Fidel Castro was born on 13 August 1926 in the south-eastern Oriente Province of Cuba. He was the son of a successful sugar planter. Castro studied law at the University of Havana. He intended to run in elections scheduled for 1952, but the government was overthrown by General Fulgencio Batista and the elections cancelled. Castro rejected democracy and declared himself in favour of armed revolution. In 1953, Castro and his brother Raúl led an unsuccessful rising against Batista and Castro was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released under an amnesty and fled to Mexico, where he was joined by an Argentinean Marxist Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.
In 1956, Castro and Guevara landed in Cuba with a small band of insurgents, known as the '26th of July Movement', and began a guerrilla war against the government. In December 1958, Castro launched a full-scale attack and Batista was forced to flee. In February 1959, Castro was sworn in as prime minister of Cuba and announced the introduction of a Marxist-Leninist programme adapted to local requirements. Thousands of Cubans went into exile, mostly to the United States.
The U.S. government distrusted Castro and was wary of his relationship with Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union. Before his inauguration, John F. Kennedy was briefed on a plan by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) developed during the Eisenhower administration to train Cuban exiles for an invasion of their homeland. This plan anticipated that the Cuban people and elements of the Cuban military would support the invasion. The ultimate goal was the overthrow of Castro and the establishment of a non-communist government friendly to the United States.
The original invasion plan called for two air strikes against Cuban air bases. A 1,400-man invasion force would disembark under cover of darkness and launch a surprise attack. Paratroopers dropped in advance of the invasion would disrupt transportation and repel Cuban forces. Simultaneously, a smaller force would land on the east coast of Cuba to create confusion.
The main force would advance across the island to Matanzas and set up a defensive position. The United Revolutionary Front would send leaders from South Florida and establish a provisional government.
The first mishap occurred on April 15, 1961, when eight bombers left Nicaragua to bomb Cuban airfields. The CIA had used obsolete World War II B-26 bombers, and painted them to look like Cuban air force planes. The bombers missed many of their targets and left most of Castro's air force intact. As news broke of the attack, photos of the repainted U.S. planes became public and revealed American support for the invasion. President Kennedy cancelled a second air strike.
On April 17, the Cuban-exile invasion force, known as Brigade 2506, landed at beaches along the Bay of Pigs and immediately came under heavy fire. Cuban planes strafed the invaders, sank two escort ships, and destroyed half of the exile's air support. Bad weather hampered the ground force, which had to work with soggy equipment and insufficient ammunition.
Over the next 24 hours, Castro ordered roughly 20,000 troops to advance toward the beach, and the Cuban air force continued to control the skies. As the situation grew increasingly grim, President Kennedy authorized an "air-umbrella" at dawn on April 19—six unmarked American fighter planes took off to help defend the brigade's B-26 aircraft flying. But the B-26s arrived an hour late, most likely confused by the change in time zones between Nicaragua and Cuba. They were shot down by the Cubans, and the invasion was crushed later that day.
Some exiles escaped to the sea, while the rest were killed or rounded up and imprisoned by Castro's forces. Almost 1,200 members of Brigade 2056 surrendered, and more than 100 were killed.
The disaster at the Bay of Pigs had a lasting impact on the Kennedy administration. Determined to make up for the failed invasion, the administration initiated Operation Mongoose—a plan to sabotage and destabilize the Cuban government and economy. The plan included the possibility of assassinating Castro. Almost 50 years later, relations between Castro's Cuba and the United States remain strained and tenuous.