April 15

This Day in History

Cold War

Apr 15, 1959:

Castro visits the United States

Four months after leading a successful revolution in Cuba, Fidel Castro visits the United States. The visit was marked by tensions between Castro and the American government.

On January 1, 1959, Castro's revolutionary forces overthrew the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. From the beginning of the new regime in Cuba, U.S. officials worried about the bearded revolutionary. Castro's anti-American rhetoric, his stated plans to nationalize foreign properties in Cuba, and his association with a number of suspected leftists (including his second-in-command, Che Guevara) prompted American diplomats to keep a wary eye on him. Though he worried politicians, American reporters adored him--his tales of the days spent fighting a guerrilla war in Cuba, the fatigues and combat boots he favored, and his bushy beard cut a striking figure. In April 1959, Castro accepted an invitation from the American Society of Newspaper Editors to visit the U.S.

The trip got off to an inauspicious start when it became clear that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had no intention of meeting with Castro. Instead, Eisenhower went to the golf course to avoid any chance meeting with Castro. Castro gave a talk to the Council on Foreign Affairs, a New York-based group of private citizens and former government officials interested in U.S. international relations. Castro was confrontational during the session, indicating that Cuba would not beg the United States for economic assistance. Angered by some of the questions from the audience, Castro abruptly left the meeting. Finally, before departing for Cuba, Castro met with Vice President Richard Nixon. Privately, Nixon hoped that his talk would push Castro "in the right direction," and away from any radical policies, but he came away from his discussion full of doubt about the possibility of reorienting Castro's thinking. Nixon concluded that Castro was "either incredibly naive about communism or under communist discipline-my guess is the former."

Relations between the United States and Castro deteriorated rapidly following the April visit. In less than a year, President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to begin arming and training a group of Cuban exiles to attack Cuba (the disastrous attack, known as the Bay of Pigs invasion, was eventually carried out during the Kennedy administration). The heated Cold War animosity between America and Cuba would last for over 40 years.

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