On New Year’s Day 1959, Cuban Dictator, FuIgencio Batista was overthrown in a revolt led by Che Guevara, a military rebel commander of Fidel Castro’s. Castro was a communist supporter with ties to Nikita Khrushchev, After seizing power and running a corrupt capitalist government for seven years funded by business dealings with American corporations and links to the Mafia who controlled prostitution, drugs and gambling particularly in Havana, Batista fled for protection to his old ally Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic before claiming political asylum in Portugal. During his time as dictator, thousands of Cubans were oppressed, tortured and murdered. Freedom of speech and the right to strike were removed.
American officials were concerned with the spread of Communism, and the threat posed by the Russians in the midst of the Cold War, and didn’t trust the new Cuban Leader, who quickly set about reversing all the repressive and anti-communist policies of his predecessor. America responded by placing a trade embargo on import and export with Cuba, including their biggest trade, sugar. Castro retaliated by seizing control of American companies and interests in Cuba, and nationalising them for Cuba. These included Coca-Cola, Shell oil and others. Castro also contacted Khrushchev who agreed Russia would take over and import American shares of the sugar productions, which represented 80% of Cuba’s export market.
The following year, in 1960 a proposed covert operation by the CIA was approved by President Eisenhower to invade a small beach known as the Bay of Pigs. Using Cuban exiles from the Miami area, who were to be trained especially for the operation and based on an expected measure of support from Cuban Nationals, particularly those who stood to lose financially under Castro’s new rule, the operation was supposed to be carried out in complete secrecy without direct assistance or intervention by American forces. Before his inauguration in February 1961, the new American President John F Kennedy was made aware of the plan, and gave it his continued support. Unfortunately the plan was doomed before it started as word spread amongst the exiles and as early as October 1960, whilst training was carried out in Guatemala, not only was Castro aware of the progress, but Cuba had regular updates in the press.
Two days before the planned invasion obsolete American B26 bombers which had been re-painted to look like Cuban Air Force were sent from Nicaragua to bomb the airfields in Cuba, putting Castro’s Air Force out of action. Unfortunately, Castro was aware of this aspect of the plan, and had moved his air force to safer ground. The Americans missed most of their targets and photographs taken of the raid exposed the involvement of the Americans. A second air strike was cancelled.
The invasion comprising roughly 1400 men took place two days later on April 17th. But things went wrong immediately. Two support ships were sunk on coral reef, and the exile force were quickly bogged down in swampy territory with insufficient equipment, as Castro’s pre-warned Air Force shot at them from above. In just a few short hours, over a hundred were dead, and Castro’s army of 20,000 men moved in and took a further 1200 prisoners. Around 100 men managed to escape into the sea.
Kennedy was forced to approach pharmaceutical companies and baby food manufacturers for donations of $53million of these essential items for export to Cuba as negotiated terms for the release of the prisoners. The negotiations took over 20 months to settle. The day after the failed invasion Kennedy wrote a letter to Khrushchev which heavily stressed his hope that Russia would not use the Cuban situation to further his own ambitions within a Cold War context.
Almost 54 years later, on April 12th 2015, American President Obama, and Cuban President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, met in Panama, the first time two leaders of these countries have met since Nixon met with Fidel Castro after his revolution in 1959. As a side-line in the Summit of the Americas the two leaders held talks to attempt to finally put aside the residual mistrust and work together to move forward.