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Bay of Pigs Cuban leader Fidel Castro looks out from a tank during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
(AP File Photo)
Bay of Pigs Thousands gather in Playa Girón to mark the 30th anniversary of the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.
(Keith Jenkins - The Washington Post)
Guantanamo Bay The destroyer USS Nicholson and the ammunition ship USS Kilauea at Guantánamo Bay in 1979.
(File Photo)


  Bahia de Cochinos

Bay of Pigs
By Aileen S. Yoo
Washingtonpost.com Staff
Updated December 1998

In the town square of Playa Girón, a city on the Bay of Pigs, is a billboard that reads "Playa Girón - The First Rout of Imperialism in Latin America." The sign refers to a brief battle at the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) between the United States and Cuba and underscores a long partnership that crumbled shortly after Fidel Castro came to power.

It was 1961, a time when the world was divided between the Soviet Union and the United States, and three years after Castro seized power and declared Cuba a communist republic. Hoping to thwart communism's spread in the Americas, President Kennedy approved a U.S.-sponsored force of more than 1,200 Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro. According to the exiles, they were promised combat air cover during the mission, airstrikes against Castro's troops and possible American ground troops for a second invasion if needed. Neither came. They landed in Playa Giró April 17; two days later, 120 were killed, while 1,200 were held captive for 19 months. The U.S. government paid Castro $62 million in food and pharmaceuticals in exchange for the prisoners' return. The Cuban government held nine prisoners. Seven were released; one died in prison, while another finally returned to Miami in October 1986.

The Bay of Pigs was a seminal event. For Americans, the invasion symbolized a dark moment for the CIA, which trained the exiles on secret bases in Florida; it also spawned rumors that the battle led to Kennedy's assassination in 1963. For Cubans, the battle was an important victory over their powerful northern neighbor, who always had a hand in Cuban affairs.

Cuba became inextricably linked to the United States in its waning days as a Spanish colony. In 1898 President William McKinley sent the USS Maine to protect Americans in Cuba, which was embroiled in a three-year-old war of independence led by national hero José Martí. The United States declared war on Spain in April after the Maine mysteriously exploded. Spain relinquished its 385-year reign over the island a few months later, making Cuba the last Spanish colony to claim independence and paving the way for new rulers.

The United States occupied Cuba in December 1898 and under a 1901 constitutional provision secured the right to intervene in Cuba's affairs and to acquire leases on land for a military presence. Later, the United States purchased a permanent lease for Guantánamo Bay, now home to a U.S. naval base.

The Platt Amendment, which lasted until 1934, allowed the United States to send military forces and establish a provisional government from 1906 and 1909 after violent protests erupted over the election of Tomás Estrada Palma, Cuba's first president. They would step in again to quell uprisings in 1912 and 1917. Meanwhile, Cuba grew economically dependent on the United States, which became the nation's main trading partner and increasingly owned most of Cuba's businesses. By the 1940s, Americans controlled almost half of the production of sugar, Cuba's most vital agricultural crop.

Cuba's tenuous relationship with the United States deteriorated after Castro's forces overthrew President Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Castro viewed the United States as Yankee imperialists and wanted to shake the country free of U.S.-influence. He seized sugar companies and all American-owned businesses, including U.S. and British oil companies after they refused to process crude oil imported from the Soviet Union. Amid Cuba's confrontation with the United States, Castro increasingly looked to the Soviet Union and signed a trade pact with the communist superpower in February 1960. The United States imposed an economic embargo and ended diplomatic relations by October 1961. Alarmed that the sphere of Soviet influence included an island nation only 90 miles from America's shores, Washington launched the Bay of Pigs invasion.

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