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      Caribbean Missile Crisis: Learning From History

      By Héctor Igarza Cabrera
      Cuban Ambassador to Canada

      Many politicians, intellectuals, pacifists and ideologues have commented these days on the dangers that the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine could lead to a nuclear war, alluding to the missile crisis in the Caribbean that occurred precisely in the month of October 1962.

      What is presented as a crisis of several days 60 years ago omits by mistake, ignorance or bad faith, the true causes that originated the worst moment of tension during the so-called Cold War. They point out that the conflict began when the Americans discovered that the Soviets were installing nuclear weapons in Cuba. Mistake.

      The October Crisis is part of the historical confrontation between Cuba and the United States whose permanent objective is to completely destroy the Cuban Revolution, which reached its final triumph in 1959 in a long war that began in 1868, first against Spain and then against the United States of America.

      The US authorities have never forgiven Cuba for inflicting the first and only major military defeat on the American continent, which was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (Playa Girón), in which the popular militias needed less than 72 hours to put an end to the aggression.

      However, during the October Crisis there was no military confrontation as in Girón, nor were conventional or nuclear weapons used.

      Why did the Soviets decide to send missiles to Cuba and the United States responded with a blockade of the Island?

      The nuclear missile crisis was the result of the escalation in the aggressions of the United States that, through Operation Mongoose, foresaw new aggressions, a larger invasion, combined with sabotage operations, destruction of economic assets, assassination plans against the leaders of the Revolution, infiltrations, pirate attacks, bombings of the City of Havana and economic and social objectives, among others, accompanied by a strong dose of propaganda inside and outside the Island.

      US President Dwight Eisenhower had supported the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and was not interested in reaching an understanding with the new Cuba of 1959.

      Between 1959 and 1961 Eisenhower did everything possible and imaginary to prevent the new revolutionary power from consolidating itself. For this reason, the first thing he did was to give refuge to the war criminals who had murdered more than 20,000 Cubans and who fled to the United States to later return as mercenaries through Playa Girón.

      The CIA and Eisenhower personally came to the conclusion that one way to eliminate the example of the Cuban Revolution was to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro and invade the Island.

      The Directorate of the Revolution accepted the installation of strategic weapons based on the principle of the right to national defense and also because of the existing solidarity in the then socialist camp. Therefore, the decision was not only made by Nikita Khrushchev or the Soviet Union, but rather through a Mutual Aid and Military Assistance Agreement.

      And it is that the rockets in Cuba meant a dissuasive factor against the intentions of the United States to invade the Island. Its proximity to US territory represented a factor of balance of forces between both contending powers.

      That is why the Revolutionary Government reached the conclusion of accepting the installation of the rockets after verifying a long history of aggression by the United States that seriously endangered Cuban national security.

      The John F. Kennedy administration did not change its policy toward Cuba. During his campaign he had already demanded the support of Cuban mercenaries to carry out the invasion plans that he had inherited from Eisenhower. That is why it was not difficult for the CIA to convince Kennedy that the Bay of Pigs invasion was necessary.

      The year 1961 began with a deterioration of consular relations between the two countries. On January 3, the US government broke off relations with Cuba, thus fulfilling a manifest aspiration of President Eisenhower.

      When John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency on January 20, 1961, he maintained his aggressive policy towards the island. In his first press conference, he reported that he had no plans to reestablish relations with Cuba. On March 31, he did eliminate the quota of Cuban sugar in the North American market for the rest of the year 1961.

      The days of Playa Girón arrived, preceded by sabotage of civilian economic targets and the bombing of Cuban airports on April 15, the latter with the aim of destroying the incipient air force of the Rebel Army.

      The projected plan for the invasion was very clear to those who formulated it: take a beachhead, hold on to it and implant a puppet government that they had prepared in Florida. They would then request recognition from the United States and its allies in the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as asking for help from the US military.

      Playa Girón was not only a defeat for the Empire, but also for the Kennedy brothers on an intimate personal level, which is why Cuba has since acquired a special connotation for the administration, particularly for the President, who from then on swore revenge for the humiliation suffered.

      The Bay of Pigs disaster explains why Kennedy’s decision to invade Cuba, but now with the US Army, which led to the created environment that provides the conditions for the beginning of the October Crisis.

      Only ten days after the end of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the President, his General Staff and the CIA review a contingency plan for the deployment of US troops in Cuba and calculated that to obtain complete control of the island in eight days they would need 60 thousand soldiers.

      The invasion of Cuba would take place in the final days of October 1962 and for this Kennedy met with a group of Cuban exiles, headed by José Miró Cardona, president of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the same one that they had planned as President for Cuba if the Bay of Pigs invasion would have succeeded.

      Unlike what had happened with the mercenary invasion at Playa Girón, the Pentagon came to the fore in relation to the plans against Cuba.

      While the preparations for an invasion of Cuba continued, the Island also continued to enhance its relations with the socialist countries, especially with the USSR, which had long been a permanent concern of the United States.

      In September 1962, a second agreement was signed with the Soviet Union through which Cuba received a supply of conventional weapons for an amount of 149 million 500 thousand dollars.

      On October 5, 1962, Memorandum 100 of National Security Action was presented, entitled “Emergency Plan for Cuba”, through which the Department of State was directed, “... to assess the potential avenues of action open to the United States if Castro should be removed from the Cuban scene, and prepare an emerging plan with the Department of Defense for military intervention, if necessary”.

      With the criminal sabotage of the La Coubre steamer on March 4, 1960, the CIA had already given more than enough evidence of how far it was willing to go in order to prevent Cuba from acquiring defensive capacity.

      Along with the preparations for the invasion, the Kennedy administration unleashed a campaign of harassment against Cuba, both in the OAS and with the support of some Latin American governments.

      The issues of preparation for military aggression continued, and even before the October Crisis, the Mongoose Plan was already operating with relative independence, led at the highest level of the administration by Robert Kennedy, all based on a sole and supreme objective, to overthrow the Revolutionary Government using all necessary means.

      The creation, organization, financing and direction of the bands of mercenaries infiltrated in Cuba to create terror among the civilian population, reactivated after Playa Girón, had as its main political objective to make world public opinion believe, in particular in the hemisphere, that in Cuba there was a civil war between supporters of the government and an organized opposition, all with the purpose of giving legitimacy to the internal armed counterrevolution.

      As in the moments preceding the Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba developed a campaign of denunciation in Latin America and in the United Natiions, where the actions against the Island, by the Kennedy administration, had the precise objective of presenting it as a pariah of the international relations and as a nation incompatible with the rules of coexistence within the hemisphere imposed by the United States.

      These are the fundamental reasons that allow us to understand why the crisis did not begin with the installation of the rockets in Cuba, but much earlier.

      The October Crisis did not last thirteen days either. It lasted from October 14-16, when Kennedy was officially and verified aware of the existence of nuclear rockets in Cuba, until November 30, when the positions regarding the final agreements of the crisis were set.

      To concentrate the crisis in the thirteen days has been to understand it only from the perspective of the time that the missiles remained in Cuba. Another way of saying that it was the presence of the missiles in Cuba that determined the crisis.

      The crisis also had several beginnings. For Cuba, it began since Eisenhower started his campaign of hostility against the Island. For the United States administration, since it had verified knowledge of the existence of the rockets in Cuba. While for the world and the people of the United States and the USSR, it began when President Kennedy made his address to the nation on October 22, proposing the first response measures.

      The measures announced by President Kennedy were the ones that really endangered world peace, due to their warlike and highly aggressive nature. Kennedy did not commit himself to anything formally, or to anything that he could not advantageously commit to.

      Everything remained in words and dead letters. Only the withdrawal of the Jupiter rockets from Turkey was achieved, although replacing them then with the Polaris mounted on the submarines. The promise not to invade Cuba was even more relative, since the United States continued to harass it, invading it on a small scale and continually subjecting it to all kinds of aggressions, which have forced the island to bear the cost of national security, always endangered.

      In reality, the United States, during these more than 60 years, has not invaded Cuba on a large scale, not because it cares about the 1962 agreement, but because the political and even military cost that it would have would be practically unpayable. Also,because as never before, there are today many reasonable people, institutions and politicians in the United States, who would strongly oppose a madness like that.

      Only the brave and intransigent position of the Cuban Directorate, of not allowing itself to be inspected, demanding respect, taking action against low flights and preventing at all costs from being coerced, together with the brave and determined attitude of the people, was what saved the prestige of the Revolution in the face of such events.

      The United States could not impose its conditions on Cuba, at least as far as its will depended, and such a show of ethicalpolitical strength cannot be forgotten.

      Khrushchev’s actions affected his personal prestige and that of the USSR in Cuba, as well as before the rest of the world. It also seriously affected relations between the two countries, which had a particularly critical moment when Commander in Chief Fidel Castro, during his visit to Moscow between April and May 1963, discovered that Khrushchev had negotiated with Kennedy, behind the backs of the Cuban leadership, exchange Cuban rockets for those of Turkey.

      Cuba offered examples of strength and selfdetermination by confronting the downing of the US U-2 spy plane, not allowing overflights within range of its anti-aircraft batteries, not allowing itself to be inspected, raising its demands through the famous five points of sovereignty and denouncing in the United Nations the aggressive and manipulative nature of US policy.

      An experience derived from the crisis is that the continued and even increased hostility of the United States against Cuba and the actions of that power, aimed at trying to impose a political-social regime of its liking, are phenomena that keep tense relations between the two countries.

      In light of the most recent manifestations of the aggressive arrogance of the United States and its willingness, even to the preventive use of nuclear weapons, the experience of the October Crisis can serve the world today as an invaluable wake-up call.

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