October 27, 2012 - No. 40
50th Anniversary of 1962 Cuban
The Need to Resolutely Defend
the Rights of All -- End the Blockade of Cuba!
• The Need to Resolutely Defend
Sovereignty and the Rights of All -- End the Blockade of
Cuba! - Dougal MacDonald
• The October Crisis in the Words of Fidel
50th Anniversary of 1962 Cuban Missile
The Need to Resolutely Defend Sovereignty and the
Rights of All -- End
the Blockade of Cuba!
Thousands of University of British Columbia students demonstrate against U.S.
actions during the Cuban
Missile Crisis, October 24, 1962.
October 16 to October 29 marks the 50th anniversary of
what is called the "Cuban Missile Crisis" when the world faced an
imminent danger of nuclear war as a result of the confrontation between
the two superpowers at that time, the United States and the Soviet
Union. The events have been rendered as a distorted Cold War account in
which the United States emerges as the hero while the facts are
mostly hidden or distorted. Why Soviet missiles capable of carrying
nuclear warheads were set up in Cuba with the permission of the Cuban
government and how the crisis was resolved are mostly not explored.
During these events, the U.S. ruling circles also
prepared a major
military strike against Cuba -- possibly involving nuclear weapons --
out" the missiles. The U.S. imperialists were of
course applying their usual
double standard because as of May 1962 they had deployed Jupiter IRBM
nuclear missiles in Turkey which threatened the Soviet Union. The
ostensibly ended when the Soviets dismantled the missile sites in Cuba
shipped the missiles back to the Soviet Union or, depending on the
when the U.S. was forced by events to dismantle the missiles in Turkey,
leading the Soviet Union to dismantle its missiles in Cuba. We are told
hardliners wanted Cuba invaded to stop the threat, while luckily U.S.
John F. Kennedy wanted to give diplomacy a chance.
The role played by Nikita Khruschev is largely distorted
while Kennedy was portrayed then and continues to be portrayed today as
the great peacemaker of the era, even while the U.S. escalated
aggression against the people of Viet Nam, increasing U.S. troop
numbers from 500 to 16,000. In such accounts, revolutionary Cuba is a
mere footnote, a fly to be swatted away. The clear implication then was
the same as it is today -- that a small country like Cuba should not
stand up to the imperialists because such resistance might ignite a
announcement on Radio Rebelde by Leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel
Castro on January 1, 1959, that U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista
had been defeated by the rebel army.
The U.S. imperialists had long considered Latin America,
to be their personal domain. The Monroe Doctrine of
1823 stated that
efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states
Americas would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S.
The Spanish-American war of 1898 substituted U.S. domination of Cuba
Spanish domination. Cuba was declared nominally independent in 1902
signing the notorious Platt Amendment which gave the U.S. the right to
intervene in Cuban affairs. But prior to the 1959 revolution, Cuban
rarely made important decisions without consulting the U.S. ruling
U.S. monopolies, the Mafia, and the CIA
dominated the Cuban economy,
mainly through manipulating the sugar industry.
The historic Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959, sent
into a frenzy and on April 17, 1961, the U.S. launched an unsuccessful
invasion at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón), Cuba, with the full
backing of the
"peacemaker" Kennedy, in an attempt to destroy the revolution by armed
Cuban forces quickly routed the U.S. invaders. In retaliation for their
at the Punta del Este meeting of the U.S.-dominated Organization of
States (OAS) in January 1962, the U.S. spearheaded the passing of an
embargo against Cuba and on February 3, President Kennedy declared an
embargo against trade with Cuba. The U.S. blockade of Cuba continues to
present day even though it has been opposed by the vast majority of the
world's people for decades on the basis that only the Cuban people have
right to decide their political and economic system.
The real essence of the Cuban Missile Crisis was Cuba's
under the revolutionary leadership of its legendary leader Fidel
Castro, of its
sovereignty and rights in the face of continuing U.S. provocation and
aggression. The U.S. imperialists used the excuse of "national
justify their crimes, giving themselves the right to decide what Cuba
within its own borders, including what weapons Cuba should have. Before
during the crisis the U.S. flew regular flights over Cuba in U-2 spy
which routinely violated Cuban airspace, sent agents
into Cuba, carried out
economic sabotage, performed naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea in
proximity to Cuba with the intent to intimidate, and broadcasted
propaganda. The U.S. never accepted the right of the Cuban people to
determine their own destiny and had plans to destroy the revolution
the day of victory. As well, the U.S. continued to illegally occupy the
Guantanamo Naval Base on Cuban territory which it does to the present
Castro and Fidel, along with Cuba's armed forces, celebrate victory
over U.S.-backed mercenaries at Playa Girón, April 19, 1961.
On October 30, 1962, the day after the Soviet Union
agreed to dismantle
the missile sites in Cuba and remove the missiles, United Nations
Secretary-General U Thant approached Cuban Premier Fidel Castro with
arrogant demands which the U.S. had put forth to "help resolve the
Thant stated that the U.S. wanted two teams of United Nations
created -- one in an airplane and one on land -- to inspect the
the missile ramps in Cuba, which the Soviet Union was carrying out. The
stated that if Cuba agreed to the U.S. demand for monitoring of the
sites, the U.S. would agree not to invade Cuba and to end the illegal
In other words, the U.S. would not commit acts of aggression and would
by international law only if Cuba fell to its knees before U.S. demands!
Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro justly replied to U
Thant that Cuba
was upholding international law while the U.S. was cynically violating
do not understand at all why this is asked of us, since we have not
any right, we have not committed aggression against anyone. All our
been based on international law, we have done absolutely nothing
norms of international law. On the contrary we have been victims, in
place, of a blockade which is an illegal act; in the second place of
presumption to determine from another country what we can or cannot
rightfully do within our own borders."
Prime Minster Castro continued, firmly asserting Cuba's
rights as a
sovereign state: "We understand Cuba is neither more nor less of a
state than any other member state of the United Nations, enjoying all
attributes inherent in those states. Besides, the United States has
violated our air space without any right, committing an intolerable act
aggression against our country. It has tried to justify this by an
the Organization of American States but that agreement has no validity
We have, moreover, been expelled from the OAS. We can accept anything
which is according to law, anything which does not infringe upon our
condition as a sovereign state. The rights that were violated by the
States have not been re-established and we do not accept any imposition
During the Cuban
Missile Crisis, known in Cuba as the October Crisis, Cuba's armed
forces and its people remained calm and at the ready to defend the
to the end.
Prime Minister Castro then dismissed the request for
inspection as a further
attack on Cuba's sovereignty and rights. "I understand that this
inspection is a further attempt to humiliate our country. Therefore we
accept it. The demand of inspection is intended to confirm its
violate our right to act with complete freedom within our own
right to decide what we can or cannot do within our own borders. And
present line is not one made up for this occasion; it is a point of
we have always and invariably maintained."
Prime Minister Castro also reminded U Thant that Cuba's
just stand had
already been made very clear in the Revolutionary Government's reply to
October 22 Joint Resolution of the U.S. Congress announcing the
is absurd to threaten a direct armed attack, in the event of Cuba's
strengthening itself militarily to a degree which the United States
itself to specify. We have not the least intention of informing or
U.S. Senate or House as to the weapons we see fit to acquire and the
to be taken to defend our country properly. Are we not supported in
the rights which international norms, laws and principles recognize for
sovereign state throughout the world? We have not granted the U.S.
any sovereign prerogative, nor do we intend to do so. This point of
reaffirmed in the United Nations by the President of the Republic of
also has been repeatedly proclaimed by me in numerous public statements
Prime Minister of the government. And it is a firm stand of the Cuban
Prime Minister Castro concluded by reasserting Cuba's
vow to always
defend its sovereign rights: "All these steps have been taken to ensure
security of our country, in the face of a systematic policy of
aggression; they have been taken in full accordance with the law, and
not renounced our decision to defend our rights. We can negotiate with
sincerity and honesty. We should not be honest if we agreed to
sovereign right of our country. For these rights we are ready to pay
price is necessary and this is not a mere verbal formula but the very
felt attitude of our people."
Far from being a paean to the so-called peacemaking of
and U.S. imperialism, Prime Minister Castro's incisive remarks show the
significance of the Cuban Missile Crisis: it showed once again that it
and continues to be today thanks to the Cuban people's militant defence
their sovereignty that the U.S. imperialists are unable to prevail.
They are the
real warmongers and the real road to peace in the world is that which
guarantees the rights of the peoples and the decision of the peoples to
in defence of these rights. The people of Cuba were determined to
defend their rights in the face of all difficulties, even when
threatened by the
most powerful country in the world. "Cuba stands as a symbol of the
for liberation and independence that imperialism is striving to
Nothing stimulates Cubans more than their determination to stay in
combat in defence of their identity, culture and life itself, as
and the master of its own destiny."
In the world today, U.S.
imperialism still gives itself the right to try to
force every other country to do U.S. bidding or be attacked. Current
include Syria and Iran. In both cases, U.S. imperialism is trying to
these countries can or cannot do within their own territories. Cuba, on
other hand, has consistently called for non-interference in the affairs
Syria and Iran. In the current climate, countries would do well to
Cuba's many examples over the past fifty years of staunchly defending
sovereign rights and the rights of others in the face of aggression.
stand has always been an integral part of the Cuban people's heroic
for the better future that they want to achieve, free from outside
1. In his self-serving account Thirteen Days,
Robert F. Kennedy, stated: "[President Kennedy] had
ordered the Pentagon to make all the preparations necessary for further
military action. Secretary [of Defense Robert] McNamara, in a
report, had listed the requirements: 250,000 men, 2,000 air sorties
various targets in Cuba, and 90,000 Marines and Airborne in the
force...Troops were rapidly moving into the southeastern part of the
equipped and prepared. Arrangements were begun to gather the over a
vessels that would be needed for an invasion." (Kennedy, Robert F.
. Thirteen Days. New York: W. W. Norton.)
2. One notorious post-war example is the U.S.'s 1954 violent overthrow
of the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala, ushering
decades of death-squads, torture and murder, totalling well over
victims. For a detailed account of the coup, see Bitter Fruit
Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, 1982.
3. The Mafia established itself in Havana in the 1930s, engaging in
criminal activity and "legitimate" business. In December 1946, a major
meeting of leading mobsters from the United States was held in Havana,
presided over by mob financier Meyer Lansky, who had taken up
Lansky left Havana the day after the revolution.
4. In 1952, the CIA organized the overthrow of the Prio family
government, which had challenged Rockefeller control of Cuban nickel
and had declared unlimited sugar production for 1951. The coup put the
obedient General Fulgencio Batista in power until the revolution.
5. At the last United Nations General Assembly vote (2011) on ending
blockade of Cuba, the count was 187 countries voting to end the
only the U.S. and Israel supporting the blockade. The U.N. has voted
overwhelmingly against the blockade for the last twenty years. The next
will be November 13.
6. On October 27, 1962, a high-flying U-2 spy plane piloted by U.S.
Major Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down over Cuba by a SAM missile.
7. Castro, Fidel (1963). Television Speech delivered on November
1962. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.
8. Bains, Hardial . Visiting Cuba. Toronto: New
Magazine Publishing Company.
Fidel Castro: My Life -- A Spoken Autobiography
Posted below is an excerpt from Chapter 13: The 'Cuban
of October 1962 of the book Fidel Castro: My Life -- A Spoken
with Ignacio Ramonet and published by Penguin Books in 2008. In this
excerpt, legendary leader of the Cuban Revolution Comrade Fidel Castro
is inteviewed by Ramonet about the events of
Scenes from the 1962
crisis. Left: Cuban militia man an anti-aircraft battery at Havana's
Malecon during the missile crisis. Right: Fidel Castro talks with the
crew of a field artillery battery.
Question -- Ignacio Ramonet: With Kennedy, you -- and the
rest of the
-- lived through one of the most dangerous international crises in
the so-called 'Cuban Missile Crisis' of October I962, what in Cuba is
the 'October Crisis'. How do you see that situation now, forty-three
-- Fidel Castro: It
very tense moment, and there are many lessons
be learned from that crisis. The world was on the verge of a
war as a consequence of the United States' aggressive, brutal policy
Cuba -- a plan, approved about ten months after the disastrous defeat
suffered in Girón and about eight months before the crisis broke
the island with the direct use of that country's naval, air and land
The Soviets managed to obtain absolutely trustworthy
that plan, and they notified Cuba of the existence of the danger,
weren't totally explicit - the truth is, they protected their source.
they'd come to that conviction after the meeting between Khrushchev and
Kennedy in Vienna. The details of the plan were learned some twenty
later, when the documents related to the subject were declassified and
published by the US government.
The Soviets sent Sharaf Rashidov, Party secretary in
Marshal Sergei Biryuzov, commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces in
USSR, to talk to us. At the first meeting, Raúl and I were
After offering the information I mentioned, they asked
what I thought
should be done to avoid the attack. I answered calmly: 'Make a public
statement warning the United States, just as they do in similar
that an attack on Cuba will be considered an attack on the Soviet
I then made my argument for that approach. They sat and
it for a while and then added that in order for it not to be just a
statement, certain concrete measures had to be adopted. That was when
said they thought it was a good idea to install a minimal number of
medium-range missiles in Cuba.
In my view, there was a clear desire [on their part] to
improvement in the balance of power between the USSR and the United
States. I confess I was none too happy about the presence of those
in Cuba, given our interest in avoiding the image of Cuba as a Soviet
especially [as we might be seen in that way by] Latin America. So I
'Let's take a break; I want to consult with the National Directorate of
Revolution about this delicate and extremely important matter.'
And we had that meeting around noon. At that meeting, I
recall, besides Raúl there were Bias Roca, Che, Dorticós
and Carlos Rafael. I told them
we'd been discussing and [explained that it appeared to me that]
Soviets'] sincere desire to prevent an attack against Cuba, a subject
Khrushchev was very committed, they were hoping to improve the balance
strategic forces, given what the presence of their missiles in Cuba
-- it would be the equivalent of the window [recently] achieved by the
States through the presence of similar missiles in Turkey and Italy,
neighboured the Soviet Union.
I added that it would be inconsistent of us to expect
the maximum support
from the USSR and the rest of the Socialist camp should we be attacked
the United States and yet refuse to face the political risks and the
damage to our reputation when they needed us. That ethical and
point of view was accepted unanimously.
When we got back to the place where the USSR's
waiting for us, I told them that if this was a measure meant to protect
from a direct attack and simultaneously strengthen the Soviet Union and
Socialist camp, then we agreed to the installation of as many
rockets as might be necessary.
The rest of the time was spent on the relevant
measures. Forty-two medium-range rockets would be sent in. The
naval, air and land
forces in Cuba would be reinforced with missile-equipped patrol boats,
regiment of MiG-21 fighter planes, four brigades of motorized infantry
equipped with armoured personnel carriers and tanks, and a regiment of
tactical nuclear arms that would be armed with nuclear warheads when
crisis broke out and whose commander would be empowered to use them
without higher orders. Years later, McNamara would be horrified when he
learned this. Batteries of surface-to-air missiles with a range of
kilometres would be deployed to protect the strategic nuclear arms.
This conversation took place five months before the
crisis. There was not
a second to lose. The effort was astounding.
Without that background, you can't have an idea of what
October 1962. Among other things, we discussed the preparation of all
relevant documents. The Soviets [said that they] would send them, and a
time later they did.
I studied them in great detail and realized that the
draft of the accord or
military agreement on the emplacement of the missiles had gaps from the
political point of view and so couldn't be presented as a public
such a delicate subject.
I rewrote it completely -- wrote it out in longhand --
sent it with Raúl
to Moscow. There, he discussed it with Minister of Defence Malinovski
with Khrushchev. It was accepted without changing a full stop or a
The preparations began. I must in fairness tell you that
the armed forces
[of Cuba] and the Soviets acted with great efficiency to install the
in such a short time. First of all, we exerted great efforts in
exploring, with the
Soviets, sites on which to install the units and the armaments,
medium-range missiles and all the elements to defend and protect them.
all that while still maintaining the strictest possible rules of
compartmentalization, camouflage and discretion is perhaps the hardest
you can imagine. Our armed forces and security agencies, backed by the
and the mass organizations, acted with an efficiency that I don't think
world has ever seen. But despite these efforts, rumours circulated
Those who were disaffected with the Revolution would send messages any
way they could to the United States, informing their family members and
[government] functionaries of the movements they were observing. The
wasn't long in echoing the rumours. Kennedy was asked about it by the
opposition and by the press.
A strange, byzantine discussion began between the
Soviets and the
government of the United States about the offensive versus defensive
of the arms being sent to Cuba. Khrushchev assured Kennedy that the
were defensive. In this case [i.e., the case of Cuba], Kennedy
to mean that there were no medium-range weapons. I think he believed,
own way, Khrushchev's categorical assurance -- Khrushchev, in fact,
to insist that the weapons were defensive, not on any technical basis
because of the defensive purposes for which they'd been installed in
[But the] USSR had no need to go into those explanations. What Cuba and
USSR were doing was perfectly legal and in strict conformity with
international law. From the first moment, Cuba's possession of
required for its defence should have been declared.
We didn't like the course the public debate was taking.
I sent Che, who
[at the time] was minister of industry and a member of the National
Directorate of the ORI, to explain my view of the situation to
including the need to immediately publish the military agreement the
and Cuba had signed. But I couldn't manage to persuade him.
response was that he'd later send in the Baltic Fleet, so as to
strong a response by the United States.
For us, for the Cuban leaders, the USSR was a powerful,
government. We had no other argument to use to persuade them that their
strategy for managing the situation should be changed, so we had no
alternative but to trust them.
How did the crisis begin?
the missile installations on
14-15 October. A
U-2 spy plane flying at high altitude took photos of some launch ramps.
fact is, we know today that it was a member of the Soviet information
services, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, who gave the Americans the exact
coordinates of the missiles that the U-2 then detected. Kennedy was
on 16 October. Six days later, the crisis began.
What's hard to believe about Khrushchev's attitude is
surface-to-air missile batteries were located all over the island,
there'd been no
attempt to prevent the adversary from spotting the Soviet-Cuban defence
positions [with] spy planes overflying the island.
This was no longer a question that had to do with
tactics or strategy. It
was a decision that had to do with the willingness, or lack thereof, to
a firm stance in the situation that had emerged. From our point of
we stated then and that I still state today, allowing spy planes [to
Cuba] gave the adversary, for free, an extraordinary advantage. It gave
an entire week to organize their plan of response, both politically and
When the crisis broke out, Khrushchev didn't have a
clear idea of what he
should do. [His] first statement was a forceful, energetic condemnation
position that Kennedy had taken.
What did Kennedy do at that point?
touch with Khrushchev, who at that
point made an
error, an ethical and political error. In a letter, Khrushchev lied to
he told him that they were 'defensive' weapons, not strategic. Clearly
were weapons that could be used for defence, but they were offensive,
There were some thirty-six [sic] medium-range strategic missiles here,
other weapons systems. And the Soviet general who commanded that
had the authority, the power, under certain circumstances, to use those
weapons, as well as anti-aircraft weapons. I mean, he had a certain
authority to use them without even consulting with Moscow.
That letter of Khrushchev's was taken to Kennedy by
Gromyko, who was the Soviet minister of foreign affairs. That was on 18
October. At that point, the problem had not yet been made public.
But then, on 19 October, Kennedy consulted with the US
Joint Chiefs of
Staff, who advised Kennedy to authorize a massive aerial attack on the
installations. On 20 October, on the advice this time of Robert
Secretary of State, Kennedy decided to impose a naval blockade on the
with 183 warships, among which were eight aircraft carriers, and 40,000
Marines on transport ships.
In Florida, 579 combat planes and five army divisions
were assembled and
put on alert, among which were two elite air divisions, the 82nd and
Airborne. But the American people, and people around the world, still
know what was happening.
When did Kennedy make the public
He spoke on television on 22 October, at 7 p.m. His
carried by every network, with a great sense of drama, and at that
world became aware that there was this crisis and that we were on the
of a nuclear war. He announced that the Soviet Union had to withdraw
missiles or it risked a nuclear war. And he also announced a naval
of Cuba, in order to prevent the arrival of more missiles. By this
Soviets had arrested Colonel Penkovsky and they knew that the Americans
all the information. And they also knew that Kennedy knew that
had lied in his letter.
When was it that you were informed of what
it out when, on the 22nd, there
was a spectacular
announcement that Kennedy would be speaking that night at seven [...]
also saw a number of other indications. There was nothing it could be
reaction to the presence of the missiles. I'd already asked the Soviet
command in Cuba to speed up as much as possible the construction of the
missile-launching ramps. We had to be ready to fight. They worked day
night. On 16 October practically no launch ramp was ready; by the 18th
were eight, on the 20th there were thirteen, and on the 21st there were
Things went very, very fast.
What did the Cubans do, faced with such
you, even before Kennedy spoke, we'd
anticipated the reason
for his appearance, so we decided to sound the combat alarm and
down to the last man. Somewhere around 300,000 combatants were called
arms, all in a heightened spirit of defence. On 23 October I went on
to denounce the United States' policy, warn of the risk of invasion,
the nation in its entirety, and declare our willingness to fight,
Did the US naval blockade ever become
The blockade became effective on 24
October at two
in the afternoon. And at that moment there were twenty-three Soviet
naval vessels en route to Cuba. [(in 1st
ed.:) ... At any
moment there could have been an incident, an American ship could have
on a Soviet ship and nuclear war break out ... There was tremendous
Q: In that
situation, what did the UN do?
U.S. Ambassador to
the UN Adlai Stevenson makes presentation to the Security Council,
October 25, 1962.
that famous debate, which I would
embarrassing, between the American ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, and the
Soviet ambassador, Valerian Zorin. Stevenson [(in 1st ed.:) -- as Colin
did on 4 February 2003, with false evidence in that case, to justify
on Iraq --] made a spectacular presentation to the United Nations
Council in which he showed large aerial photographs of the strategic
bases. The Soviet ambassador denied the evidence, denied that the proof
authentic. He rejected the debate. It was all ad hoc, all improvised --
wasn't prepared to debate. He didn't attack, didn't denounce, didn't
the powerful reasons that Cuba -- a small country under constant
explicit and implicit from the superpower, under assault -- had for
and the USSR, faithful to its principles and its internationalist
providing it, and he got himself all tangled up in a mediocre argument
stemmed, ultimately, from the vacillations and public mishandling of
by Khrushchev in the months leading up to the crisis. He made the
rejecting the real debate, which should have been over the sovereignty
Cuba, its right to defend itself, to protect itself. That was on 25
Q: Meanwhile, I
believe the Americans were
reconnaissance flights over Cuba, weren't they?
They kept overflying the island, and
allowed to do so with impunity, despite the anti-aircraft batteries
that had been
installed precisely to prevent that, prevent the open, brazen spying on
territory, observing every detail of our defences.
So they continued to send the U-2 spy planes, and they
also started making
low-altitude flights. We decided to fire on the American planes that
making those low-level flights. You can't detect flights at more or
level - it makes it easy for there to be a surprise attack. We pointed
to the Soviet military officers in charge there, we told them that the
flights shouldn't be permitted. We had previously informed them that we
going to shoot them down. And we opened fire with anti-aircraft
On 27 October, in Oriente province, a battery of SAM
by the Soviets fired on and brought down a U-2 spy plane. It was at
that the moment of maximum tension occurred. The American officer
Anderson, the pilot of the U-2, was killed. That was the sign that
practically begun. At any time, another incident could have occurred,
could have led to all-out war. And let me repeat that in Cuba, the
Did you think at any point that war was
a very tense moment. And we ourselves
conflict was inevitable. And we were determined to take that risk. It
occurred to us to give in to the adversary's threats.
Q: But the
Soviets did give in.
At that moment of maximum tension, the Soviets sent
a proposal to
the United States. And Khrushchev didn't consult with us about it. They
proposed to withdraw the missiles if the Americans would withdraw their
Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy agreed to the compromise on 28
October. And the Soviets began to withdraw the SS-4s. That seemed to us
absolutely the wrong decision. It occasioned great indignation.
Did you have the impression that the
reached behind your back?
news reports that the Soviets were
proposal to withdraw the missiles. And it had never been discussed with
any way! We weren't opposed to a solution, because it was important to
a nuclear conflict. But Khrushchev should have told the Americans, 'The
Cubans must be included in the discussions.' At that moment they lost
nerve, and they weren't firm in their determination. Out of principle,
should have consulted with us.
Had they done that, the conditions [of the subsequent
most certainly have been better. There would have been no Guantanamo
Base; there'd have been no more high-altitude spy-plane reconnaissance
of that offended us a great deal; we took it as an affront. And we
And even after the agreement, we kept firing on the low-level flights.
had to suspend them. Our relations with the Soviets deteriorated. For
this had an influence on Cuban-Soviet relations.
I haven't wanted to tell you in great detail all the
steps we took during that
crisis, but it can't really be understood in all its political, moral
aspects without the letters exchanged between Khrushchev and me during
I'll start by reading you the letter I sent to
Khrushchev on 26 October
Dear Compañero Khrushchev,
After analysis of the
situation and the reports in our
possession, I consider
aggression to be almost imminent -- within the next twenty-four to
There are two possible
variants: the first and most
probable is an air attack
against certain objectives with the limited aim of destroying them; the
which is less probable though entirely possible, is invasion. In my
variant would demand a large force and is also the most repugnant form
aggression, which may deter them.
You may be sure that we will
offer firm and determined
resistance to an
attack, whichever the case. The morale of the Cuban people is extremely
and we will face the aggressor heroically.
I wish in these moments to
give you, very briefly, a
Should the second variant
take place and the
imperialists invade Cuba with
the intention of occupying [the country], the dangers of this
for humanity are so great that after such an event the Soviet Union
allow circumstances in which the imperialists might carry out a nuclear
strike against it.
I say this because I believe
that the imperialists'
become extremely dangerous, and if they do indeed perform an act so
and in such brazen violation of universal law and morality as invading
that would be the moment to eliminate that danger for ever, in an act
most legitimate self-defence. However hard and terrible the solution
there is no other.
This opinion is influenced by
my having observed the
evolution of this
aggressive policy, the way the imperialists, in defiance of world
[considering themselves] above principle and law, have blockaded the
violated our air space, and are now preparing for invasion, while they
every possibility of negotiation, despite knowing of the gravity of the
You have been and are a
tireless defender of peace; I
bitter these hours must be for you, when the results of your superhuman
are so seriously threatened. Until the last moment, however, we shall
our hope that peace may be salvaged, and we are willing and ready to
contribute whatever may be within our reach [to achieve that goal]. But
same time, we are ready to face with serenity a situation which we see
real and very imminent.
I convey to you once again
the infinite gratitude of the
Cuban people to
the Soviet people, who have been so generous and fraternal with us, and
profound gratitude and admiration to you [personally], as well as our
for success in the enormous task and grave responsibilities that you
On 28 October Khrushchev sent a reply:
Dear Comrade Fidel Castro,
Our message to President
Kennedy on 27 October allows
for a solution to
the matter in your favour and to defend Cuba against invasion, the
of the war. Kennedy's reply, which, evidently, you are familiar with as
offers securities that the United States not only will not invade Cuba
own forces, but will not allow their allies to do so. With this, the
the United States has replied positively to my messages of 26 and 27
1962. [ ... ]
For the time being, however,
it is not law that rules
but rather the lack of
sense of the militarists in the Pentagon. Since an agreement is in
Pentagon is looking for a pretext to thwart it. This is why it
provocative overflights. Yesterday, you shot down one of them, yet
you did not when they flew over your territory. That step will be used
aggressors to their advantage, to further their aims.
We send you, and your entire
collective direction, our
That same day, 28 October, I replied:
Dear Compañero Khrushchev,
Our government's position
with respect to your message
is contained in the
statement formulated today, whose text you are surely familiar with.
I would like to clarify
something with regard to the
we have adopted. You say: 'Yesterday, you shot down one of them [the
planes], yet previously you did not when they flew over your territory.'
Before, there were isolated
violations without any clear
military purpose or
real danger stemming from those flights.
Today, that is not the case.
There was the danger of a
surprise attack on
certain military installations. We decided that we could not simply sit
wait for a surprise attack. With our detection radar turned off,
attackers could fly over the objectives with impunity and totally
We did not believe we should allow that, given the cost and effort that
been expended, and also because it would greatly weaken both our
and our morale. It was with that motive that on 24 October Cuban forces
mobilized fifty anti-aircraft batteries, which was our entire reserve,
the positions held by Soviet forces. If we wished to avoid the risk of
attack, the artillery had to have orders to fire. The Soviet Forces
will be able to provide you with further information as to what
the downed plane.
Before, violations of our air
space were conducted on a de facto
Yesterday, the American
government tried to make the
overflying our air space at any hour of the day or night official. We
accept that, because it is the equivalent of renouncing a sovereign
However, we do agree to avoid an incident just now which might do great
harm to the negotiations, and we will give orders to the Cuban
hold their fire, although only while negotiations are going on and
reversing the decision we announced yesterday to defend our air space.
of us should, in addition, recognize the danger that in the current
of tension, incidents may accidentally occur.
I would also like to inform
you that we are opposed, on
inspections on our territory.
We are extraordinarily
appreciative of the efforts you
have made to
maintain the peace, and we absolutely agree as to the need to fight for
objective. If that is achieved in a just, solid and definitive manner,
it will have
been an inestimable service to humanity.
Fidel Castro Ruz
Khrushchev wrote to me again on 30 October:
Dear Comrade Fidel Castro,
We have received your letter
of 28 October and the
communications on the
conversations that both you and President Dorticós have had with
We understand that certain
difficulties are being
created for you because
we have promised the government of the United States to withdraw the
base from Cuba, on the grounds of [its being] an offensive weapon, in
exchange for their commitment to set aside any plans for an invasion of
by troops of the US or its allies in the Western Hemisphere and to
'quarantine', that is, end the [naval] blockade of Cuba. This led to
the end of
the conflict in the Caribbean, which was complicated, as you well
by a conflict between two world powers and had threatened to become a
world war involving thermonuclear weapons and missiles.
As we understand our
ambassador, there is the opinion
Cubans that the Cuban people would have wished for a statement of
kind, and at any rate would not have wished for a statement on the
of missiles. ...
In addition, there are
opinions that you and we have not
consulted with one another on these issues before taking the decision
you know. ...
Wasn't that consultation with
us? We understood this
cable as a sign of
extreme alarm. If in the conditions that had been created, and also
account the information that the bellicose and unbridled militarists in
United States wanted to take advantage of the situation and attack
had continued our consultations, time would have been lost and the
would have taken place.
We have reached the opinion
that our strategic missiles
in Cuba became
a kind of obsession for the imperialists: they became fearful and, out
that the missiles might be used, they might have risked taking action
eliminate them, either by bombing them or attacking Cuba. And one must
that they could have taken them out of combat. Therefore, I repeat,
was entirely justified.
In your cable of 27 October
you proposed that we carry
out a nuclear first
strike against the enemy territory. You, of course, understand what
lead to. This would not be a simple attack, but rather the beginning of
thermonuclear world war.
Dear Comrade Fidel Castro, I
believe your proposal to
have been wrong,
although I understand its motivation.
We have lived through the
most serious moment, in which
world war might have broken out. Clearly, in that case the US would
suffered enormous losses, but the Soviet Union and the entire Socialist
would also have suffered terribly. With respect to Cuba, the Cuban
is hard to say how it would have turned out. In the first place, the
fires of war
would have burned Cuba. There is no doubt that the Cuban people would
fought valiantly, but that it would also have perished heroically
doubted. [ ... ]
Now, as a result of the
measures we have taken, we have
objective we set ourselves when we entered our agreement with you to
the missiles to Cuba. We have extracted from the United States the
commitment that they themselves will not attack Cuba and that they will
allow their allies in Latin America to do so. We have extracted all
a nuclear strike. [ ... ]
Naturally, in the defence of
both Cuba and other
Socialist countries we
cannot confide in the veto of the government of the United States. We
adopted and will continue to adopt all measures to strengthen our
gather the forces needed in case of a counter-strike. [ ... ]
We believe that the aggressor
has suffered a defeat. It
was preparing to
attack Cuba, but we have stopped that, and forced [the aggressor] to
acknowledge before the world that it will not do so in the current
judge this to be a great victory. The imperialists, of course, are not
cease their fight against Communism. But we have our plans, too, and we
going to adopt our measures. This process of struggle shall continue so
as two political and social systems exist in the world, until one of
we know that it shall be our Communist system, conquers the entire
(Comrade Fidel Castro, we
wish you all possible success,
and I am sure
that you will achieve it. There are still machinations against you, but
intend, with you, to take every measure to thwart them and to
contribute to the
strengthening and development of the Cuban Revolution.)
On 31 October -- this is the last letter I'll read you
I replied to
Khrushchev in the following terms:
Dear Comrade Khrushchev,
I received your letter of 30
October. It is your view
that we were indeed
consulted before adoption of the decision to withdraw the strategic
You based [your letter] on the alarming news you say you have received
Cuba and, lastly, my cable of 27 October. I do not know what news you
have received; I am simply referring to the message I sent you the
night of 26
October, received by you on the 27th.
What we did in the face of
the events, Comrade
Khrushchev, was prepare
ourselves to fight. In Cuba there was but one kind of alarm: the
alarm that called our
people to arms. When in our judgement the imperialist attack became
imminent, I decided that I should communicate that news to you, and
both the government and the Soviet [military] command -- since there
Soviet forces committed to fighting alongside us in the defence of the
of Cuba against outside attack -- of the possibility of an attack that
it was not
within our power to halt, although we might indeed resist it ...
The danger could not daunt
us, because we have felt it
hanging over our
country for many years, and to a certain extent we have become used to
The eyes of many men, Soviet
and Cuban, who were willing
to die with
supreme dignity, wept when they learned of the surprising, unexpected
practically unconditional decision to withdraw the weapons.
You may not know to what
degree the Cuban people were
fulfil their duty to the patria and to humanity.
I was not unaware when I
wrote them that the words of my
be misinterpreted by you, and so they have been, perhaps because you
read them slowly and carefully, perhaps because of the translation,
because I tried to say too much in too few lines. However, I did not
to write. Do you think, Comrade Khrushchev, that we were thinking
of ourselves, of our generous people ready to immolate themselves, and
of course, unconsciously, but fully assured of the risk we ran? ...
We knew -- do not assume that
we didn't -- that we might
exterminated, as you insinuate in your letter, should a thermonuclear
out. Still, that did not persuade us to ask you to withdraw the
missiles, or ask
you to give in. Do you think we wanted that war? But how were we to
it if the invasion had occurred? It was precisely because such an
possible, that imperialism might thwart every solution -- and from our
view, their demands were impossible to accept, by either the USSR or
And if such an event had
occurred, what was one to do
with the madmen
who unleashed the war? You yourself have said that in the current
war will inevitably become thermonuclear war, and quickly so.
It is my position that once
the aggression has occurred,
the aggressors must
not be given the privilege to decide when nuclear arms will be used.
destructive power of these weapons is so great, and the means of
them so swift, that the aggressor can count on a considerable initial
in his favour.
And I did not suggest to you,
Comrade Khrushchev, that
become the aggressor, because that would be worse than wrong, it would
immoral and unworthy of me. What I did suggest was that from the moment
imperialism unleashed an attack against Cuba, and in Cuba [therefore, ]
the armed forces of the USSR stationed here to aid in our defence in
a foreign attack, a response be given the aggressors against Cuba and
USSR in the form of an annihilating counter-attack ...
I did not suggest to you,
Comrade Khrushchev, that the
USSR attack in
the midst of the crisis, as it seems from your letter you think, but
after the imperialist attack, the USSR act without hesitation and never
the error of allowing the enemy to strike you first with nuclear
in that sense, Comrade Khrushchev, I maintain my point of view, because
believe it to have been a fair, realistic assessment of the situation
at the time.
You can convince me that I'm wrong, but you cannot tell me that I'm
without first convincing me ...
You may wonder what right I
had to do so. I approached
concern for how thorny it might be, following the dictates of my
as befits a revolutionary inspired by the most disinterested sense of
and affection for the USSR ...
I don't see how I can say we
were consulted on the
decision made by you.
There is nothing I could want more at this time than to be mistaken. I
you were the one who was completely right. It is not several, a handful
Cubans, as you have been informed, but rather many, who are now living
moments of indescribable bitterness and sadness.
The imperialists have already
started talking again
about invading the
country, as proof of how ephemeral and little worthy of trust their
are. Our nation's will to resist the aggressors, however, remains
and perhaps more than ever needs to trust in itself and that will to
We shall fight against
adverse circumstances; we shall
current difficulties; and we shall move forward -- and nothing will be
destroy the bonds of friendship and eternal gratitude towards the USSR.
These letters have been published before, but I thought
it was a good idea
to include them in this retelling today, at your request, of the events
October crisis, because as I told you, it's not possible to fully
conduct during the crisis in all its political, emotional and military
In September 199I, during
a visit to Moscow by US
state James Baker, Baker and Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev
the withdrawal of the last Soviet troops from Cuba -- the Mechanized
Instruction Brigade. Did they consult with you this time about that
Consult! They never consult. By that time, they were
Everything they took out of here they took without consultation. In the
October crisis, they didn't consult and they agreed to allow the
missiles to be under inspection, under inspection by the United
we said, 'No, nobody comes in here to inspect. We will not authorize
you want to leave it's none of our affair.' So they invented this new
procedure -- they inspected en route out, at sea. That was the cause of
tense situation, the way they did it, but the USSR was still a
could talk about that for a long time - many mistakes were made; I've
about this on other occasions.
About this, one more
detail. When the Soviets
withdrew, in 1991,
when they withdrew the Soviet brigade from Cuba ...
No, they negotiated that directly with the United
consulting us. They negotiated everything without consulting us. Now
there was no reason to negotiate that brigade; both its personnel and
equipment had been weakened -- how could it fight, when the USSR was
divided and falling apart and the brigade had personnel from all the
republics? Despite the fact that the Soviet troops were technically
prepared, they're brave, they showed that in the Second World War. But
the time of the withdrawal the political situation in the former USSR
too, one might think that in exchange for
withdrawing the Soviet
brigade from Cuba, the Americans could have been persuaded to withdraw
from the base at Guantanamo, right?
Well, I think that was possible only at the time of
the October crisis,
as I said. The concession could have been won easily, with a little
equanimity and sang-froid, because the world wasn't willing to enter a
war on a whim of the United States.
A world war.
We put five demands on the table, among them a
cessation of the
pirate attacks [and] the acts of aggression and terrorism against us,
they went on after that for decades; a lifting of the economic
return of the arbitrarily occupied land on which the Guantanamo Naval
was located. All those [concessions] could have been easily obtained,
dramatic state of tension [the world was in], since, as I told you,
willing to march into a world war on account of a blockade, a few
attacks and a naval base that was illegal and on land occupied against
of the Cuban people. No one would have gone into a world war for that.
The presence of the strategic missiles was a very strong
reason for the
United States and its allies to join together. But the important thing
there was nothing illegal about an agreement with the Soviets to bring
missiles [against] the real threat of an invasion that was already
with all the pretexts in place. American historians, in their own
all the papers to prove that -- the plans to invade us. So by the time
started talking about installing missiles as a way to guarantee our
American plan for invading Cuba after Girón was already drawn
pretexts for invading us had been prepared since February 1962, and the
missiles, I believe, started arriving here in June.
In the summer of 1962.
That's right, in the summer -- months later. It's
very possible that the
Soviets mentioned that, because they. tended to have quite a bit of
information -- both superpowers had been spying on each other by every
for years. Through espionage or intelligence methods, the Soviets knew
the Americans' invasion plan. They didn't tell us they knew; they said
deduced it from Khrushchev's conversations with Kennedy in Vienna,
knowing the Soviets, they knew.
There was nothing illegal about our agreement with the
Soviets, given that
the Americans had Jupiter missiles in Turkey and in Italy, too, and no
threatened to bomb or invade those countries. The problem wasn't the
of the agreement -- everything was absolutely legal -- but rather
mistaken political handling of the situation, when, even though both
the USSR had the legitimate right, he started spinning theories about
and non-offensive weapons. In a political battle, you can't afford to
high moral ground by employing ruses and lies and half-truths.
I repeat: the act was absolutely legal, legitimate, even
justified. It was not
illegal. The error lay in the Soviets' lies and disinformation, because
emboldened Kennedy. Because Kennedy had real proof, which the Americans
had obtained from air reconnaissance, in the photos taken from the
which had violated our air space, and was allowed to do so. If you
surface-to-air missiles, you can't let the other country fly over the
they're supposed to defend. The United States doesn't allow any rival
to fly over its territory, nor would it have allowed a Soviet plane to
missile sites in Italy and Turkey [although the Soviets did].
There were many political and military errors, and it's
essential to talk
about them, in order to explain what happened back then.
In October 1962, it wasn't that we authorized the
pull-out, it's that we
didn't take measures to keep them from pulling out the missiles,
we did] we were going to have problems with both the two superpowers,
that was too much for Cuba.
It would have been too
We had control of the country, and no missile would
have moved an
inch if we'd decided they weren't going to, but that would have been
it made no sense. What we refused to do was authorize inspections. We
protested, expressed our displeasure, demanded those five [concessions].
But now, when the Soviets -- this is what happened, just
the way I'm
telling it -- negotiated with the Americans, within that policy, within
affair that emerged during those difficult days, hot love in the middle
of a cold
war, the Soviets and the Americans agreed to inspections at sea instead
inspection on Cuban soil.
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