Castro, like Ho Chi Minh, may not have been a card-carrying communist at the time of his revolution, but he talked very much like one. Substitute “terrorist” for “communist” and you get some sense of how very afraid of communist expansion the U.S. was at the time. Anything that walked, talked and looked like a communist was tagged a communist, and Fidel showed every outward appearance of communism.
Castro wasn’t the first revolutionary-cum-communist to be driven into the arms of Soviet style socialism. At the end of World War II, the man history would later know as Ho Chi Minh tried to approach the U.S. to end French hegemony in Indochina and help the Vietnamese become independent. Ho wrote a total of six letters to President Truman, but none was answered. Historians believe Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, diverted the letters and Truman never saw them. The U.S., meanwhile, backed France’s claim on Indochina in order to get France to work with Germany in rebuilding Europe. Later, when John Foster Dulles was secretary of state under Eisenhower, he was in Paris and actually met Ho face-to-face. When Ho tried to extend his hand and ask for Dulles’ help in getting through to Eisenhower, Dulles turned his back and walked away.
Now, here’s how that affects our relations with Cuba: Ultimately, in his struggle to free his country from foreign control, Ho did turn to the communists (in Moscow, not in Peking, as Washington had feared) determined to retain his country’s agrarian culture. By the time of the anti-Batista revolution in Cuba, Ho was already virulently communist, and Castro was making noises like a communist. By the late 1950s, the U.S. already saw a protracted struggle looming to contain communism in Asia – we were in no mood to tolerate it in our own hemisphere.
We backed Batista with everything but troops because he was the non-communist choice, and because Castro had already made a lot of noise about shutting down the gambling dens because of their alleged negative effects on Cuban culture. Castro was otherwise anti-capitalist – if I remember my history correctly, he made it clear that he desired “land reform” along the lines of that sought by contemporary revolutionaries in the rest of Latin America.
Although the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary gave the U.S. all the self-awarded right it needed to intervene militarily in the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. was simply exhausted from World War II and Korea. Besides, nobody really thought Castro could win. It wasn’t until Batista grabbed his piano and skipped the country that it dawned on the Washington that the revolutionaries were going to take Havana.
By then it was too late – you can’t change your bet once the horserace begins. The Soviets had armed and supported Castro, and even sent advisors to help him fight. He was forever and permanently in Moscow’s pocket.