On this day in 1961, President John F. Kennedy heats up Cold War rhetoric in a letter responding to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s claim that the U.S. was engaging in armed aggression against the communist regime in Cuba. Kennedy denied the allegations, told Kruschev he was under a serious misapprehension and stated that the U.S. intends no military intervention in Cuba. However, Kennedy insisted that he would support Cubans who wish to see a democratic system in an independent Cuba and that the U.S. would take no action to stifle the spirit of liberty.
In fact, the night before Kennedy wrote this letter, approximately 1,200 Cuban exiles, supplied and trained by the CIA, landed in Cuba’s Bay of Pigs with plans to overthrow Castro. Kennedy was fully aware that the invasion was underway; he had authorized it three days earlier. CIA documents released in 2000 indicated that Kruschev had also learned of the plans for a CIA-led invasion well in advance and had passed the information on to Castro via the KGB, Russia’s secret police. Early on April 18, Kruschev sent a letter to Kennedy warning the president to stop the little war against Cuba or risk an incomparable conflagration with the Soviet Union. Privately, Kennedy dismissed as hypocritical a lecture on intervention coming from a Soviet leader who had supported communist-led coups in Europe and Asia. In his official response, Kennedy warned Khrushchev not to use the U.S.’s support for Cuban rebels as an excuse to inflame other areas of the world and told the Soviet Union to stay out of the Western Hemisphere’s internal affairs.
The Bay of Pigs invasion quickly fell apart when it became apparent that the CIA had gravely miscalculated the willingness of Cuba’s military to join the exiles in a coup. Castro’s forces quickly put down the rebellion, killing approximately 200 of the exiles and capturing the rest, except for a few who managed to escape and report back to the CIA. On April 24, 1961, Kennedy accepted sole responsibility for the botched invasion. The Bay of Pigs failure did not stop Kennedy from supporting subsequent covert plans to overthrow Castro.