The Miami Herald
Oct. 19, 2002

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 withdrawal.
  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.

  NEW DISCLOSURES

  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 unknown
  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 to
  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 delegation to
  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 via a
  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 Vice President
  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 House
  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 operation;
  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.

  OPERATION MONGOOSE

  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 the Russian
  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 in
  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 Cuba --
  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 as a
  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. government,
  not even for President Kennedy, long since dead, to the extent that these nonviolent objectives were exceeded by operations of Mongoose . . . I
  apologize.''

  Castro suggested that he accepted the missiles in order to strengthen solidarity within the socialist bloc. It also has been presented as an effort to
  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.''

  SECRET SPEECH

  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 the discovery
  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 an attack
  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 world
  that this was an offensive maneuver by the Soviet Union.''