The 50th anniversary has been an occasion for the big-business media in the U.S. to regurgitate the official narrative, in some cases with new information or “insight.”
But the basic outline has stayed the same for 50 years: After Washington learned about a secret Soviet plan to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy went on the air, pledging to take whatever action necessary to protect the American people from the Communist threat to their lives. A couple of weeks later, Kennedy’s military resolve and/or clever diplomacy prevailed and Moscow was forced to remove the missiles.
But the facts ascribe quite a different role to the three actors. The Kennedy administration pushed the world to the edge of nuclear war. Moscow’s self-serving actions provided a pretext for the U.S. rulers’ war drive. The decisive factor in preventing war was the working people of revolutionary Cuba, whose political determination and combat readiness forced Washington to pause, and then back down.
Hatred of Cuban RevolutionAt the root of the October Crisis, as it’s called in Cuba, is the U.S. rulers’ unremitting class hatred and fear of the Cuban Revolution.
Washington’s hostility began with the overthrow of the U.S.-backed tyranny of Fulgencio Batista by a popular revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro in 1959.
Worst of all for the U.S. rulers is that the workers and farmers of the island didn’t stop there. They wrested political power from the capitalist exploiters and used that power to expropriate the land and other bourgeois property from the ruling families of Cuba and the U.S.; transform social relations to meet the needs of the vast majority; and advance the interests of the working class worldwide. To Washington’s great dismay, they continue to defend this revolutionary course to this day.
Washington responded to the Jan. 1, 1959, popular insurrection and the revolutionary measures advanced over following months by backing counterrevolutionary groups carrying out acts of sabotage and murder throughout the island. U.S. aerial bombings began before the year was out and the CIA began training a mercenary force of Cuban exiles in early 1960 to prepare for an invasion.
In Cuba 1961 is called the “year of education,” marking the wiping out of illiteracy by a volunteer brigade force of a quarter million people, mostly youth. The same year opens with Washington breaking off diplomatic relations with Havana and the political and military preparation of the Cuban people for an inevitable invasion.
In mid-April, some 1,500 mercenaries armed, trained, supported and deployed by Washington landed near the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s south shore. The invasion was crushed in less than 72 hours by an armed population still beginning to organize its military defenses. As a result, plans for a full-scale U.S. invasion designed to follow the initial landing were scrapped—for the time being.
While Washington painted its first military defeat in the Americas as an ill-planned fiasco, the U.S. rulers took stock of their real miscalculation: the failure to account for the population’s revolutionary resolve, which led to a huge underestimation of the scope and efficiency of the response by Cuban workers and farmers.
The U.S. government then stepped up its murderous counterrevolutionary activities, including attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and other central leaders, and drew up new plans for overthrowing the revolution. One plot and provocation after another, with names like Operation Patty and Liborio, were thwarted by the Cuban government.
In November 1961, the Kennedy administration began to roll out Operation Mongoose, a multifaceted approach to overturn the revolution. Gen. Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drafted an outline for the plan, which was predicated on the following assumption: “In undertaking to cause the overthrow of the target government … final success will require decisive U.S. military intervention.”
Carrying out an invasion, the document explained, would require the fabrication of a sufficient pretext. A six-phase Basic Action Plan was set in motion in March and slated to culminate in the forcible overthrow of the Cuban government around late October.
Revolution prepares to defend itselfMeanwhile, Cuba strengthened its national defense, the backbone of which has always been the preparation for a “war of the entire people.” These steps were aided by the provision of some $200 million in war matériel from the Soviet Union, codified in agreements between the two nations in mid-1961.
On Feb. 3, 1962, Kennedy imposed a total trade embargo. About five months later, the governments of the Soviet Union and Cuba finalized a pact to implement Operation Anadyr. In exchange for the cancellation of some $67 million in debt incurred by Cuba for the arms agreements the previous year, Havana agreed to Moscow’s request to install medium and intermediate-range missiles under Soviet military control, which led to the transfer of some 42,000 Soviet troops to the island.
As Fidel Castro explained in a 1992 NBC interview and on other occasions, the Cuban government accepted the missiles not for its own defense, but as “an unavoidable duty” of solidarity with the Soviet Union, which was faced with a buildup of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey and elsewhere.
“We were not too pleased with the missiles actually,” Castro said in another 1992 interview for a PBS television documentary. “If it had been a matter only of our own defense, we would not have accepted the emplacement … because this would damage the image of the revolution throughout the rest of Latin America, and the presence of the missiles would in fact turn us into a Soviet military base and that had a high political cost.”
The Cuban and Soviet governments had opposing views on how the missile installation should be conducted.
Castro approached the question as a political one, arguing that it should be publicly proclaimed and explained to the world on the basis of Cuba’s sovereign right to defend itself. What’s more, Cuban leaders argued, if Washington discovered the missiles before they were operational, it would take advantage of the situation.
But Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev disregarded these concerns, insisted on total secrecy and repeatedly told Cuban leaders to “relax.” Moscow’s plan—driven by narrow self-interest and devoid of any concern for the welfare of Cuba, let alone advancing a revolutionary perspective in the Americas—was to announce the operation after the missiles were operational, which Washington would then have to accept. Soviet officials repeatedly denied rumors of the missiles’ presence in Cuba and had no plan for what to do if they were in fact discovered.
The Soviet government’s approach gave the U.S. rulers just the pretext they were looking for.
Washington blinkedA U.S. spy plane captured the first images of the missile sites Oct. 14. Washington began preparing its response as Soviet officials were still denying the missiles’ existence.
On Oct. 22 Kennedy gave a televised address from the White House announcing Moscow was secretly installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, which he characterized as an “explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas.” He presented himself as someone who had been lied to by Soviet officials and contrasted the clandestine nature of the operation in Cuba with Washington’s openly proclaimed nuclear buildup in Turkey and elsewhere.
He announced a naval blockade, euphemistically called a “quarantine,” directed against any ship carrying offensive weapons bound for Cuba. The plan worked out by the administration was to expand the blockade to include any petroleum products, gasoline or lubricants.
Gen. Taylor’s estimate that airstrikes could not be certain to take out all the missiles convinced the White House not to try.
The Kennedy administration mobilized a massive force in preparation for an invasion: 85,000 Navy personnel, including 40,000 marine combat troops; 183 warships, including eight aircraft carriers; 2,142 aircraft; and 100,000 Army troops.
The means the U.S. rulers were willing to employ did not stop short of nuclear holocaust.
“We must accept the possibility that the enemy may use nuclear weapons to repel invasion,” Gen. Taylor wrote in a recently released memo dated Nov. 2, 1962. “However, if the Cuban leaders took this foolhardy step, we could respond at once with overwhelming nuclear force.”
The Kennedy administration discussed sending an initial force of 90,000 troops preceded by heavy airstrikes to “get the thing going,” in the words of Gen. Taylor on tapes released in 1997. Meanwhile, Washington assessed, as best it could, the military preparedness and morale of the Cuban people.
“We have taken the necessary measures not only to resist but to repel—hear it well—repel any aggression from the U.S.,” Castro told the Cuban people in an Oct. 23 televised speech. “They menace us with nuclear attack, but they don’t scare us. We will see if the U.S. congressmen, bankers, etc., possess the same calmness as we. We are calmed by the knowledge that, if they attack us, the aggressor will be exterminated.”
White House enthusiasm for the planned invasion started to wane as military officials began assessing what they actually faced. On Oct. 26, the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided an estimate of 18,484 U.S. casualties during the first 10 days of fighting—4,462 on the first day alone. Knowledgeable Cuban military personnel say the figure is greatly underestimated.
It began to dawn on the U.S. rulers that they were walking into a politically shattering situation—the invasion would rank among the bloodiest battles in U.S. history with an average daily casualty rate on par with the “Battle of the Bulge,” the most blood-soaked U.S. battle in World War II, involving some half a million troops. They blinked.
Kennedy and Khrushchev struck a secret deal to remove U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. The Cuban government only learned the Soviet Union was removing its missiles Oct. 28, when Khrushchev announced it over Radio Moscow.
“We wanted a solution, but an honorable solution,” Castro said in the 1992 NBC interview. “We didn’t know that the crisis was on its way to the almost unconditional concession made by Khrushchev. They left everything the way it was. They left the blockade. They left a dirty war. They left the Guantánamo Naval Base.”
The deal between the two “superpowers” included the removal of the missiles “under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision.”
The Cuban government rejected this stipulation as an assault on its sovereignty and maintained the position announced in Castro’s Oct. 23 address that “anyone who tried to inspect Cuba had better come in full combat gear.”
Castro explained in the 1992 interview that if he had to do it over again “with the experience of the Soviet hesitation, I would not have accepted the missiles.”
Cuba’s leadership has since taken a political position in total opposition to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as part of its unbroken record of opposition to any action that results in the death of innocent civilians.
“We have never considered producing nuclear weapons,” Castro said in a 2005 speech to students at the University of Havana. “We possess a weapon as powerful as nuclear power and it is the immense justice for which we are struggling. Our nuclear weapon is the invincible power of moral weapons.”
A new society was built in midst of Cuban Revolution
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