In 1959, a rebel, Fidel Castro, overthrew the reign of FulgenciaBatista in Cuba; a small island 90 miles off the Florida coast. There havebeen many coups and changes of government in the world since then. Few ifany have had the effect on Americans and American foreign policy as thisone.
In 1952, Sergeant Fulgencia Batista staged a successful bloodless coupin Cuba . Batista never really had any cooperation and rarely garnered muchsupport. His reign was marked by continual dissension. After waiting to see if Batista would be seriously opposed, Washingtonrecognized his government. Batista had already broken ties with the SovietUnion and became an ally to the U. S.
throughout the cold war. He wascontinually friendly and helpful to American business interest. But hefailed to bring democracy to Cuba or secure the broad popular support thatmight have legitimized his rape of the 1940 Constitution. As the people of Cuba grew increasingly dissatisfied with his gangsterstyle politics, the tiny rebellions that had sprouted began to grow. Meanwhile the U.
S. government was aware of and shared the distaste for aregime increasingly nauseating to most public opinion. It became clear thatBatista regime was an odious type of government. It killed its owncitizens, it stifled dissent. At this time Fidel Castro appeared as leader of the growing rebellion. Educated in America he was a proponent of the Marxist-Leninist philosophy.
He conducted a brilliant guerilla campaign from the hills of Cuba againstBatista. On January 1959, he prevailed and overthrew the Batistagovernment. Castro promised to restore democracy in Cuba, a feat Batista had failedto accomplish. This promise was looked upon benevolently but watchfully byWashington. Castro was believed to be too much in the hands of the peopleto stretch the rules of politics very far.
The U. S. government supportedCastro’s coup. It professed to not know about Castro’s Communist leanings.
Perhaps this was due to the ramifications of Senator Joe McCarty’s;nbsp;discredited anti-Communist diatribes. It seemed as if the reciprocal economic interests of the U. S. and Cubawould exert a stabilizing effect on Cuban politics.
Cuba had beeneconomically bound to find a market for its #1 crop, sugar. The U. S. hadbeen buying it at prices much higher than market price. For this itreceived a guaranteed flow of sugar.
Early on however developments clouded the hope for peaceful relations. According to American Ambassador to Cuba, Phillip Bonsal, “From the verybeginning of his rule Castro and his sycophants bitterly and sweepinglyattacked the relations of the United States government with Batista and hisregime”. He accused us of supplying arms to Batista to help overthrowCastro’s revolution and of harboring war criminals for a resurgence effortagainst him. For the most part these were not true: the U. S. put a tradeembargo on Batista in 1957 stopping the U.
S. shipment of arms to Cuba. However, his last accusation seems to have been prescient. With the advent of Castro the history of U. S. – Cuban relations wassubjected to a revision of an intensity and cynicism which left earlierefforts in the shade.
This downfall took two roads in the eyes ofWashington: Castro’s incessant campaign of slander against the U. S. andCastro’s wholesale nationalization of American properties. These actions and the U. S.
reaction to them set the stage for what wasto become the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the end of U. S. – Cuban relations. Castro promised the Cuban people that he would bring land reform to Cuba.
When he took power, the bulk of the nations wealth and land was in thehands of a small minority. The huge plots of land were to be taken fromthe monopolistic owners and distributed evenly among the people. Compensation was to be paid to the former owners. According to PhillipBonsal, ” Nothing Castro said, nothing stated in the agrarian reformstatute Castro signed in 1958, and nothing in the law that was promulgatedin the Official Gazzette of June 3, 1959, warranted the belief that in twoyears a wholesale conversion of Cuban agricultural land to state ownershipwould take place”.
Such a notion then would have been inconsistent with many of the Castro pronouncements, including the theory of a peasantrevolution and the pledges to the landless throughout the nation. Todaymost of the people who expected to become independent farmers or membersofcooperatives in the operation of which they would have had a voice are nowlaborers on the state payroll. After secretly drawing up his Land Reform Law, Castro used it to formthe National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) with broad and illdefined powers. Through the INRA Castro methodically seized all Americanholdings in Cuba.
He promised compensation but frequently never gave it. He conducted investigations into company affairs, holding control over themin the meantime, and then never divulging the results or giving back thecontrol. These seizures were protested. On January 11 Ambassador Bonsaldelivered a note to Havana protesting the Cuban government seizure of U.
S. citizens property. The note was rejected the same night as a U. S.
attemptto keep economic control over Cuba. As this continued Castro was engineering a brilliant propagandacampaign aimed at accusing the U. S. of “conspiring with the counterrevolutionaries against the Castro regime”.
Castro’s ability to whip themasses into a frenzy with wispy fallacies about American “imperialist”actions against Cuba was his main asset. He constantly found events whichhe could work the “ol Castro magic ” on, as Nixon said , to turn it intoanother of the long list of grievances, real or imagined, that Cuba hadsuffered. Throughout Castro’s rule there had been numerous minor attacks anddisturbances in Cuba. Always without any investigation whatsoever, Castrowould blatantly and publicly blame the U.
S. . Castro continually called forhearings at the Organization of American States and the United Nations tohear charges against the U. S. of “overt aggression”.
These charges werealways denied by the councils. Two events that provided fuel for theCastro propaganda furnace stand out. These are the “bombing” of Havana onOctober 21 and the explosion of the French munitions ship La Coubre onMarch 4, 1960. On the evening of October 21 the former captain of the rebel air force,Captain Dian-Lanz, flew over Havana and dropped a quantity of virulentlyanti-Castro leaflets. This was an American failure to prevent internationalflights in violation of American law. Untroubled by any considerations oftruth or good faith, the Cuban authorities distorted the facts of thematter and accused the U.
S. of a responsibility going way beyondnegligence. Castro, not two days later, elaborated a bombing thesis,complete with “witnesses”, and launched a propaganda campaign against theU. S.
Ambassador Bonsal said, “This incident was so welcome to Castro forhis purposes that I was not surprised when, at a later date, a somewhatsimilar flight was actually engineered by Cuban secret agents inFlorida. “This outburst constituted “the beginning of the end ” in U. S. – Cubanrelations. President Eisenhower stated ,”Castro’s performance on October 26on the “bombing” of Havana spelled the end of my hope for rationalrelations between Cuba and the U. S.
“Up until 1960 the U. S. had followed a policy of non intervention inCuba. It had endured the slander and seizure of lands, still hoping tomaintain relations. This ended, when, on March 4, the French munitionsship La Coubre arrived at Havana laden with arms and munitions for theCuban government. It promptly blew up with serious loss of life.
(14)Castro and his authorities wasted no time venomously denouncing theU. S. for an overt act of sabotage. Some observers concluded that thedisaster was due to the careless way the Cubans unloaded the cargo. (15)Sabotage was possible but it was preposterous to blame the U.
S. withouteven a pretense of an investigation. Castro’s reaction to the La Coubre explosion may have been what tippedthe scales in favor of Washington’s abandonment of the non interventionpolicy. This, the continued slander, and the fact that the Embassy had hadno reply from the Cuban government to its representations regarding the cases of Americans victimized by the continuing abuses of the INRA. The American posture of moderation was beginning to become, in the faceof Castro’s insulting and aggressive behavior, a political liability. (16)The new American policy, not announced as such, but implicit in the theactions of the United States government was one of overthrowing Castro byall means available to the U.
S. short of open employment of American armedforces in Cuba. It was at this time that the controversial decision was taken to allowthe CIA to begin recruiting and training of ex-Cuban exiles for anti-Castromilitary service. Shortly after this decision, following in quicksteps, aggressive policies both on the side of Cuba and the U. S. led to theeventual finale in the actual invasion of Cuba by the U.
S!In June 1960 the U. S. started a series of economic aggressions towardCuba aimed at accelerating their downfall. The first of these measures wasthe advice of the U.
S. to the oil refineries in Cuba to refuse to handlethe crude petroleum that the Cubans were receiving from the Soviet Union. The companies such as Shell and Standard Oil had been buying crude fromtheir own plants in Venezuela at a high cost. The Cuban governmentdemanded that the refineries process the crude they were receiving fromRussia at a much cheaper price. These refineries refused at the U.
S. advicestating that there were no provisions in the law saying that they mustaccept the Soviet product and that the low grade Russian crude woulddamagethe machinery. The claim about the law may have been true but the chargethat the cheaper Soviet crude damaging the machines seems to be an excuseto cover up the attempted economic strangulation of Cuba. (The crudeworkedjust fine as is soon to be shown)Upon receiving the refusal Che Gueverra, the newly appointed head ofthe National Bank,and known anti-American, seized all three major oilcompany refineries and began producing all the Soviet crude,not just the50% they had earlier bargained for. This was a big victory and a stepping stone towards increasing the soon to be controversial alliance with Russia. On July 6, a week after the intervention of the refineries, PresidentEisenhower announced that the balance of Cuba’s 1960 sugar quota for thesupply of sugar to the U.
S. was to be suspended. . This action wasregarded as a reprisal to the intervention of the refineries. It seemsobvious that it was a major element in the calculated overthrow of Castro.
In addition to being an act of destroying the U. S. record for statesmanshipin Latin America, this forced Cuba into Russia’s arms and vice-versa. The immediate loss to Cuba was 900,000 tons of sugar unsold. This wasvalued at about $100,000,000.
Had the Russians not come to the rescueit would have been a serious blow to Cuba. But come to the rescue theydid, cementing the Soviet-Cuban bond and granting Castro a present he couldhave never given himself. As Ernest Hemingway put it,”I just hope to Christthat the United States doesn’t cut the sugar quota. That will really tearit. It will make Cuba a gift to the Russians. ” And now the gift hadbeen made.
Castro had announced earlier in a speech that action against thesugar quota would cost Americans in Cuba “down to the nails in their shoes”Castro did his best to carry that out. In a decree made as the Law ofNationalization, he authorized expropriation of American property at CheGueverra’s discretion. The compensation scheme was such that under currentU. S.
– Cuban trade relations it was worthless and therefore confiscationwithout compensation. The Soviet Unions assumption of responsibility of Cuba’s economicwelfare gave the Russians a politico-military stake in Cuba. Increased armsshipments from the U. S. S. R and Czechoslovakia enabled Castro to rapidlystrengthen and expand his forces.
On top of this Cuba now had Russianmilitary support. On July 9, three days after President Eisenhowers sugarproclamation, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev announced, “The U. S. S.
R israising its voice and extending a helpful hand to the people ofCuba. . . . . Speaking figuratively in case of necessity Soviet artillerymen cansupport the Cuban people with rocket fire.
Castro took this to meandirect commitment made by Russia to protect the Cuban revolution in case of U. S. attack. The final act of the U. S. in the field of economic aggressionagainst Cuba came on October 19, 1960, in the form of a trade embargo onall goods except medicine and medical supplies.
Even these were to bebanned within a few months. Other than causing the revolutionaries someinconvenience, all the embargo accomplished was to give Castro a godsend. For the past 25 years Castro has blamed the shortages, rationings,breakdowns and even some of the unfavorable weather conditions on the U. S. blockade.
On January 6, 1961, Castro formally broke relations with the UnitedStates and ordered the staff of the U. S. embassy to leave. Immediatelyafter the break in relations he ordered full scale mobilization of hisarmed forces to repel an invasion from the United States, which hecorrectly asserted was imminent. For at this time the Washingtonadministration, under new President-elect Kennedy was gearing up for theCuban exile invasion of Cuba.
The fact that this secret was ill kept ledto increased arms being shipped to Cuba by Russia in late 1960. PresidentKennedy inherited from the Eisenhower-Nixon administration the operationthat became the Bay of Pigs expedition. The plan was ill conceived and afiasco. Both Theodore Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger describe thePresident as the victim of a process set in motion before his inaugurationand which he, in the first few weeks of his administration, was unable toarrest in spite of his misgivings. Mr.
Schlesinger writes -“Kennedy sawthe project in the patios of the bureaucracy as a contingency plan. He didnot yet realize how contingency planning could generate its own reality. “ The fact is that Kennedy had promised to pursue a more successfulpolicy towards Cuba. I fail to see how the proposed invasion could belooked upon as successful.
The plan he inherited called for 1500 patriotsto seize control over their seven million fellow citizens from over 100,000well trained, well armed Castroite militia! As if the plan wasn’t doomedfrom the start, the information the CIA had gathered about the strength ofthe uprising in Cuba was outrageously misleading. If we had won, it stillwould have taken prolonged U. S. intervention to make it work. This along;nbsp;with Kennedys decision to rule out American forces or even Americanofficers or experts, whose participation was planned, doomed the wholeaffair.
Additionally these impromptu ground rules were not relayed to theexiles by the CIA, who were expecting massive U. S. military backing! Theexiles had their own problems; guns didn’t work, ships sank, codes forcommunication were wrong, the ammunition was the wrong kind – everythingthat could go wrong, did. As could be imagined the anti-Castro oppositionachieved not one of its permanent goals. Upon landing at the Bay of Pigson April 17, 1961, the mission marked a landmark failure in U. S.
foreignpolitics. By April 20, only three days later, Castro’s forces hadcompletely destroyed any semblance of the mission: they killed 300 andcaptured the remaining 1,200!Many people since then have chastised Kennedy for his decision to pullU. S. military forces.
I feel that his only mistake was in going ahead inthe first place, although, as stated earlier, it seems as if he may nothave had much choice. I feel Kennedy showed surer instincts in this matterthan his advisors who pleaded with him not to pull U. S. forces. For if theexpedition had succeeded due to American armed forces rather than thestrength of the exile forces and the anti- Castro movement within Cuba, thepost Castro government would have been totally unviable: it would havetaken constant American help to shore it up.
In this matter I share theopinion of ‘ambassador Ellis O. Briggs, who has written “The Bay of Pigsoperation was a tragic experience for the Cubans who took part, but itsfailure was a fortunate (if mortifying) experience for the U. S. , whichotherwise might have been saddled with indefinite occupation of the island.
Beyond its immediately damaging effects, the Bay of Pigs fiasco hasshown itself to have far reaching consequences. Washington’s failure toachieve its goal in Cuba provided the catalyst for Russia to seek anadvantage and install nuclear missiles in Cuba. The resulting “missilecrisis” in 1962 was the closest we have been to thermonuclear war. America’s gain may have been America’s loss.
A successful Bay of Pigs may;nbsp;have brought the United States one advantage. The strain on Americanpolitical and military assets resulting from the need to keep the lid on inCuba might have lid on Cuba might have led the President of the UnitedStates to resist, rather than to enthusiastically embrace, the advice hereceived in 1964 and 1965 to make a massive commitment of American airpower, ground forces, and prestige in Vietnam. Cuban troops have been a major presence as Soviet surrogates all overthe world, notably in Angola. The threat of exportation of Castro’srevolution permeates U. S. -Central and South American policy.
(Witness theinvasion of Grenada. ) This fear still dominates todays headlines. For yearsthe U. S. has urged support for government of El Salvador and the right wingContras in Nicaragua.
The major concern underlying American policy in thearea is Castro’s influence. The fear of a Castro influenced regime inSouth and Central America had such control of American foreign policy as toalmost topple the Presidency in the recent Iran – Contra affair. As aresult the U. S. government has once again faced a crisis which threatens todestroy its credibility in foreign affairs.
All because of one man with acigar. In concluding I would like to state my own feelings on the whole affairas they formed in researching the topic. To start, all the information Icould gather was one-sided. All the sources were American written, andencompassed an American point of view. In light of this knowledge, andwith the advantage of hindsight, I have formulated my own opinion of thisaffair and how it might have been more productively handled. Americanintervention should have been held to a minimum.
In an atmosphere ofconcentration on purely Cuban issues, opposition to Castro’s personaldictatorship could be expected to grow. Admittedly, even justifiedAmerican retaliation would have led to Cuban counterretaliation and so onwith the prospect that step by step the same end result would have beenattained as was in fact achieved. But the process would have lasted farlonger; measured American responses might have appeared well deserved toanincreasing number of Cubans, thus strengthening Cuban opposition to the regime instead of, as was the case, greatly stimulating revolutionaryfervor, leaving the Russians no choice but to give massive support to theRevolution and fortifying the belief among anti-Castro Cubans that theUnited States was rapidly moving to liberate them. The economic pressuresavailable to the United States were not apt to bring Castro to his knees,since the Soviets were capable of meeting Cuban requirements in suchmatters as oil and sugar. I believe the Cuban government would have beendoomed by its own disorganization and incompetence and by the growingdisaffection of an increasing number of the Cuban people. Left to its owndevices, the Castro regime would have withered on the vine.