Former foes come together to recall 1962 Cold War crisis
HAVANA - (AP) -- As U.S. President George W. Bush seeks support to attack Saddam Hussein's Iraq, former members of the Kennedy administration travel here this week to examine another threatened strike 40 years ago -- when the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Kennedy's former special aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. are among those expected at the conference opening Friday. President Fidel Castro, already in power at the time of the crisis, was invited as well.
The crisis, marking the Cold War's tensest moments, was defused when Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove Soviet missiles discovered on the island.
Cuban Vice President José Ramón Fernández, a key organizer of the conference bringing together American and Cuban protagonists in the Cold War drama, was an army commander four decades ago this month when Castro called 400,000 soldiers to battle positions across the island.
Watching President Kennedy's words click onto paper rolling off the teletype machine at military headquarters on Oct. 22, 1962, Fernández knew that the Americans meant business.
''I had the impression that war was probable,'' recalled the
79-year-old Fernández, now retired from the military. ``I was also
preparing myself to die, all the while
hoping that I would stay alive.
''Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established
the fact that a series of offensive missiles is now in preparation on that
imprisoned island,'' Kennedy
announced in his speech to the nation that evening.
``The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.''
Earlier in the day, about 2,500 family members of military stationed at the U.S. base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were given 15 minutes to pack one bag each before being evacuated to Norfolk, Va.
Establishment of an American naval blockade around the island was imminent.
''I was ordered to destroy papers and help move ourselves elsewhere because obviously the ministry [of defense] would be a target,'' Fernández said.
Fernández said that by the time the Americans discovered in mid-October there were Soviet nuclear warheads on the island, he had known about their existence only for a short time.
Most of the Americans invited to the conference, including McNamara, Schlesinger, former Kennedy speechwriters Richard Goodwin and Ted Sorensen and then-CIA analyst Dino Brugioni, will be arriving this afternoon.
Also visiting will be several Kennedy family members, including Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, the president's brother who was attorney general and a key player in the crisis.
ABC's Barbara Walters, who interviewed Castro over several days 25 years ago, met Monday with the 76-year-old Cuban leader. The interview, billed as exclusive on the ABC website, airs Friday night on 20/20.
In conjunction with the gathering, Cuba will release some formerly classified documents about the days known here as the Crisis of October.