In April 1961 putting into effect a plan initially formulated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, U.S. President John F. Kennedy authorized the Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro. The plan was for a U.S.-trained and equipped force of Cuban exiles to invade Playa Girón in the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on the south coast and spark a popular uprising against Castro, which would overthrow his regime and end Cuba’s Communist experiment. Ill-conceived from its inception, and plagued by mishaps and missteps, the invasion failed, becoming a major foreign policy embarrassment for Kennedy and solidifying popular support for Castro within Cuba. A few months later, Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara thanked a Kennedy aide for the invasion, which Guevara claimed “enabled [us] to consolidate” the revolution and “transformed [us] from an aggrieved little country to an equal.” The Bay of Pigs fiasco also had major repercussions for the cold war, helping to precipitate the Cuban missile crisis, convincing the Kremlin that Kennedy was weak and indecisive, and steeling Kennedy’s resolve to stand up to the perceived menace of global communism.
Operational planning for the invasion began in March 1960, headed by Vice President Richard Nixon. This was in the wake of the successful CIAsponsored incursions into Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954), which resulted in the installation of governments friendly to the United States. The CIA secretly recruited a Cuban exile force of some 1,000 men, called Brigade 2506, which underwent training in south Florida and Guatemala. The original landing site near Trinidad, Cuba, was later changed to the Bay of Pigs. Operations began on April 15 with a failed effort to destroy the Cuban Revolutionary Air Force.
Two days later, four privately chartered ships transported 1,511 Cuban exiles to the Bay of Pigs, accompanied by CIA-owned landing crafts carrying supplies. Fighting was fierce and lasted for four days (April 17–21). Casualties are estimated at 2,000 to 5,000
Cubans and 200–300 invading exiles. Kennedy refused to send in air support or the marines, fearing the consequences of clear evidence of direct U.S. involvement. The Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces soon killed or captured most of the invading force. Soon afterward, 1,209 captive exiles were put on trial. Around 20 were executed or otherwise killed, the remainder being released within two years in exchange for $53 million in medicine and food.
The botched invasion was a major blow to the Kennedy administration and gave a major boost to Castro at home and abroad. Kennedy’s vacillating leadership during the Bay of Pigs prompted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to challenge the U.S. administration more directly by placing nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, leading to the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. Until his assassination in November 1963, Kennedy endeavored to demonstrate his strength in confronting the Soviet Union and its allies in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, a foreign policy stance attributable in large part to the Bay of Pigs debacle.