Untold story (The Cuban missile crisis) by John Cherian

Full article on : Frontline magazine.

Most historians and commentators bought the version put out by the Americans that it was the Soviet side that “blinked” first and thus brought the crisis to an end. American documents that have been declassified tell a different story though it is clear that it was the Russian side that made the more significant concessions. The widely reported incident of U.S. naval destroyers confronting a nuclear-missile-carrying Soviet ship that was nearing the Cuban coast never happened. American historians and commentators had said that it was the defining moment of the crisis. The then U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, had claimed in his memoirs that “we were eyeball to eyeball and the other fellow just blinked”.

In the midst of the “October crisis”—the Cuban description of the event—President Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Khrushchev in which he said that the U.S. was poised to launch a full-scale attack on Cuba “within the next 24-72 hours”. He explained the reasons for reaching such a conclusion. “I tell you this because I believe that the imperialist’s aggressiveness makes them extremely dangerous, and that if they manage to carry out their invasion of Cuba—a brutal act in violation of international law—then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defence. However harsh and terrible the solution, there should be no other,” he wrote in his letter to the Soviet leader.

According to Dobbs, President Kennedy was in fact willing to consider the withdrawal of American forces from Guantanamo Bay, situated on the northern edge of Cuba, as part of the deal to end the crisis. The U.S. has a military base there. Since the 1959 Cuban revolution, Cuba has been demanding the return of its territory that the U.S. had grabbed on the basis of an unequal treaty in 1903. In the end, Moscow agreed to withdraw the nuclear missiles from Cuba after Washington acceded to its demand for the removal of U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey situated along its border. The U.S. also agreed to lift the military blockade of Cuba and pledged not to invade Cuba.

After the Bay of Pigs incident, the Cuban government had tried to build bridges with the U.S. government. Castro had dispatched Che Guevara to hold secret talks with Richard Goodwin, President Kennedy’s adviser on Latin American affairs. Che told the American that his country would maintain a low profile in Latin America and would desist from forging a strong alliance with the socialist bloc if Washington stopped supporting terrorist attacks launched from Florida and lifted the economic sanctions. Che even offered to compensate American companies that were expropriated after the revolution. Che told Goodwin that Cuba “does not intend to have any military or political alliance with anyone unless we are pressed towards it”. At the same time he emphasised that the Cuban revolution “was irreversible”. The American viewed Che’s negotiating tactics as a sign of weakness and chose to increase the terror attacks against Cuba. Castro then gave the green signal for the Soviets to place their nuclear missiles on Cuban territory.


About Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.
This entry was posted in History, Policies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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