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Confronting the United States

Initially, the United States, which recognized the Castro government on January 7, 1959, followed a "wait and see" policy. The Dwight D. Eisenhower administration seemed to have been caught by surprise over events in Cuba and failed to grasp the magnitude of the changes going on or the nature of the leader sponsoring those changes. Differences arose between those who, believing that Castro was a Marxist, advocated a hard line toward Cuba and those who counseled patience with him. Although tensions arose in connection with the public trials and executions of Batista supporters, serious differences did not emerge until after the Agrarian Reform Law had been promulgated. The United States protested, to no avail, the expropriations of United States properties without compensation that were initiated under the law. Agricultural expropriations were followed by additional expropriations of foreign investments, notably in the mining and petroleum industry.

Complicating the relations between the two countries were arrests of United States citizens, Castro's refusal to meet with United States Ambassador Philip W. Bonsal in late 1959, and the sabotage and raids carried out against the Castro government by Cuban exiles operating from United States territory. Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Raul Castro believed that the political, social, and economic conditions that had produced their Revolution in Cuba existed in other parts of Latin America and that revolutions would occur throughout the continent.

From 1960 onward, Cuban agents and diplomatic representatives established contact with revolutionary groups in the area and began distributing propaganda and aid. Several Cuban diplomats were expelled for interfering in the internal affairs of the countries to which they were accredited. As tensions mounted between the United States and Cuba, Fidel Castro's assertion of the international character of his Revolution increased, as did his involvement in promoting violence in Latin America. By July 1960, Castro was boasting that he would convert "the cordillera of the Andes into the Sierra Maestra of Latin America," and money, propaganda, men, and weapons began to flow from Havana in increasing quantities to foment the "anti-imperialist" revolution.

The radicalization of the Revolution and the deterioration of relations with the United States grew apace with Cuban-Soviet rapprochement. During the February 4-13, 1960, visit to Havana of Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan, Cuba signed a major commercial agreement with the Soviet Union. The agreement provided that Cuba would receive, among other products, Soviet oil in exchange for sugar. Formal diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on May 8, 1960. That April and May, the Cuban government nationalized major foreign businesses, including the transportation, banking, communications, and educational systems and the media.

On June 28, the Castro regime confiscated United States-owned oil refineries without compensation. On July 26, Castro issued the "Declaration of Havana," claiming Cuba's right to export revolution and calling for Soviet support. Nationalization of United States-and other foreign-owned property in Cuba began on August 6. And on October 13, the Castro government expropriated most Cuban-owned businesses. In October the United States announced an embargo on most exports to Cuba, and when Castro restricted the staff of the United States embassy to eleven persons, the United States, on January 3,1961, severed diplomatic relations and withdrew its ambassador.

By then the United States had embarked on a more aggressive policy toward the Castro regime. Groups of Cuban exiles were being trained, under the supervision of United States officials, in Central American camps for an attack on Cuba. The internal situation on the island then seemed propitious for an attempt to overthrow the Cuban regime. Although Castro still counted on significant popular support, that support had progressively decreased. His own Twenty-Sixth of July Movement was badly split on the issue of communism. Also, a substantial urban guerrilla movement existed throughout the island, composed of former Castro allies, Batista supporters, Catholic groups, and other elements that had been affected by the Revolution, and significant unrest was evident within the armed forces.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion of April 17-19, 1961, was a tragedy of errors. Although the Cuban government did not know the date or the exact place where the exile forces would land, the fact that an invasion was in the offing was known both within and outside of Cuba. The weapons and ammunition that were to be used by the invading force were all placed in one ship, which was sunk the first day of the invasion. The site for the invasion was sparsely populated, surrounded by swamps, and offered little access to nearby mountains, where guerrilla operations could be carried out if the invasion failed. The invading forces could, therefore, all but discount any help from the nearby population.

At the last minute, a confused and indecisive President John F. Kennedy canceled some of the air raids by Cuban exiles that were intended to cripple Castro's air force. Perhaps trying to reassert his authority over the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-sponsored invasion, to stymie possible world reaction, or to appease the Soviets, Kennedy ordered no further United States involvement.

The failure of the invasion and the brutal repression that followed smashed the entire Cuban underground. On the first day of the invasion, the regime arrested thousands of real and suspected oppositionists. The resistance never recovered from that blow. His regime strengthened and consolidated, Fidel Castro emerged victorious and boasted of having defeated a "Yankee-sponsored invasion." The disillusionment and frustration caused by the Bay of Pigs disaster among anti-Castro forces, both inside and out of Cuba, prevented the growth of significant organized opposition. Meanwhile, United States prestige in Latin America and throughout the world sank to a low point.

Following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the United States turned to other methods of dealing with Fidel Castro. It pursued a vigorous, although only partially successful, policy to isolate the Cuban regime and strangle it economically. The nation pressured its allies throughout the world to reduce their commerce with Cuba. In the Organization of American States (OAS), the United States forced the expulsion of Cuba by a slim majority in January 1962, and several countries broke diplomatic relations with the Castro regime at this time.

The single most important event accelerating Soviet military involvement in Cuba was the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The failure of the United States to act decisively against Castro gave the Soviets some illusions about United States determination and interest in Cuba. The Kremlin leaders now perceived that further economic and even military involvement in Cuba would not entail any danger to the Soviet Union itself and would not seriously jeopardize United States-Soviet relations. This view was further reinforced by President Kennedy's apologetic attitude concerning the Bay of Pigs invasion and his generally weak performance during his summit meeting with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961.

The Soviets moved swiftly. New trade and cultural agreements were signed, and increased economic and technical aid was sent to Cuba. By mid-1962 the Soviets had embarked on a dangerous gamble by surreptitiously introducing nuclear missiles and bombers into the island. Through these actions, Khrushchev and the Kremlin leadership hoped to alter the balance of power and force the United States to accept a settlement of the German issue. A secondary and perhaps less important motivation was to extend to Cuba the Soviet nuclear umbrella and thus protect Castro from any further hostile actions by the United States.

On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy publicly reacted to the Soviet challenge, instituting a naval blockade of the island and demanding the withdrawal of all offensive weapons from Cuba. For the next several days, the world teetered on the brink of nuclear holocaust.

Finally, after a hectic exchange of correspondence, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles and bombers, and to allow unsupervised inspection of the removal in exchange for the United States' pledge not to invade Cuba. Although Castro refused to allow a United Nations inspection, the missiles and bombers were removed under United States aerial surveillance, and the crisis ended. The United States has never publicly acknowledged that it pledged not to invade Cuba, but subsequent United States policies indicate that a United States - Soviet understanding was reached over Cuba that included a United States "hands off' policy toward the island.

In 1964, after Castro had increased subversive activities in Latin America and had moved fully into the socialist camp, the OAS voted to suspend trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba; except for Mexico, all countries that had not already done so severed relations. According to the Cuba government, between 1959 and 1965 the US operated in all the national territory 299 bands with a total of 3,995 members. There were 549 victims among the soldiers of the regular troops and the members of the militia including victims of the crimes perpetrated by the bandits against the civilians. Many other victims were disabled. Bandits were eliminated in 1965, when the last band operating in the country under the command of Juan Alberto Martnez Andrade was captured on July 4. During all those years, so difficult for the Cuban economy, the country was forced to spend about 100,000,000 pesos.

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Page last modified: 02-04-2013 16:20:54 ZULU