Books of the Month

Imperialism pauses only when it faces a people ready to fight

October 1, 2018
“It was understood in Washington that the people would fight and the invasion would be costly,” says Cuban Gen. Néstor López Cuba about U.S. rulers’ plans to invade Cuba in 1962. Above, López Cuba, third from left in hat, during internationalist mission in Angola 1976.
Courtesy Néstor López Cuba“It was understood in Washington that the people would fight and the invasion would be costly,” says Cuban Gen. Néstor López Cuba about U.S. rulers’ plans to invade Cuba in 1962. Above, López Cuba, third from left in hat, during internationalist mission in Angola 1976.

Below are excerpts from Making History: Interviews With Four Generals of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces.  The Spanish edition is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for September. The section quoted is from the interview with Néstor López Cuba on Oct. 20, 1997, by Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes, Pathfinder Press President Mary-Alice Waters and Pathfinder editor Martín Koppel. López Cuba joined the revolutionary struggle in 1957 at the age of 19. He led a tank unit as part of defending the revolution against the failed U.S.-backed invasion at Bay of Pigs in 1961 and was part of Cuba’s defense of Angola against invasion by apartheid South Africa in 1976. Copyright ©1999 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. 

JACK BARNES: As you know, the way the history of the 1962 October Crisis is written in the United States, [U.S. president John] Kennedy and [Soviet premier Nikita] Khrushchev saved the world from nuclear holocaust. But we have always told people that the truth lies elsewhere. It was the Cuban people and its Revolutionary Armed Forces that saved the world.

Kennedy fully intended to mount an invasion of Cuba in October 1962, as he had been planning to do for more than a year. Previously classified documents released in the past few years, however, show that his hand was stayed when the Pentagon informed him that he could expect an estimated 18,000 U.S. troop casualties during the first ten days alone of an invasion. The Cuban people were armed and mobilized on a massive scale, Kennedy was told by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Cuban army was large for a small country, and, together with the militias, very combat-ready.

Kennedy feared the domestic political consequences as a flood of body bags began coming home. So that’s when he started seriously probing Khrushchev for a deal. …

So we’d like to ask you about where you were during the October Crisis and your memory of the response by workers and farmers, in and out of uniform, during those days.

LÓPEZ CUBA: It’s very true, as you say, that the armed forces, and the people of Cuba above all, played a decisive role in preventing a nuclear holocaust. Because it was understood in Washington that the people would fight and the invasion would be costly. …

Now, let me turn to your question about what I was doing during the October Crisis. After Girón I went to the Soviet Union to take my first study course for tank crews. That’s where I was when the October Crisis hit. So I was not one of the protagonists in those events.

BARNES: Perhaps you can tell us what the atmosphere was like among the Cubans who were in Russia during the crisis? And among those in the Russian military who were training you?

LÓPEZ CUBA: Well, information began to arrive immediately. Those of us at the military academy were told that the instructions from Cuba were for us to remain calm, that there were sufficient forces there to solve the problem.

But we planned to hijack a plane from the Moscow airport and return to Cuba. This coincided with a visit by Che [Guevara] to Africa, so our leaders sent him to Moscow to meet with us and calm us down, since they knew we were prepared to return to Cuba at all costs. We were ready to head to the airport and seize a plane by force, militarily. We were going to steal the guns from the stockade at the school. But we had it all planned, because we knew we were not going to be allowed to leave otherwise.

That was the situation. But there was something else. We had already spent eight months at the academy, and were well liked by the teachers and personnel, who were also closely following the situation in Cuba. So we had volunteers to come join us in the expedition!

I’ve never told this story before. But that’s what happened. We came up with a plot to figure out how we were going to return to Cuba, no matter what.

The Soviet people — our teachers, ordinary people — showed a great deal of solidarity with us. They knew about the unilateral decisions taken by the Khrushchev government and were against them. They also knew about Fidel’s declaration that the moral missiles we possessed in Cuba were more powerful than the nuclear missiles. All these speeches reached the Soviet people.

WATERS: During those same days in October 1962, we were organizing demonstrations in the United States. Jack and I were both university students at that time, in different cities.

LÓPEZ CUBA: You were organizing support activities?

WATERS: Yes. To demand “U.S. Hands Off Cuba!” “U.S. Out of Guantánamo!” “Stop the Invasion!”

BARNES: Communists in the United States had had no contact with revolutionists in Cuba when the crisis began, of course. But we supported the Cuban revolution, wholeheartedly. Some revolutionary-minded young people in the U.S., including myself, were actually won to communism in Cuba. I spent several months here in Cuba in the summer of 1960. I recall asking a Cuban compañero I had come to trust whether he thought I should stay in Cuba or go back to the United States. I wanted to stay, because we all knew the invasion was coming.

“Go back to the United States,” he told me, “and make a revolution there.”

I decided he was right. And I’ve never gone back on that agreement. …

The big majority in the communist movement in the U.S. — young or old — responded as we did. We knew the Cuban people were ready to fight, and we were determined to fight alongside them. The most important lesson for young revolutionists to learn is that the imperialists pause only when they have to face those who are ready to fight like you are in Cuba. Otherwise one starts believing that all of history is negotiated by big governments.

LÓPEZ CUBA: What you say is very important because popular pressure in the United States is what forced the U.S. government to pull its troops out of Vietnam.

The Cuban revolution today remains on a firm footing. At the same time, the U.S. government knows that the progressive people of the United States, the working people, will take to the streets to oppose an attack on Cuba, as they did during Vietnam. There is solidarity with Cuba around the world, as well, and this too has acted as a brake on Washington.