Castro still frets about '62 missile showdown
BY DON BOHNING
Special to The Herald
HAVANA - If one thing came across loud and clear at the recent
conference marking the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it
is that Cuban
President Fidel Castro has a very long memory and still harbors a grudge against his former Soviet allies.
Castro deeply resents the way Cuba was treated by the Soviets,
both in the installation of the missiles in Cuba and the manner of their
Apparently, he had little say about the former decision -- and no say at all in the latter.
In retrospect, said Castro at one point during the conference,
Cuba would ''rather have been invaded by the Americans than accept the
missiles'' and the
humiliation that resulted from their sudden withdrawal.
As for an invasion, said Castro, ``Cuba can be eliminated but never defeated -- if we all die, this would not be a defeat.''
The two-day conference, the sixth in a series dating back to
1987, and the first since 1992 in Havana, brought together participants
in the missile crisis --
the October Crisis, as it is known here -- from Cuba, the former Soviet Union and the United States. Hosted by the Cuban government, it was sponsored
by the nonprofit National Security Archive in Washington and Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies.
Although no major new details emerged of the events that put
the world at the brink of nuclear war, a number of intriguing and previously
disclosures were made:
• The important role played in the decision to install the missiles
by Operation Mongoose, the U.S. covert-action program against Cuba designed
provoke an uprising against Castro.
• The chronology of the decision leading to installation of the
missiles, beginning with a visit to Cuba on May 29-30, 1962, by a Soviet
discuss a mutual security pact.
• A hint that a crisis might have been averted if the Soviet-Cuban
security pact had been publicly announced, rather than having it disclosed
surreptitious installation of missiles followed by a series of duplicitous Soviet statements.
• Cuba's skepticism about President Kennedy's no-invasion pledge, made as part of the negotiations for withdrawal of the missiles.
Perhaps as an indication of the importance Cuba attached to the
conference, Castro was present for all of the sessions, flanked by Cuban
José Ramón Fernández, former Interior Minister Ramón Valdés, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque. All,
including Castro, were dressed in jacket and tie.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara led the less formally
dressed U.S. delegation, which also included Kennedy administration White
aides Arthur Schlesinger, Richard Goodwin and Ted Sorensen. Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy, was among the observers.
The Russian delegation included Anatoly Gribkov, the Soviet general
who directed Operation Anadyr, the code name for the missile installation
Dmitry Yazov, a former Soviet defense minister who led a motorized rifle regiment in Cuba in 1962; and Sergo Mikoyan, son of former Soviet Deputy
Premier Anastas Mikoyan.
If there was a single theme underlying the two days of discussions,
it was the role of Operation Mongoose as a catalyst for the crisis. Both
and Cuban delegations left little doubt that they saw Operation Mongoose as the precursor to an invasion.
Mongoose was getting well under way when Soviet Premier Nikita
Khrushchev's son-in-law, A. Adzhubei, met with President Kennedy in Washington
January 1962. Kennedy hinted in their conversation that the United States might do in Cuba what the Soviets had done in Hungary.
Castro suggested at the conference that this became the moment
when the Soviets began to have concerns about Kennedy's intentions toward
concerns that had been softened earlier when Kennedy told Khrushchev at a June 1961 summit in Vienna that the Bay of Pigs had been ``a mistake.''
Schlesinger, who opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion, called Mongoose
''silly and stupid,'' and acknowledged that ``it's well understood that
consequence of Operation Mongoose that the Cubans had a legitimate fear of an American invasion.''
McNamara said he 'didn't think Mongoose was worth a damn, but I didn't say, `Don't do it.' ''
Sorensen, a Kennedy speechwriter, said he knew nothing about
-- and had nothing to do with -- Mongoose, but noted that ``President Kennedy,
following the Bay of Pigs, approved policies to isolate Cuba, to weaken Cuba as a Soviet outpost in the Western Hemisphere, to diminish its economy, to
exclude it from other Latin American regional activities, to defang it, so to speak, as a military base for the Soviet Union -- but it was not his intention to
destroy Cuba, much less to kill its leaders. . . .
``To the extent that Operation Mongoose exceeded these nonviolent
objectives of the president, and speaking only for myself, not the U.S.
not even for President Kennedy, long since dead, to the extent that these nonviolent objectives were exceeded by operations of Mongoose . . . I
Castro suggested that he accepted the missiles in order to strengthen
solidarity within the socialist bloc. It also has been presented as an
guarantee the permanence of the Cuban Revolution against U.S. hostility and to redress the nuclear missile imbalance between the Soviet Union and the
United States, which then favored the United States by a ratio of 17 to 1.
The missiles began arriving in early September. They were detected
in mid-October and withdrawn by Nov. 20 as part of an agreement between
Kennedy and Khrushchev in which Cuba was ignored, leading to lasting strains between Castro and Khrushchev.
Kennedy's no-invasion pledge, part of the agreement with the Soviets for withdrawal of the missiles, did not assuage Cuban feelings.
''We didn't believe in Kennedy's no-invasion pledge,'' Castro
told conference participants. ``We were not convinced, and even if Kennedy
would abide by
it, he had only two more years to go in his term and only six if he were reelected. So it was a guarantee for six years at the most and a verbal one.''
More than five years later, in January 1968, Castro detailed
his irritation with the Soviets in a long and scathing secret speech to
the Central Committee
of the Cuban Communist Party. The portion of the speech dealing with the missile crisis was obtained and just published in a book titled sad & luminous
days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis, by American scholars James Blight and Philip Brenner.
Sorensen, in response to a question, suggested that Kennedy's
Oct. 22, 1962, speech to the nation (which Sorensen drafted), announcing
of the missiles in Cuba, might have differed if the mutual security pact been made public in advance, as Castro had wanted.
By their deception and secrecy, said Sorensen, the Soviets indicated
that the missile emplacement 'could have no purpose other than to launch
upon the United States. In that speech, the words `surreptitious' and 'clandestine' appear and reappear, because in President Kennedy's mind, that is
what distinguished the emplacement of Soviet missiles in Cuba from emplacement of NATO missiles in Turkey and other such emplacements by both sides
around the world at that time.''
Had the security pact been made public, Sorensen said, the speech
would ``not have been able to include language persuading the rest of the
that this was an offensive maneuver by the Soviet Union.''