn't like him because he was taking over private property and he was clearly left-leaning. But after the Bay of Pigs invasion he definitely aligned himself closely with the Soviet Union. He became much more open about being a Marxist, Leninist, communist state and because he as afraid of future US invasions he was open to what eventually leads to the Cuban Missile Crisis which is the Soviet Union actually placing ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads in Cuba at short range to the United States. It set up this whole series of events that really didn't work in the U.S.'s favor.