This Day in International Law: March 17

By Maribeth Hunsinger

The plan was simple: overthrow Fidel Castro. On March 17, 1960, President Eisenhower signed a National Security Council directive approving a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) proposal for covert action against Castro’s regime. The execution of this proposal ultimately led to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

The CIA proposal, known formally as “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” called for the development of a guerilla force comprised of Cuban refugees (“Operation 40”) and the training of a Cuban paramilitary force (“Alpha 66”). The plan also included the placement a covert intelligence organization within Cuba and the creation of a radio station to broadcast into Cuba.

The roots of Castro’s regime trace back to General Fulgencio Batista’s 1952 coup against President Carlos Prio. Batista forced Prio into exile in the United States. Castro’s revolutionary 26th July Movement emerged in the vacuum and eventually succeeded in overthrowing Batista’s government in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Although the Eisenhower administration expressed recognition of Castro’s government, it grew increasingly wary of Cuba. The revolutionary government strengthened diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and allowed the Communist Party to operate freely within the country.

Meanwhile, anticommunism took a “central position” in the Eisenhower administration. Amidst growing concerns that Cuba would eventually pose a threat to the U.S. if left unchecked, Eisenhower ended diplomatic relations and suspended trade with Cuba in 1961. John F. Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower as President of the United States, and under his leadership the CIA launched a “definitive strike” in April 1961. The Bay of Pigs invasion was disastrous for the U.S., as the 1,400 American-trained Cuban refugees were outnumbered and surrendered to Castro’s forces after less than 24 hours of fighting.

U.S. efforts to overthrow Castro persisted, setting the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that strained relations even further between the U.S., Cuba, and the Soviet Union. Tensions between the U.S. and Cuba have continued through multiple decades and administrations. In 2014, Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced intentions to reestablish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. It remains to be seen where the dust will settle as steps continue to be made toward restoring political and economic interactions between the two countries.