From the Archive: In a Caribbean Storm

Alex von Tunzelmann reassesses a two-part article on the troubled relationship between the United States and Cuba, published in History Today 50 years ago in the wake of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In May and June 1961, just two years into Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution, Arnold Whitridge wrote a two-part retrospective of Cuban relations with the United States for History Today. It was an apt moment. In mid-April 1961 an anti-Castro brigade landed at the Bay of Pigs, a swampy inlet near the Cuban town of Cienfuegos. The brigade was Cuban but had been trained and directed by the United States. The operation was supposed to be a secret. In fact US plans had been revealed on the front page of the New York Times on January 10th. Led into battle by CIA agents, the brigade was quickly defeated by Castro’s forces, who captured almost all the 1,200 invaders.

The Bay of Pigs had massive consequences for Cuban relations with both the US and the Soviet Union. Since Whitridge’s article patchy information from the former Soviet Union has indicated that until the invasion the Soviets were cautious about involving themselves with Castro. But the Bay of Pigs convinced them that what they saw as US imperialism was a real threat to Cuba: ‘Although the counter-revolutionaries were defeated in the landing, you would have had to be completely unrealistic to think that everything had ended with that’, said Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in his memoirs. It set into motion a series of events which would lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

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