CASTRO BLAMES KHRUSHCHEV FOR CRISIS
By Anita Snow
Associated Press Writer
The Washington Post
La Nueva Cuba
President Fidel Castro said on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Cuban
crisis that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev aggravated the standoff by misleading
President Kennedy – indicating that there were no nuclear weapons on the
Castro's comments, which came in an interview with ABC's "20/20" program,
coincided with a conference here bringing together Cubans and Americans who
played roles during the real life Cold War drama. ABC, which will broadcast the
interview Friday, made the transcript public Wednesday.
"He believed what Khrushchev told him," Castro said during the interview,
conducted this week in Havana. "Therefore, Kennedy was misled. That was a very
big mistake on the part of Khrushchev ... one that we opposed vehemently."
The transcript, while not elaborating on Khrushchev's position, reflected
mistrust that grew between the leaders.
Documents from that period show that Khrushchev continued to insist to
officials in mid-October 1962 that all Soviet activity in Cuba was defensive – even
after U.S. officials had spy plane photographs showing that on the island there
were Soviet surface-to-surface missiles with a range of approximately 600 to 1,500
The discovery of the Soviet nuclear warheads just 90 miles south of the
coast brought the world to the edge of nuclear conflict.
As President Bush musters support to oust Saddam Hussein, former members
the Kennedy administration are heading to the Cuba conference to revisit that
Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and former special aide Arthur
Schlesinger Jr. are among those expected at the conference, aimed at showing a
lesser known view of the crisis: Cuba's. Castro is also expected.
In his ABC interview with Barbara Walters, Castro said his country did
not agree to
accept the missiles out of fear, and "we would have rather not had them in order to
preserve the prestige" of Cuba.
He also said officials on the communist-run island did not like being considered
"the Soviet base in the Caribbean."
Still, Castro indicated respect for Khrushchev and his support of the Cuban
"Even though Nikita was a bold man, he was a courageous man ... and I can
criticisms of him ... of the mistakes he made. I have reflected a lot on that," Castro
said. But misleading Kennedy, the Cuban president said, "was his main ... flaw."
The crisis, marking the Cold War's tensest moments, was defused when
Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba.
Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Fernandez, an organizer of the conference,
an army commander when Castro put 400,000 soldiers in position to repel a
possible invasion of the island.
As Kennedy's words clicked onto the paper rolling off the teletype machine
military headquarters Oct. 22, 1962, Fernandez knew the Americans meant
"I had the impression that war was probable," recalled the 79-year-old
now a vice president in Castro's government. "I was also preparing myself to die, all
the while hoping that I would stay alive."
Kennedy's message to the United States and the world was direct.
"Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that
series of offensive missiles is now in preparation on that imprisoned island,"
Kennedy said in his speech to the nation. "The purpose of these bases can be
none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western
Earlier that day, about 2,500 relatives of U.S. forces stationed at Guantanamo
were given 15 minutes to pack a bag each before evacuated to Norfolk, Va.
"I was ordered to destroy papers and help move ourselves elsewhere because
obviously the ministry (of defense) would be a target," Fernandez told The
Associated Press this week.
Most Americans invited to the conference, including McNamara, Schlesinger,
former Kennedy speechwriters Richard Goodwin and Ted Sorensen and ex-CIA
analyst Dino Brugioni, will arrive Thursday.
Also attending are several Kennedy family members, including Ethel Kennedy,
widow of Robert F. Kennedy, the president's brother who was attorney general and
a key player in the crisis.
Along with the gathering, Cuba will release some formerly classified documents
about the days known here as the Crisis of October.
The nonprofit National Security Archive at George Washington University
release newly declassified American documents about the crisis.
During a similar conference last year, Cuban organizers worked with the
Security Archive to release a wealth of U.S. and Cuban documents about the
unsuccessful CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.
The missile crisis conference will feature seminars on Friday and Saturday.
Participants will visit crisis-related sites, including a former missile silo in the
western province of Pinar del Rio.
Fernandez said he hoped new lessons would emerge for politicians and military
leaders, "to never again take the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe."