April 1961: Castro and Kennedy
The most memorable interaction between Castro and a U.S. President occurred in 1961, with the incident commonly known as the Bay of Pigs. Tensions came to a head between Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy for the first time in 1961; the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year would worsen these.
Between 1959 and 1961, the United States worked to oust Castro from power in Cuba. American companies had significant business interests in Cuba, particularly in sugar and tobacco. Not long after Castro’s 1959 takeover, these were nationalized without compensation for U.S. interests.
The U.S. government was concerned about Castro’s close ties to the Soviet Union, particularly Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. Over these two years, the attempts made against Castro’s government were largely covert, driven by the CIA.
In January 1961, the U.S. and Cuba officially severed diplomatic relations. Some of Kennedy’s advisors recommended largely ignoring Cuba; however, Kennedy felt that a victory over Cuba would signal a win in the Cold War.
On April 15, 1961, the U.S. sent Cuban exile pilots, in U.S. planes painted to look like Cuban planes, to bomb Cuban air force airfields. The attack failed, as Castro had already moved his planes. On April 17, the U.S. sent a small force of 1,400 men, military-trained Cuban exiles, to invade Cuba. The attempt failed within just 24 hours, as the U.S. force were significantly outnumbered by Castro’s forces and soon surrendered. Most were captured; the events of the assault were broadcast all over Cuba by a local radio station.
Kennedy feared the potential of World War III, so refused to engage in any further assaults on Cuba. In October 1962, the Soviet Union installed nuclear missiles in Cuba. These missiles were, of course, aimed directly at the United States. The conflict in the Cuban Missile Crisis was not between Castro and Kennedy, but the Soviet Union and the United States. It was resolved when Soviet leader Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles, in exchange for a promise not to invade Cuba, and to remove missiles from Turkey.