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Thirteen Months: Cuba’s Perspective on the Missile Crisis

  • Philip Brenner

Abstract

The Cuban missile crisis may be the most studied confrontation in our history. Yet until recently, Cuba has been left out of the Cuban missile crisis.1 The traditional view focused attention on the fabled 13 days in October 1962, from the time President John F. Kennedy learned that the Soviets were constructing sites for intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba, until Chairman Nikita Khrushchev ordered the sites dismantled and the missiles removed. From this perspective, the crisis was a showdown between the two superpowers, and Cuba was merely the location where the confrontation occurred.

Keywords

Ballistic Missile Soviet Leader Cuban Revolution Offensive Weapon Cuban Government 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See, for example, Graham T. Allison, Essence of Decision (Boston, 1971); Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston, 1965), chaps. 30–31; Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation (New York, 1967); Lester H. Brune, The Missile Crisis of October 1962 (Claremont, CA, 1985); Herbert S. Dinerstein, The Making of a Missile Crisis: October 1962 (Baltimore, MD, 1976); T. Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait (New York, 1986); Herbert L. Matthews, Revolution in Cuba (New York, 1975).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For example, James G. Blight and David A. Welch, On the Brink (New York, 1989); Raymond L. Garthoff, Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, rev. ed., (Washington, D.C., 1989); Jorge I. Dominguez, To Make the World Safe for Revolution: Cuba’s Foreign Policy (Cambridge, 1989); Thomas G. Paterson, “Fixation with Cuba: The Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, and Covert War Against Castro,” in Thomas G. Paterson, ed., Kennedy’s Quest for Victory (New York, 1989), pp. 136–41. Much new data has become available because of five major conferences on the missile crisis. Edited transcripts and analyses of the first two conferences can be found in Blight and Welch, On the Brink. The first included nearly all of the living members of the ExComm (Executive Committee of the National Security Council, formed by President Kennedy on 16 October 1962), and the second included many of these men and three Soviet experts. A transcript of the third conference—held in Moscow in January 1989, with participation by U.S., Soviet, and Cuban delegates—is available in Bruce J. Allyn, James G. Blight and David A. Welch, eds., Back to the Brink: Proceedings of the Moscow Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis, January 27–28, 1989, Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1992). The transcript from the fourth conference, “Cuba Between the Superpowers”—held in Antigua in January 1991 with U.S., Soviet, and Cuban participants—is available from the Brown University Center for Foreign Policy Development. It is edited by James G. Blight, David Lewis, and David A. Welch. The fifth conference was held in Havana, Cuba in January 1992 and was attended by former policymakers from the United States and the former Soviet Union, and former and current policymakers from Cuba, including President Fidel Castro. A transcript will be available from the Brown University Center for Foreign Policy Development.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Frank Mankiewicz and Kirby Jones, With Fidel (New York, 1975), pp. 150–1.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Allison, Essence of Decision, p. 239; Blight and Welch, On the Brink, pp. 249–50, 294–5; Garthoff, Reflections (1989), pp. 6–10; H. L. Matthews, Fidel Castro (New York, 1970), p. 227; Szulc, Fidel, pp. 578–9.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sergo Mikoyan, “La Crisis del Caribe, en retrospectiva,” America Latina, no. 4 (April 1988), p. 45; also comments made by Jorge Risquet, head of the Cuban delegation at the Moscow conference, 27 January 1989 (during the conference). Certainly, Soviet leaders relied on several sources of intelligence to develop their analysis of an impending U.S. invasion. While the Soviet conclusion seems to have coincided with the Cuban assessment, it is not clear how much influence the Cuban view had. See Soviet comments in Blight and Welch, On the Brink, pp. 238, 249, 258. On the expulsion, see W. Smith, The Closest of Enemies (New York, 1987), p. 80; M. H. Morley, Imperial State and Revolution: The United States and Cuba, 1952–1986 (New York, 1987), pp. 155–8.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Carlos Franqui, Family Portrait With Fidel, trans. Alfred MacAdam (New York, 1984), p. 185, claims that Adzhubei gave Castro the report in person. Matthews, Revolution in Cuba, p. 208, writes that Castro received Adzhubei’s information from a copy of a report submitted to Khrushchev that was sent to Havana.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    H. Thomas, The Cuban Revolution (New York, 1977), p. 607; Matthews, Revolution in Cuba, p. 208. For a report of earlier comments by Cardona see Dinerstein, Making of a Missile Crisis, p. 141.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Garthoff, Reflections (1989), p. 6; Laurence Chang, ed., The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 (Washington, D.C.: National Security Archive, 1990), vol. I, p. 43; interviews with Cuban officials; Allyn et al., Back to the Brink, pp.15–18.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Morley, Imperial State and Revolution, pp. 191–202; D. Rich, The U.S. Embargo Against Cuba: Its Evolution and Enforcement, A Study Prepared for the Commonwealth Countries (Washington, D.C., July 1988), pp. 24–37.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    25 July 1962 Memorandum, p. 5. Also see Morley, Imperial State and Revolution, pp. 149–50; A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., Robert Kennedy and His Times (New York, 1978), pp. 512–17, 575; N. Fuentes, Nos Impusieron La Violencia (Havana, 1986); Paterson, “Fixation with Cuba,” pp. 137–8.Google Scholar
  11. 26.
    Allison, Essence of Decision, p. 47; E. Abel, The Missile Crisis (Philadelphia, 1966), pp. 102–3; N. L. Cotayo, El Bloqueo a Cuba (Havana, 1983), pp. 314–15. The exercises began on 21 October, at which point they were in reality no longer exercises but prepositioning for a possible invasion.Google Scholar
  12. 30.
    Cotayo, El Bloqueo, pp. 308–13. For a description of some of the press and congressional demands, see Thomas G. Paterson and William J. Brophy, “October Missiles and November Elections: The Cuban Missile Crisis and American Politics, 1962,” Journal of American History 72 (June 1986); Thomas, Cuban Revolution, pp. 621–2; Abel, Missile Crisis, pp. 12–13; Allison, Essence of Decision, p. 188; A. Chayes, The Cuban Missile Crisis (New York, 1974), pp. 8–10.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    F. Castro, “The Duty of a Revolutionary Is to Make the Revolution: The Second Declaration of Havana,” in Martin Kenner and James Petras, eds., Fidel Castro Speaks (New York, 1969), pp. 85–106 (esp. p. 104); Dominguez, To Make the World Safe for Revolution, pp. 115–16; H. M. Erisman, Cuba’s International Relations (Boulder, CO, 1985), pp. 20–1.Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    In a statement on 4 September he cautioned against the introduction of “offensive ground-to-ground missiles in Cuba.” On the 13th he warned against Cuba becoming “an offensive military base of significant capacity for the Soviet Union.” See Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 171; “The President’s News Conference of September 13,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy 1962 (Washington, D.C., 1963), pp. 674–5. One authoritative Soviet view of President Kennedy’s statements—by Anatoly Gromyko, the son of the Soviet foreign minister at the time—focused only on the aspects of bellicosity in what Kennedy said, and ignored any mention of the implicit warning against placing ballistic missiles or combat troops in Cuba. See Anatoly Gromyko, “The Caribbean Crisis, Part 1,” in Ronald R. Pope, ed., Soviet Views on the Cuban Missile Crisis (Lanham, MD, 1982), pp. 165–7.Google Scholar
  15. 40.
    R. L. Garthoff, Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis (Washington, D.C., 1987), p. 8, fn. 9; Dominguez, To Make the World Safe for Revolution, p. 36.Google Scholar
  16. 45.
    “Balance del Primer Encuentro con La Realidad Sovietica,” 23 May 1963, reprinted in F. Castro, La Revolucion de Octubre y La Revolucion Cubana: Discursos 1959–1977 (Havana, 1977), p. 91.Google Scholar
  17. 52.
    This was how Aleksandr Alekseev, who was soon to become the Soviet ambassador to Cuba, claims to have understood Castro. See Aleksandr Alekseev, “Karibskii Krizis: kak eto bylo [The Caribbean Crisis: As It Really Was],” Ekho Planety, no. 33 (Moscow, November 1988).Google Scholar
  18. 53.
    Barton J. Bernstein, “The Cuban Missiles Crisis: Trading the Jupiters in Turkey?” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 95 (Spring 1980), p. 99. The estimate of time necessary to prepare a missile for firing was made by Soviet military officials at the 1989 Moscow conference.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 73.
    A. Gilly, Inside the Cuban Revolution, trans. Felix Gutierrez (New York, 1964), p. 48, as quoted in Thomas, Cuban Revolution, p. 630.Google Scholar
  20. 81.
    R. F. Kennedy, Thirteen Days (New York, 1969), p. 109; Abel, Missile Crisis, pp. 194–95.Google Scholar
  21. 103.
    Matthews, Fidel Castro, p. 232; C. A. Robbins, The Cuban Threat (New York, 1983), p. 211. Also see Franqui, Family Portrait, pp. 194–5. Castro himself suggested this interpretation in 1974 by saying: “We felt very passionate…. We were annoyed by matters of form, by certain formalities in the conduct of the negotiations.” See Mankiewicz and Jones, With Fidel, p. 152. At the 1989 Moscow conference, Cuban participants acknowledged that the necessity of time made the lack of consultation understandable, but they argued that even then Khrushchev should have qualified his acceptance of Kennedy’s proposal with a requirement that Cuba’s security demands be satisfied; Allyn, et al., Back to the Brink, p. 72.Google Scholar
  22. 104.
    Ibid., p. 73. Szulc, Fidel, pp. 585–8; Thomas, Cuban Revolution, p. 636; Julien, “Sept Heures Avec M. Fidel Castro,” p. 6.Google Scholar
  23. 120.
    P. Bonsai, Cuba, Castro and the United States (Pittsburgh, PA, 1971), p. 187; Cole Blasier, The Giant’s Rival: The USSR and Latin America (Pittsburgh, PA, 1983), pp. 104–7; Garthoff, Reflections (1989), p. 138; Matthews, Fidel Castro, p. 199; Szulc, Fidel, pp. 585–6.Google Scholar
  24. 121.
    R. Duncan, The Soviet Union and Cuba (New York, 1985), p. 44.Google Scholar
  25. 132.
    Blight and Welch, On the Brink, p. 281. Also see Davis S. Bobrow, “Stories Remembered and Forgotten,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 33, no. 2 (June 1989), pp. 197–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Philip Brenner 1992

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  • Philip Brenner

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