A sign that reads "Cuba" and the Cuban flag stand in front of a concrete building.

The Tragic Legacy of the Bay of Pigs Invasion

April 15 was the anniversary of one of the most infamous examples of U.S. foreign meddling. The U.S. trained and armed 1,400 Cuban Americans to overthrow the government of the Republic of Cuba so that President Kennedy could “show the Soviets, China, and skeptical Americans that he was serious about winning the Cold War” (History). Despite the best efforts of the CIA to invade an independent sovereign nation, the Bay of Pigs invasion was a resounding failure. Sadly, U.S. aggression and reactionary hysteria continue to the present day. 

In the 1950s, Cuba was ruled by Fulgencio Batista, a “brutal dictator” who controlled “the university, the press, and the Congress” (Britannica). Though the U.S. purports to advocate for democracy around the world, it’s perfectly happy to support autocratic regimes for its own benefit, as in the case of Saudi Arabia today or Cuba in the mid-century. The U.S. controlled 90% of Cuban mines, 40% of the sugar industry, and 50% of the railroads, with Havana serving as an “exotic and permissive playground” for celebrities and mafia bosses (Smithsonian). While U.S. business owners got rich from Cuba, the Black plantation workers harvesting sugar cane were “perpetually in debt and living on the margins of survival,” with no access to healthcare or education (PBS).


• Support the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization’s work to support Cuban people and end the embargo.

• Support the México Solidarity Project and Witness for Peace

Because Batista ran a brutal dictatorship with U.S. support, U.S. opposition to the 1959 Cuban Revolution wasn’t based on democratic rights or the rule of law. When the Cuban government began nationalizing foreign businesses and instituting widespread land reform, the CIA began plotting to overthrow the government and return Cuba to U.S. control, going so far as contracting with the Mafia to assassinate head of state Fidel Castro. In 1961, the Kennedy administration launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. The U.S. Air Force bombed Cuban runways, and 1,400 soldiers trained by the CIA landed on the beach of the Bay of Pigs. Though the U.S. government expected ordinary Cubans to rise up in support, the invasion was quickly defeated, and anti-government groups within Cuba saw “their support quickly fizzled” (ThoughtCo). 

One of the leaders of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion was CIA agent Felix Rodríguez. Rodríguez would go on to order the assassination of imprisoned Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara in Bolivia before taking part in a “macabre program to win the hearts and minds of neutral Vietnamese civilians by murdering and torturing their countrymen and making it appear as though the Viet Cong had done so.” Rodríguez would later be accused of leading the torture and murder of an undercover DEA agent in Mexico in 1985 in order to obscure the CIA’s cooperation with the Guadalajara Cartel (All That’s Interesting). Ironically, cartels that developed with the active support of the U.S. government are now used as a justification for the U.S. to invade another Latin American nation. 

Republican legislators are now advocating bombing cartels in northern Mexico to stop fentanyl. This would amount to invading Mexico and restarting the Mexican-American War. “It is an offense to the people of Mexico,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-leaning politician whose “political success, rather than his troubles controlling the drug cartels… is the main cause of the new calls for attacking Mexico” (The Nation). Six decades after the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion, the United States is contemplating invading a sovereign Latin American country whose government is too leftist for Washington’s liking. Yet again, the advocates for imperialism frame their schemes as moral necessities: if you’re against invading Cuba or Mexico, they say, it means you must favor dastardly communist totalitarianism or drug cartel brutality. This is like saying if you’re against France carpet bombing American cities and installing a French-friendly puppet government, you’re in favor of every injustice the U.S. government has or will ever commit.

In reality, the chief architect of dictatorship and brutality in the Americas is the country that dwarfs all others in wealth, influence, and access to nuclear weapons: the United States. We can stand against U.S. brutality by denouncing corporate greed and imperialist wars while building solidarity between everyday people across borders. 


• The U.S. attempted to overthrow the Cuban government to protect its economic and political interests. 

• The U.S. government supports non-democratic autocracies so long as political and economic elites benefit. 

• Republicans are now advocating an invasion of Mexico, continuing decades of invasions and meddling in Latin America.

1920 1280 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

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