Cuba, Fidel Castro and the Bay of Pigs

In the late 1950s, America faced Communist expansion in its southern sphere of influence—the Caribbean and Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine established that the United States considered the Caribbean area as an area of special security interest. The Monroe Doctrine warned foreign powers not to try to expand their interest into that area. If such a thing were to happen, The Doctrine called for the United States to be prepared to take military action to prevent foreign incursions. Application of the Monroe Doctrine would be particularly important in the context of Soviet-led international communist expansion.

In 1959, Fidel Castro and his 14th of July revolutionaries, who had been conducting an insurgency in Cuba, defeated the corrupt, totalitarian regime of Fulgencio Batista. Initially, the American government thought that Castro was a liberal reformer, who was seeking to rid his country of a dictator. However, it turned out that Castro was a communist, who aligned Cuba with Russia. He nationalized industries and financial institutions, including many American owned businesses located in Cuba. The U.S. feared that Cuba, located only 90 miles off the Florida coast, would serve as a launching site for Russian missiles. And, in keeping with the Domino Theory, the U.S. also feared that Cuba would become a beachhead for spreading communism throughout Latin America.

“Companeros is a sympathetic telling of Castro’s story written by Ewan McColl, and performed by Christy Moore. (

The good ship Granma lies at anchor in the harbor
Waiting for the evening tide to rise and bring high water.
Bound for Cuba she must go across the Gulf of
Mexico and The Caribbean Ocean
She’s carrying a human cargo of 83 good companeros
Each one burning with determination to be free

Companeros, tu valaderos
Courage was their armour as they fought at Fidel’s side with Che Guevara

Against Batista, The Fidelistas, courage was their armour
As they fought at Fidel’s side with Che Guevara.

Five days out from Mexico these companeros
Landed on the Cuban beach Los Colarados
Fidel said this year will see our country and our people free, Or else we will be martyrs
We’ve only guns enough for 20, the enemy has arms a plenty
Meet him and defeat him and he’ll keep us well supplied


Five weeks later in the Canyon De La Rio
Fidel’s army was reduced to 18 companeros
Hungry, weak and unafraid, learning revolutions trade in the high Sierra Maestre
Where the mountain winds did blow bearing seeds to sprout and sow
New crops in Cuban soil that marked the death of slavery


They made their way across the peak of El Torquino
Joined by bands of volunteers and the men from Santiago
They faced Batista’s tanks and trains, drove them back across the plains from the high Sierra Maestre
They drove the gangsters from Los Vios straight across the Cordileros
Santa Barbra fell to Che Guevara and was free.


The fire lit on that Cuban beach by Fidel Castro
Still shines all the way to Terra del Fuego
Sparks are blown upon the breeze, people rise from off their knees when they see the night is burning.
It blazes up in Venezuela, Bolivia and Guatemala
Lights the road that we must go in order to be free…..


Because Castro was installing a communist system in Cuba, many Cubans left their country to become refugees in the United States. During the last days off the Eisenhower administrati administration, the CIA (with Eisenhower’s blessing) developed a plan to have the Cuban refugees form a military force to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. This was done based on the CIA’s expectation that the Cuban people still living in Cuba would rise to overthrow the communist leader. The CIA modeled the scheme on the very similar 1954 situation when it arranged the overthrow of the existing government in Guatemala when the interests of American growers there were threatened. The refugee force was provided with arms and training (by the CIA) for the invasion at secret camps in Central America. (Whitfield, pp. 158-159.)

“The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo, is singer-songwriter Phil Ochs’ commentary on the American tendency to use its military to influence the internal politics of Central American countries. (

And the crabs are crazy, they scuttle back and forth, the sand is burning
And the fish take flight and scatter from the sight, their courses turning
As the seagulls rest on the cold cannon nest, the sea is churning.
The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo.

The fishermen sweat, they’re pausing at their nets, the day’s a-borning
As the warships sway and thunder in the bay, loud the morning.
But the boy on the shore is throwing pebbles no more, he runs a-warning
That the marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo.

The streets are still, there’s silence in the hills, the town is sleeping
And the farmers yawn in the grey silver dawn, the fields they’re keeping
As the first troops land and step into the sand, the flags are weaving.
The Marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo.

The unsmiling sun is shining down upon the singing soldiers
In the cloud dust whirl they whistle at the girls, they’re getting bolder
The old women sigh, think of memories gone by, they shrug their shoulders.
The Marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo.

Ready for the tricks, their bayonets are fixed, now they are rolling
And the tanks make tracks past the trembling shacks where fear’s unfolding
All the young wives afraid, turn their backs to the parade with babes they’re holding
The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

A bullet cracks the sound, the army hit the ground, the sniper’s callin’
So they open their guns, a thousand to one, no sense in stalling
He clutches at his head and totters on the edge, look now he’s falling
The Marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

In the red plaza square, the crowds come to stare, the heat is leaning
And the eyes of the dead are turning every head to the widows screaming
But the soldiers make a bid, giving candy to the kids, their teeth are gleaming
The Marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

Up and down the coast, the generals drink a toast, the wheel is spinning
And the cowards and the whores are peeking through the doors to see who’s winning
But the traitors will pretend that it’s getting near the end, when it’s beginning
The Marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

And the crabs are crazy, they scuttle back and forth, the sand is burning
And the fish take flight and scatter from the sight, their courses turning
As the seagulls rest on the cold cannon nest, the sea is churning
The Marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

Before the Cuban invasion could occur, John F. Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower as president. Kennedy was faced with the decision to go ahead with the CIA plan or to cancel it. Although he was skeptical, Kennedy let his military advisors convince him to go ahead with the invasion. The invasion took place at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. It was a complete disaster. Castro’s forces had little trouble defeating the rag-tag invasion force. Many blame Kennedy’s lack of commitment to the invasion for the failure. Juan Perez-Franco, a member of the invasion force stated “The Bay of Pigs was not lost in the sands of Playa Giron; the Bay of Pigs was lost in Washington; the Bay of Pigs was lost in the White House!” (See Gordon L. Rottman, “The Bay of Pigs: Cuba 1961”, p. 54.)

Garry Wills, noted author and columnist writing about the Bay of Pigs fiasco, analyzed it as follows:

The distinctive note of the Bay of Pigs invasion was that it was a military operation run without the military’s control, an invasion force created specially by the CIA itself, a combination of every weapon in Bissel’s [director of the CIA] private arsenal – assassination of a leader, propaganda war, guerrilla uprising, and coup from outside. Its success depended on a coordination of all of these things in the mind of the master train-scheduler. Later, the plan would look so crazy that people could not credit its acceptance in the first place. But it made sense to a James Bond fan.

 (quoted in van Rijn, Kennedy, pp. 26-27.)

In any event, Kennedy and America looked like rank amateurs to Khrushchev and the Russians, and Khrushchev determined to try to take advantage of this perceived weakness.

American intervention in Central America continued in the 1980s during the Reagan Administration and will be discussed later in that section.