The Bay of Pigs Fiasco
Meanwhile, internal opposition to Castro was growing as government repression increased. Bands of counterrevolutionary guerrillas had set up a front in the Sierra Escambray. Many former Castroite supporters fought against him when they realized that he had turned Communist caudillo and that a personality cult was being erected. The Lucha Contra Bandidos (Struggle Against Bandits) lasted until 1966 before finally being eradicated.
Castro, with his highly efficient intelligence operation, knew that the CIA was plotting an invasion of Cuba by exiles. In mid-1960 he began to suppress the press. He also established the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs)—a countrywide information network for “collective vigilance.” Cuba’s State Security began a nationwide sweep against suspected “counterrevolutionaries” and opponents.
On April 15, 1961, Cuban exiles strafed Cuban airfields as a prelude to a CIA-sponsored invasion. Castro turned the funeral for the seven persons killed into a stirring call for defiance: “What the imperialists cannot forgive us for… is that we have made a socialist revolution under the nose of the United States.” It was his first public characterization of the Revolution as socialist. The debacle thus created the conditions by which socialism became acceptable to a nation on the brink of invasion.
President Kennedy was assured that the Cuban people would rise up in arms. They did, and within 72 hours they had defeated the CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961. The Bay of Pigs, or Playa Girón as Cubans call it, brought a new sense of unity to Cuba. United States ambassador Bonsal declared that the Bay of Pigs “consolidated Castro’s regime and was a determining factor in giving it the long life it has enjoyed.” As Castro admitted: “Our Marxist-Leninist party was really born at Girón; from that date on, socialism became cemented forever with the blood of our workers, peasants, and students.”
The debacle not only solidified Castro’s tenure but also provoked a repressive house-cleaning of anyone thought to be too independent or deviant. As Castro saw it, you were either for the Revolution or against it. By 1965, at least 20,000 political prisoners—including homosexuals, practicing Catholics, and other “social deviants”—languished in jails.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
On December 1, 1961, Castro informed Cuba and the world that Cuba was officially a Marxist-Leninist state. The news was a bombshell to the Kennedy administration, which in March 1962 launched Operation Mongoose—a six-phase program to oust Castro. Four hundred CIA agents were assigned full-time to the operation, which was led by Bobby Kennedy.
Kennedy’s threat to do away with socialist Cuba virtually obliged Fidel to ask the Soviets for rockets to defend Cuba in the event of a U.S. invasion. In August, Soviet personnel and MiG fighter-bombers began to arrive. Kennedy had warned the Soviets that the United States would not tolerate the installation of missiles. Khrushchev promised Kennedy that no “offensive weapons” were being supplied to Cuba. His deceit had near-calamitous consequences. No direct contact was made with Castro during the crisis, and no one in the administration attempted to consider what Castro’s part in the game of Russian roulette might have been.
Castro may have correctly calculated that the threat of nuclear conflict could save him from a non-nuclear attack. The crisis had ended with a guarantee from Kennedy that the United States would not invade Cuba (the non-explicit no-invasion pledge was withdrawn after Castro refused to permit verification.) Nonetheless, the Kennedys had initiated another invasion plan for 1964—OPLAN 380-63. Before it could be implemented, the president was dead, shot by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Castro was now free to move forward with his socialist revolution.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition