Critical Moments

Short Videos Of  The Bay Of Pigs; The Missile Crisis And The Downing Of Two Planes On The Florida Straits.


The US worried about the close ties Cuba developed with the Soviet Union under Castro’s wall. In 1960, President Eisenhower authorized the CIA to train over 1,400 willing Cuban political exiles living in Miami to invade the island with a plan to topple the new pro-communist dictatorship. An airstrike was launched by the CIA on April 15, 1961, consisting of exiles in a squadron of outdated American B26 bombers. Setting off from a training base in Nicaragua, they conducted a strike against Cuban airfields but the Cuban regime already knew of the plans and had moved their planes to safety beforehand. President John F. Kennedy suspended a second airstrike as he has grown weary of the plan and was quickly convinced that, in his own words, “it was far too large to be clandestine and yet too small to be successful.” Nevertheless, on April 17 the exile’s Brigade 2506 set out towards Cuba’s southern beach known as Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs. The plans were ill-conceived and poorly executed. The exiles were quickly fired upon by both ground and air troops. Castro ordered approximately 20,000 troops towards the beach, while the Cuban air force dominated the skies. By April 19 the invasion came to an end. The aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion was grim. Though some exiles escaped to the sea, many were killed and more than 1,000 were imprisoned by the Cuban regime. The prisoners of Bay of Pigs remained in squalid conditions behind bars for 20 months until US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy struck a deal with the Cuban dictatorship, assuring a trade of $53 million worth of baby food and medicine in exchange for the prisoners. On December 23rd 1962, the first freed prisoners of the Brigade returned to the US. The rest would follow thereafter. Most stayed living in Florida, particularly in Miami, where they remained active in anti-Castro politics.


In 1962, the secret installation of nuclear Soviet missiles in Cuba led to a tense political and military standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro playing a major role.
President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation in October of that same year, making public the presence of the nuclear missiles. Kennedy announced a naval blockade around the Cuban island, assuring that the US would resort to military action if necessary. The announcement led to fears all over the world of a nuclear confrontation between the US and the USSR.

The missiles appeared in Cuba as a direct result of Castro’s alignment and dependency on the Soviet Union. The Soviets intended to change the balance of power in the world and to obtain concessions in Europe from the United States. Since Castro announced that he was a Marxist-Leninist in the early 1960’s, the Soviets began flexing their political muscles in Cuba, considering just how close the island was to the United States.

The USSR exercised a tight control over the Cuban economy, accounting for more than half of the island’s total trade and financing over 40% of Cuba’s imports.

In the end, a nuclear disaster was averted when the US reached an agreement with Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev when the latter offered to remove the missiles in Cuba in exchange for the US assurance that they would not invade the island.


A post-Soviet crippling economy and further violent political crackdowns in Cuba in the early 1990’s led to a dramatic increment in the number of Cuban rafters using flimsy sea vessels or improvised watercraft to leave the island and make it to the United States. Some rafters were lucky enough to make it to land, referencing the US Wet Foot Dry Foot policy, which granted them the automatic right to apply for US residency a year later. Many others weren’t so lucky and suffered grim fates. One of these was 15-year-old Gregorio Perez Ricardo who died after a severe dehydration spell.
The death of the adolescent inspired a number of pilots and activists in South Florida – not all of which were born in Cuba – to come together and form The Brothers to the Rescue. The organization, which described itself as a humanitarian non-profit, made it their mission to fly Cessna planes over the Florida Straits in search of Cuban rafters.

The Brothers to the Rescue recount that they conducted over 2,400 aerial search missions, which resulted in the rescue of more than 4,200 Cubans, from infants to elderly individuals, especially during the refugee crisis of 1994. The pilots would drop food and water to the rafters as well as guide them to land.

But tragedy would strike the organization on February 24th 1996. On that day, Armando Alejandre Jr, Carlos Costa and Mario de la Pena – all American citizens – and Pablo Morales, a Cuban-born American resident, carried out a mission over international waters near Havana when their planes were shot down upon orders from the Cuban government.

Their mission that day was to look for rafters. But the plans were interrupted when a Cuban MiG-29 attacked them in international airspace.

All four pilots died on the spot. The news rippled through Miami and South Florida, drawing devastation throughout the Cuban-American exile community. News of the incident echoed throughout the rest of the US and the world. President Bill Clinton even went on to say that “the shooting of civilian aircraft out of the air was a flagrant violation of international law. It is wrong and the United States will not tolerate it”

President Clinton signed the Helms Burton law, which codified into law the US embargo of Cuba. After the death of the four pilots of Brothers to the Rescue, their legacy would live on in the South Florida Cuban-American community. Relatives and fellow activists would also undertake a mission to try and bring the Cuban regime to justice by taking them to court, a battle that is still underway.


On November 23, 1999 a boat carrying a child, Elian Gonzalez and his mother Elizabeth capsized after leaving Cuba near the Florida coast. Elizabeth died but Elian was rescued by two fishermen. This event initiated a crisis with Elian’s father requesting that the child be returned to Cuba while his family in Florida requested asylum for Elian. In June 2000, U.S. federal agents seized Elian and returned him to Cuba despite the opposition of most in the Cuban-American community.
The Elian case seems to have weakened, at least temporarily, the Cuban-American community’s political clout. Yet it focused indirectly the attention of the American public and the media on the nature of the Castro’s regime and its violations of human rights. Time and again Americans have been exposed to Castro’s manipulations and attempts to control the Elian affair. It is true that most Americans were annoyed with the delay in the reunification of Elian with his father as well as with Cuban-American protests.

The Elian case also mobilized and energized the Cuban-American community in Miami like no other event has been able to do. For the past four decades the Cuban-American community struggled to “make it” in America, peaceful, respectful of the law. The community turned its energies toward informing the American public about Cuba’s reality, preventing a normalization of U.S. relations with Castro and reversing the unfair demonizing of Cuban-Americans that had taken place in the America media.

The Cuban community also became disillusioned with an alienated from American society and particularly from the Democratic Party. Since the Bay of Pigs events in 1961, Cubans have felt that the Democrats “betrayed” the Cubans’ aspirations to free their homeland. The sending of Elian back to Cuba was seen as another betrayal and rekindled feelings that have been dormant for many years.

In the final analysis the Elian case developed into a wake-up call for the American public not to provide a gift of trade, investment and tourism to an aging anti-American dictator that certainly had done nothing to deserve it.