What Was The Bay Of Pigs Invasion? (It's Not A Football Game)

Culture | May 7, 2021

Castro's soldiers at Playa de Giron, Cuba, after thwarting the ill-fated US backed 'Bay of Pigs' invasion. (Photo by Graf/Getty Images)

"Bay of Pigs invasion" is one of those phrases we all hear from time to time, but many of us can't put our finger on what it actually was. The Soviet Union, Castro, the CIA, Batista, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Cuban exiles -- how does this all fit together in a coherent story? It's really a tale of astonishing boldness and folly that is hard to imagine today, but in 1961 the Cold War created an ever-present anxiety. Presidents and clandestine agencies were willing to take risks to prevent the thing they feared the most, a communist world takeover. The Bay of Pigs invasion was not the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it certainly fostered the conditions that led to that tense standoff. Here's a look at how this strange episode unfolded, and why it has anything to do with the National Football League.

Fulgencio Batista in 1938. Source: (Wikipedia).

General Fulgencio Batista, a former general who had the support of the United States, was a strongman in the late 1930s and the power behind a number of puppet presidents. He legalized the Cuban Communist Party (P.S.P.) , which supported him in his successful bid to become president in 1940. In 1940, he also brought the Cuban Communist Party into his government. In 1944, Batista stepped aside to yield the presidency to Ramon Grau, who had been elected. Batista then moved to Florida. In 1952, Batista seized power after a coup d’etat. Once Batista returned to power, he became obsessed with gaining the acceptance of the upper class. He started to suspend constitutional guarantees, and his government became increasingly brutal and unpopular as many Cubans saw him as a dictator. The opponents to Batista then sparked the Cuban Revolution, an armed rebellion. 

Young Fidel Castro. Source: (Jacobinmag.com).

One of the revolutionary groups was Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement (MR-26-7), which was organized into clandestine cells of 10 members each. Each cell had no idea where the other ones were, or what they were doing. From 1956-1959, Castro led the guerrillas to fight Batista’s forces. At this point, the United States started to look for alternatives to both Batista and Castro, but on January 1, 1959, Batista fled Cuba for the Dominican Republic, and eventually spent the rest of his life in Spain. Castro and his supporters quickly moved to take power, and by January 7, Castro and his guerrilla fighters had moved into Havana. On February 16, 1959, Castro assumed the role of Prime Minister.

Castro Comes To Power

Fidel Castro in 1959. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after Castro took power, counter-revolutionary groups developed. Some of these groups established camps in Cuba’s mountainous regions. Castro began arresting dissidents and used psychological torture. Castro’s government also started to become more friendly with the Soviet Union and ordered the oil refineries in Cuba to process crude oil from the Soviet Union, but the refineries controlled by U.S. corporations refused, so Castro retaliated by expropriating them, and putting them under Cuban control. On October 13, 1960, the U.S. prohibited the majority of exports to Cuba. Cuba continued retaliation by seizing and nationalizing the premises of 166 U.S. owned corporations. On December 16, the U.S. stopped its import quota of sugar from Cuba. Things only got worse when Castro accused the U.S. State Department personnel in Cuba of being spies. He ordered them to leave the country, and President Eisenhower withdrew recognition of Castro’s government.  

Preparing To Overthrow Castro

Preparing for the Bay of Pigs. Source: (Latin American Studies).

As Cuba became more friendly with the Soviet Union, the CIA turned its focus on the island, in line with its initial Cold War purpose. The CIA was founded in 1947 as an organization to counter the Soviet Union’s KGB. With the growing threat of communism, the CIA expanded to engage in activities favorable to U.S. interests. Eisenhower recognized Castro’s increasing hostility and directed the CIA to begin preparing to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. The CIA then began to recruit anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami in May 1960. They began infantry training in a CIA-run base in Guatemala. The 430 recruits became known as Brigade 2506.

Source: (RT.com)

Once the CIA informed Eisenhower of their plans, Eisenhower approved overthrowing Castro and replacing him with a government that would be acceptable to the U.S., but insisted the CIA do so without the appearance of U.S. involvement. Prior to the invasion, the CIA had tried to use propaganda against the regime and build an intelligence network in Cuba. 

The agency had also tried to get the mafia involved. In August 1960, the CIA tried to strike an agreement with the Cosa Nostra in Chicago. In this unbelievable scheme, the mafia would assassinate Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Che Guevara, and as a reward the CIA would allow the mafia to have a “monopoly on gaming, prostitution, and drugs.” The CIA really began to try to assassinate Castro that year. They used some creative methods, such as poison pills, a poisoned cigar, and an exploding seashell, as well as traditional methods.

News Was Leaked

During the invasion on a Soviet SU-100). Source: (Reddit).

News of Brigade 2506's planned invasion was leaked in part due to chatter from members of the brigade, which was then published in various newspapers. The KGB warned the Cuban government. Four days before the invasion, a Radio Moscow broadcast announced the coming invasion. The U.S. planned to destroy Cuba’s air force, and on April 15, 1961, the Cuban exiles flew American B-26 planes disguised to look like stolen Cuban planes out of Nicaragua. Because the Cubans knew about the planned attack, they kept their own planes safe.  

It Went Downhill From There

Source: (Pinterest).

From there, on April 17, things went downhill. The CIA had failed to notice a radio station on the beach which spotted the invasion at the Bay of Pigs. As the invasion was happening, the station broadcast the details across Cuba. Some of the exiles’ ships were sunk by coral reefs near the shore. The paratroopers landed in the wrong place. By the end of the day, 114 invaders had been killed and more than 1,100 taken prisoner. (The prisoners were released in 1962, in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine.)

Kennedy did not want to attack Cuba after this failed clandestine attempt, because he was afraid it would start World War III. However, he did not want to completely cease involvement, so in October 1961, Kennedy approved Operation Mongoose, a campaign that used espionage and sabotage. Then in 1962, the Cuban missile crisis made the relationship between the countries even worse.

Now It's A Football Matchup

Source: (Twitter)

What's more newsworthy today, a failed 1961 invasion of Cuba or an annual professional football game? It's probably the latter.

In the late 1980s, sportscasters Chris Berman and Peter Axtelm breathed new life into the phrase on their ESPN NFL show. They began referring to the matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the "Bay of Pigs" game, even though it obviously had nothing to do with Cuba. Both teams have the word "Bay" in their names, and the Packers and the Bucs were pretty bad during the late ‘80s. Though completely divorced from its original meaning, "Bay of Pigs" and its vague association with a historic debacle seems apt to describe a debacle of a game between two cellar-dwelling teams. Chalk it up to the genius of Chris Berman.

Tags: CIA | John F. Kennedy | The Cold War | The Soviet Union | Bay Of Pigs Invasion | Fidel Castro | Fulgencio Batista | Cuba

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Cyn Felthousen-Post


Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!