William Blum

Cuba, 1959 to 1980s: The unforgivable revolution

The existence of a revolutionary socialist government with growing ties to the Soviet Union only 90 miles away, insisted the United States Government, was a situation which no self-respecting superpower should tolerate, and in 1961 it undertook an invasion of Cuba.

But less than 50 miles from the Soviet Union sat Pakistan, a close ally of the United States, a member since 1955 of the South-East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), the US-created anti-communist alliance.  On the very border of the Soviet Union was Iran, an even closer ally of the United States, with its relentless electronic listening posts, aerial surveillance, and infiltration into Russian territory by American agents. And alongside Iran, also bordering the Soviet Union, was Turkey, a member of the Russians’ mortal enemy, NATO, since 1951.

In 1962 during the “Cuban Missile Crisis”, Washington, seemingly in a state of near-panic, informed the world that the Russians were installing “offensive” missiles in Cuba.  The US promptly instituted a “quarantine” of the island – a powerful show of naval and marine forces in the Caribbean would stop and search all vessels heading towards Cuba; any found to contain military cargo would be forced to turn back.

The United States, however, had missiles and bomber bases already in place in Turkey and other missiles in Western Europe pointed toward the Soviet Union.  Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev later wrote:

The Americans had surrounded our country with military bases and threatened us with nuclear weapons, and now they would learn just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you; we’d be doing nothing more than giving them a little of their own medicine. … After all, the United States had no moral or legal quarrel with us. We hadn’t given the Cubans anything more than the Americans were giving to their allies. We had the same rights and opportunities as the Americans. Our conduct in the international arena was governed by the same rules and limits as the Americans. 1

Lest anyone misunderstand, as Khrushchev apparently did, the rules under which Washington was operating, Time magazine was quick to explain.  ”On the part of the Communists,” the magazine declared, “this equating [referring to Khrushchev’s offer to mutually remove missiles and bombers from Cuba and Turkey] had obvious tactical motives.  On the part of neutralists and pacifists [who welcomed Khrushchev’s offer] it betrayed intellectual and moral confusion.”  The confusion lay, it seems, in not seeing clearly who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, for “The purpose of the U.S. bases [in Turkey] was not to blackmail Russia but to strengthen the defense system of NATO, which had been created as a safeguard against Russian aggression. As a member of NATO, Turkey welcomed the bases as a contribution to her own defense.”  Cuba, which had been invaded only the year before, could have, it seems, no such concern.  Time continued its sermon: Beyond these differences between the two cases, there is an enormous moral difference between U.S. and Russian objectives … To equate U.S. and Russian bases is in effect to equate U.S. and Russian purposes … The U.S. bases, such as those in Turkey, have helped keep the peace since World War II, while the Russian bases in Cuba threatened to upset the peace. The Russian bases were intended to further conquest and domination, while U.S. bases were erected to preserve freedom. The difference should have been obvious to all. 2

Equally obvious was the right of the United States to maintain a military base on Cuban soil – Guantánamo Naval Base by name, a vestige of colonialism staring down the throats of the Cuban people, which the US, to this day, refuses to vacate despite the vehement protest of the Castro government.

In the American lexicon, in addition to good and bad bases and missiles, there are good and bad revolutions.  The American and French Revolutions were good.  The Cuban Revolution is bad. It must be bad because so many people have left Cuba as a result of it.

But at least 100,000 people left the British colonies in America during and after the American Revolution.  These Tories could not abide by the political and social changes, both actual and feared, particularly that change which attends all revolutions worthy of the name: Those looked down upon as inferiors no longer know their place.  (Or as the US Secretary of State put it after the Russian Revolution: The Bolsheviks sought “to make the ignorant and incapable mass of humanity dominant in the earth.”) 3

The Tories fled to Nova Scotia and Britain carrying tales of the godless, dissolute, barbaric American revolutionaries.  Those who remained and refused to take an oath of allegiance to the new state governments were denied virtually all civil liberties. Many were jailed, murdered, or forced into exile.  After the American Civil War, thousands more fled to South America and other points, again disturbed by the social upheaval.  How much more is such an exodus to be expected following the Cuban Revolution – a true social revolution, giving rise to changes much more profound than anything in the American experience?  How many more would have left the United States if 90 miles away lay the world’s wealthiest nation welcoming their residence and promising all manner of benefits and rewards?

After the Cuban Revolution in January 1959, we learned that there are also good and bad hijackings.  On several occasions Cuban planes and boats were hijacked to the United States but they were not returned to Cuba, nor were the hijackers punished.  Instead, some of the planes and boats were seized by US authorities for non-payment of debts claimed by American firms against the Cuban government. 4 But then there were the bad hijackings – planes forced to fly from the United States to Cuba.  When there began to be more of these than flights in the opposite direction, Washington was obliged to reconsider its policy.

It appears that there are as well good and bad terrorists. When the Israelis bombed PLO headquarters in Tunis in 1985, Ronald Reagan expressed his approval.  The president asserted that nations have the right to retaliate against terrorist attacks “as long as you pick out the people responsible”. 5

But if Cuba had dropped bombs on any of the headquarters of the anti-Castro exiles in Miami or New Jersey, Ronald Reagan would likely have gone to war, though for 25 years the Castro government had been on the receiving end of an extraordinary series of terrorist attacks carried out in Cuba, in the United States, and in other countries by the exiles and their CIA mentors.  (We shall not discuss the consequences of Cuba bombing CIA headquarters.)

Bombing and strafing attacks of Cuba by planes based in the United States began in October 1959, if not before. 6  In early 1960, there were several fire-bomb air raids on Cuban cane fields and sugar mills, in which American pilots also took part – at least three of whom died in crashes, while two others were captured.  The State Department acknowledged that one plane which crashed, killing two Americans, had taken off from Florida, but insisted that it was against the wishes of the US government. 7

In March a French freighter unloading munitions from Belgium exploded in Havana taking 75 lives and injuring 200, some of whom subsequently died.  The United States denied Cuba’s accusation of sabotage but admitted that it had sought to prevent the shipment. 8

And so it went … reaching a high point in April of the following year in the infamous CIA-organized invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Over 100 exiles died in the attack.  Close to 1,200 others were taken prisoner by the Cubans.  It was later revealed that four American pilots flying for the CIA had lost their lives as well. 9

The Bay of Pigs assault had relied heavily on the Cuban people rising up to join the invaders, 10 but this was not to be the case. As it was, the leadership and ranks of the exile forces were riddled with former supporters and henchmen of Fulgencio Batista, the dictator overthrown by Castro, and would not have been welcomed back by the Cuban people under any circumstances.

Despite the fact that the Kennedy administration was acutely embarrassed by the unmitigated defeat – indeed, because of it – a campaign of smaller-scale attacks upon Cuba was initiated almost immediately, under the rubric of Operation Mongoose.   Throughout the 1960s, the Caribbean island was subjected to  countless sea and air commando raids by exiles, at times  accompanied by their CIA supervisors, inflicting damage upon oil refineries, chemical plants and railroad bridges, cane fields, sugar mills and sugar warehouses; infiltrating spies, saboteurs and assassins … anything to damage the Cuban economy, promote disaffection, or make the revolution look bad … taking the lives of Cuban militia members and others in the process …  pirate attacks on Cuban fishing boats and merchant ships, bombardments of Soviet vessels docked in Cuba, an assault upon a Soviet army camp with 12 Russian soldiers reported wounded … a hotel and a theatre shelled from offshore because Russians and East Europeans were supposed to be present there … 11

These actions were not always carried out on the direct order of the CIA or with its foreknowledge, but the Agency could hardly plead “rogue elephant”.  It had created Operation Mongoose headquarters in Miami that was truly a state within a city – over, above, and outside the laws of the United States, not to mention international law, with a staff of several hundred Americans directing many more Cuban agents in just such types of actions, with a budget in excess of $50 million a year, and an arrangement with the local press to keep operations in Florida secret except when the CIA wanted something publicized. 12

Title 18 of the US Code declares it to be a crime to launch a “military or naval expedition or enterprise” from the United States against a country with which the United States is not (officially) at war. Although US authorities now and then aborted an exile plot or impounded a boat – sometimes because the Coast Guard or other officials had not been properly clued in – no Cubans were prosecuted under this act.  This was no more than to be expected inasmuch as Attorney General Robert Kennedy had determined after the Bay of Pigs that the invasion did not constitute a military expedition. 13

The commando raids were combined with a total US trade and credit embargo, which continues to this day, and which genuinely hurt the Cuban economy and chipped away at the society’s standard of living. So unyielding has the embargo been that when Cuba was hard hit by a hurricane in October 1963, and Casa Cuba, a New York social club, raised a large quantity of clothing for relief, the United States refused to grant it an export license on the grounds that such shipment was “contrary to the national interest”. 14

Moreover, pressure was brought to bear upon other countries to conform to the embargo, and goods destined for Cuba were sabotaged: machinery damaged, chemicals added to lubricating fluids to cause rapid wear on diesel engines, a manufacturer in West Germany paid to produce ball-bearings off-center, another to do the same with balanced wheel gears – “You’re talking about big money,” said a CIA officer involved in the sabotage efforts, “when you ask a manufacturer to go along with you on that kind of project because he has to reset his whole mold.  And he is probably going to worry about the effect on future business.  You might have to pay him several hundred thousand dollars or more.” 15

One manufacturer who defied the embargo was the British Leyland Company, which sold a large number of buses to Cuba in 1964. Repeated expressions of criticism and protest by Washington officials and Congressmen failed to stem deliveries of some of the buses.  Then, in October, an East German cargo ship carrying another 42 buses to Cuba collided in thick fog with a Japanese vessel in the Thames. The Japanese ship was able to continue on, but the cargo ship was beached on its side; the buses would have to be “written off”, said the Leyland company.  In the leading British newspapers it was just an accident story. 16  In the New York Times it was not even reported. A decade was to pass before the American columnist Jack Anderson disclosed that his CIA and National Security Agency sources had confirmed that the collision had been arranged by the CIA with the cooperation of British intelligence. 17  Subsequently, another CIA officer stated that he was skeptical about the collision story, although admitting that “it is true that we were sabotaging the Leyland buses going to Cuba from England, and that was pretty sensitive business.” 15

What undoubtedly was an even more sensitive venture was the use of chemical and biological weapons against Cuba by the United States. It is a remarkable record.

In August 1962, a British freighter under Soviet lease, having damaged its propeller on a reef, crept into the harbor at San Juan, Puerto Rico for repairs.  It was bound for a Soviet port with 80,000 bags of Cuban sugar. The ship was put into dry dock and 14,135 sacks of sugar were unloaded to a warehouse to facilitate the repairs.  While in the warehouse, the sugar was contaminated by CIA agents with a substance that was allegedly harmless but unpalatable.  When President Kennedy learned of the operation he was furious because it had taken place in US territory and if discovered could provide the Soviet Union with a propaganda field-day and could set a terrible precedent for chemical sabotage in the cold war.  He directed that the sugar not be returned to the Russians, although what explanation was given to them is not publicly known. 19  Similar undertakings were apparently not canceled.  The CIA official who helped direct worldwide sabotage efforts, referred to above, later revealed that “There was lots of sugar being sent out from Cuba, and we were putting a lot of contaminants in it.” 15

The same year, a Canadian agricultural technician working as an adviser to the Cuban government was paid $5,000 by “an American military intelligence agent” to infect Cuban turkeys with a virus which would produce the fatal Newcastle disease.  Subsequently, 8,000 turkeys died.  The technician later claimed that although he had been to the farm where the turkeys had died, he had not actually administered the virus, but had instead pocketed the money, and that the turkeys had died from neglect and other causes unrelated to the virus.  This may have been a self-serving statement.  The Washington Post reported that “According to U.S. intelligence reports, the Cubans – and some Americans – believe the turkeys died as the result of espionage.” 21

Authors Warren Hinckle and William Turner, citing a participant in the project, have reported in their book on Cuba that:

During 1969 and 1970, the CIA deployed futuristic weather modification technology to ravage Cuba’s sugar crop and undermine the economy. Planes from the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in the California desert, where hi tech was developed, overflew the island, seeding rain clouds with crystals that precipitated torrential rains over non-agricultural areas and left the cane fields arid (the downpours caused killer flash floods in some areas). 22

In 1971, also according to participants, the CIA turned over to Cuban exiles a virus which causes African swine fever.  Six weeks later, an outbreak of the disease in Cuba forced the slaughter of 500,000 pigs to prevent a nationwide animal epidemic.  The outbreak, the first ever in the Western hemisphere, was called the “most alarming event” of the year by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. 23

Ten years later, the target may well have been human beings, as an epidemic of dengue fever swept the Cuban island.  Transmitted by blood-eating insects, usually mosquitos, the disease produces severe flu symptoms and incapacitating bone pain.  Between May and October 1981, over 300,000 cases were reported in Cuba with 158 fatalities, 101 of which were children under 15. 24  In 1956 and 1958, declassified documents have revealed, the US Army loosed swarms of specially bred mosquitos in Georgia and Florida to see whether disease-carrying insects could be weapons in a biological war.  The mosquitos bred for the tests were of the Aedes Aegypti type, the precise carrier of dengue fever as well as other diseases. 25  In 1967 it was reported by Science magazine that at the US government center in Fort Detrick, Maryland, dengue fever was amongst those “diseases that are at least the objects of considerable research and that appear to be among those regarded as potential BW [biological warfare] agents.” 26  Then, in 1984, a Cuban exile on trial in New York testified that in the latter part of 1980 a ship travelled from Florida to Cuba with a mission to carry some germs to introduce them in Cuba to be used against the Soviets and against the Cuban economy, to begin what was called chemical war, which later on produced results that were not what we had expected, because we thought that it was going to be used against the Soviet forces, and it was used against our own people, and with that we did not agree. 27

It’s not clear from the testimony whether the Cuban man thought that the germs would somehow be able to confine their actions to only Russians, or whether he had been misled by the people behind the operation.

The full extent of American chemical and biological warfare against Cuba will never be known.  Over the years, the Castro government has in fact blamed the United States for a number of other plagues which afflicted various animals and crops. 28  And in 1977, newly-released CIA documents disclosed that the Agency “maintained a clandestine anti-crop warfare research program targeted during the 1960s at a number of countries throughout the world.” 29 It came to pass that the United States felt the need to put some of its chemical and biological warfare (CBW) expertise into the hands of other nations.  As of 1969, some 550 students, from 36 countries, had completed courses at the US Army’s Chemical School at Fort McClellan, Alabama.  The CBW instruction was provided to the students under the guise of “defense” against such weapons – just as in Vietnam, as we have seen, torture was taught.  As will be described in the chapter on Uruguay, the manufacture and use of bombs was taught under the cover of combating terrorist bombings. 30

The ingenuity which went into the chemical and biological warfare against Cuba was apparent in some of the dozens of plans to assassinate or humiliate Fidel Castro. Devised by the CIA or Cuban exiles, with the cooperation of American mafiosi, the plans ranged from poisoning Castro’s cigars and food to a chemical designed to make his hair and beard fall off and LSD to be administered just before a public speech. There were also of course the more traditional approaches of gun and bomb, one being an attempt to drop bombs on a baseball stadium while Castro was speaking; the B-26 bomber was driven away by anti-aircraft fire before it could reach the stadium. 31 It is a combination of such Cuban security measures, informers, incompetence, and luck which has served to keep the bearded one alive to the present day.

Attempts were also made on the lives of Castro’s brother Raul and Che Guevara.  The latter was the target of a bazooka fired at the United Nations building in New York in December 1964. 32  Various Cuban exile groups have engaged in violence on a regular basis in the United States with relative impunity for decades.  One of them, going by the name of Omega 7 and headquartered in Union City, New Jersey, was characterized by the FBI in 1980 as “the most dangerous terrorist organization in the United States”. 33  Attacks against Cuba itself began to lessen around the end of the 1960s, due probably to a lack of satisfying results combined with ageing warriors, and exile groups turned to targets in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

During the next decade, while the CIA continued to pour money into the exile community, more than 100 serious “incidents” took place in the United States for which Omega 7 and other groups claimed responsibility.  (Within the community, the distinction between a terrorist and a non-terrorist group is not especially precise; there is much overlapping identity and frequent creation of new names.) There occurred repeated bombings of the Soviet UN Mission, its Washington embassy, its automobiles, a Soviet ship docked in New Jersey, the offices of the Soviet airline Aeroflot, with a number of American policemen and Russians injured in these attacks; several bombings of the  Cuban UN Mission and its Interests Section in Washington, many attacks upon Cuban diplomats, including at least one murder; a bomb discovered at New York’s Academy of Music in 1976 shortly  before a celebration of the Cuban Revolution was to begin; a  bombing two years later of the Lincoln Center after the Cuban ballet had performed; three bombings in a single night in 1979:  the office of a New Jersey Cuban refugee program, a New Jersey pharmacy that sent medical supplies to Cuba, and a suitcase that exploded at JFK Airport, injuring four luggage handlers, minutes before it was to be placed aboard a TWA flight to Los Angeles. 34

The single most violent act of this period was the blowing up of a Cubana Airlines plane shortly after it took off from Barbados on 6 October 1976, which took the lives of 73 people including the entire Cuban championship fencing team.  CIA documents later revealed that on 22 June, a CIA officer abroad had cabled a report to Agency headquarters that he had learned from a source that a Cuban exile group planned to bomb a Cubana airliner flying between Panama and Havana.  The group’s leader was a baby doctor named Orlando Bosch.  After the plane crashed in the sea in October, it was Bosch’s network of exiles that claimed responsibility.  The cable showed that the CIA had the means to penetrate the Bosch organization, but there’s no indication in any of the documents that the Agency undertook any special monitoring of Bosch and his group because of their plans, or that the CIA warned Havana. 35

In 1983, while Orlando Bosch sat in a Venezuelan prison charged with masterminding the plane bombing, the City Commission of Miami proclaimed a “Dr. Orlando Bosch Day”. 36  In 1968, Bosch had been convicted of a bazooka attack on a Polish ship in Miami.

Cuban exiles themselves have often come in for harsh treatment. Those who have visited Cuba for any reason whatever, or publicly suggested, however timidly, a rapprochement with the homeland, they too have been the victims of bombings and shootings in Florida and New Jersey.  American groups advocating a resumption of diplomatic relations or an end to the embargo have been similarly attacked, as have travel agencies handling trips to Cuba and a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey which shipped medicines to the island. Dissent in Miami has been effectively silenced, while the police, city officials, and the media look the other way, when not actually demonstrating support for the exiles’ campaign of intimidation. 37 In Miami and elsewhere, the CIA – ostensibly to uncover Castro agents – has employed exiles to spy on their countrymen, to keep files on them, as well as on Americans who associate with them. 38

Although there has always been the extreme lunatic fringe in the Cuban exile community (as opposed to the normal lunatic fringe) insisting that Washington has sold out their cause, over the years there has been only the occasional arrest and conviction of an exile for a terrorist attack in the United States, so occasional that the exiles can only assume that Washington’s heart is not wholly in it.  The exile groups and their key members are well known to the authorities, for the anti-Castroites have not excessively shied away from publicity.  At least as late as the early 1980s, they were training openly in southern Florida and southern California; pictures of them flaunting their weapons appeared in the press. 39 The CIA, with its countless contacts-cum-informers amongst the exiles, could fill in many of the missing pieces for the FBI and the police, if it wished to.  In 1980, in a detailed report on Cuban-exile terrorism, The Village Voice of New York reported:

Two stories were squeezed out of New York police officials … “You know, it’s funny,” said one cautiously, “there have been one or two things … but let’s put it this way. You get just so far on a case and suddenly the dust is blown away. Case closed. You ask the CIA to help, and they say they aren’t really interested. You get the message.” Another investigator said he was working on a narcotics case involving Cuban exiles a couple of years ago, and telephone records he obtained showed a frequently dialed number in Miami. He said he traced the number to a company called Zodiac, “which turned out to be a CIA front.” He dropped his investigation. 40

The Cuban exiles in the United States, collectively, may well constitute the longest lasting and most prolific terrorist group in the world.  It is thus the height of irony, not to mention hypocrisy, that for many years up to the present time in the 1990s, the State Department has included Cuba amongst those nations that “sponsor terrorism”, not because of any terrorist acts committed by the Cuban government, but solely because they “harbor terrorists”. In 1961, amid much fanfare, the Kennedy administration unveiled its showpiece program, the Alliance for Progress.  Conceived as a direct response to Castro’s Cuba, it was meant to prove that genuine social change could take place in Latin America without resort to revolution or socialism.  ”If the only alternatives for the people of Latin America are the status quo and communism,” said John F. Kennedy, “then they will inevitably choose communism.” 41

The multi-billion dollar Alliance program established for itself an ambitious set of goals which it hoped to achieve by the end of the decade.  These had to do with economic growth, more equitable distribution of national income, reduced unemployment, agrarian reform, education, housing, health, etc.  In 1970, the Twentieth Century Fund of New York – whose list of officers reads like a Who’s Who in the government/industry revolving-door world – undertook a study to evaluate how close the Alliance had come to realizing its objectives.  One of the study’s conclusions was that Cuba, which was not one of the recipient countries, had

come closer to some of the Alliance objectives than most Alliance members. In education and public health, no country in Latin America has carried out such ambitious and nationally comprehensive programs. Cuba’s centrally planned economy has done more to integrate the rural and urban sectors (through a national income distribution policy) than the market economies of the other Latin American countries. 42

Cuba’s agrarian reform program as well was recognized as having been more widesweeping than that of any other Latin American country, although the study took a wait-and-see attitude towards its results. 43

These and other economic and social gains were achieved despite the US embargo and the inordinate amount of resources and labor Cuba was obliged to devote to defense and security because of the hovering giant to the north.  Moreover, though not amongst the stated objectives of the Alliance, there was another area of universal importance in which Cuba stood apart from many of its Latin neighbors: there were no legions of desaparecidos, no death squads, no systematic, routine torture.

Cuba had become what Washington had always feared from the Third World – a good example.

Parallel to the military and economic belligerence, the United States has long maintained a relentless propaganda offensive against Cuba.  A number of examples of this occurring in other countries can be found in other chapters of this book.  In addition to its vast overseas journalistic empire, the CIA has maintained anti-Castro news-article factories in the United States for decades.  The Agency has reportedly subsidized at times such publications in Miami as Avance, El Mundo, El Prensa Libre, Bohemia and El Diario de Las Americas, as well as AIP, a radio news agency that produced programs sent free of charge to more than 100 small stations in Latin America.  Two CIA fronts in New York, Foreign Publications, Inc, and Editors Press Service, also served as part of the propaganda network. 44

Was it inevitable that the United States would attempt to topple the Cuban government?  Could relations between the two neighboring countries have taken a different path?  Based on the American record of invariable hostility towards even moderately leftist governments, the answer would appear to be that there’s no reason to believe that Cuba’s revolutionary government could have been an exception.  Washington officials, however, were not immediately ill-disposed towards the Cuban Revolution.  There were those who even expressed their tentative approval or optimism.  This was evidently based on the belief that what had taken place in Cuba was little more than another Latin American change in government, the kind which had occurred with monotonous regularity for over a century, where the names and faces change but subservience to the United States remains fixed.  (The fact that John Foster Dulles was dying of cancer at this time could only contribute to the atmosphere of tolerance.  Dulles left the State Department in early February 1959, a month after the revolution.  One of his last acts was to withdraw the US military mission from Cuba.)

Then Castro revealed himself to be cut from a wholly different cloth.  It was not to be business as usual in the Caribbean.  He soon became outspoken in his criticism of the United States.  He referred acrimoniously to the 60 years of American control of Cuba; how, at the end of those 60 years, the masses of Cubans found themselves impoverished; how the United States used the sugar quota as a threat. He spoke of the unacceptable presence of the Guantánamo base; and he made it clear enough to Washington that Cuba would pursue a policy of independence and neutralism in the cold war.  It was for just such reasons that Castro and Che Guevara had forsaken the prosperous bourgeois careers awaiting them in law and medicine to lead the revolution in the first place.  Serious compromise was not on their agenda; nor on Washington’s, which was not prepared to live with such men and such a government. Soon, Castro and his regime were consigned to the “communist” slot, a word known to instantly cut off the flow of blood to the brain cells of the user.

A National Security Council meeting of 10 March 1959 included on its agenda the feasibility of bringing “another government to power in Cuba”. 45  This was before Castro had nationalized any US property.  The following month, after meeting with Castro in Washington, Vice President Richard Nixon wrote a memo in which he stated that he was convinced that Castro was “either incredibly naive about Communism or under Communist discipline” and that the Cuban leader would have to be treated and dealt with accordingly.  Nixon later wrote that his opinion at this time was a minority one within the Eisenhower administration. 46  But before the year was over, CIA Director Allen Dulles had decided that an invasion of Cuba was necessary.  In March of 1960, it was approved by President Eisenhower. 47  Then came the embargo, leaving Castro no alternative but to turn more and more to the Soviet Union, thus confirming in the minds of Washington officials that Castro was indeed a communist.  Some speculated that he had been a covert Red all along.

In this context, it’s interesting to note that the Cuban Communist Party had long supported Batista, had served in his cabinet, and had been unsupportive of Castro and his followers until their accession to power appeared imminent. 48  To add to the irony, during 1957-58 the CIA was channeling funds to Castro’s movement; this while the US continued to support Batista with weapons to counter the rebels; in all likelihood, another example of the Agency hedging its bets. 49

If Castro had toned down his early rhetoric and observed the usual diplomatic niceties, but still pursued the policies of self-determination and socialism which he felt were best for Cuba (or inescapable if certain changes were to be realized), he could only have postponed the day of reckoning, and that not for long.  Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala, Mossadegh of Iran, Cheddi Jagan of British Guiana, and other Third World leaders have gone out of their way to avoid stepping on Washington’s very sensitive toes unnecessarily, and were much less radical in their programs and in their stance toward the United States than Castro; nonetheless, all of them fell under the CIA axe.

We now know that in August, 1961, four months after the Bay  of Pigs, Che Guevara met with Richard Goodwin, President Kennedy’s  assistant special counsel, at an international gathering in Uruguay. Guevara had a message for Kennedy.  Cuba was prepared to forswear any political alliance with the Soviet bloc, pay for confiscated American  properties in trade, and consider curbing Cuba’s support for leftist insurgencies in other countries.  In return, the United States would cease all hostile actions against Cuba.  Back in Washington, Goodwin’s  advice to the president was to “quietly intensify” economic pressure  on Cuba.  In November, Kennedy authorized Operation Mongoose. 50


  1. Khrushchev Remembers (London, 1971) pp. 494, 496.
  2. Time, 2 November 1962.
  3. Cited by William Appleman Williams, “American Intervention in Russia: 1917-20”, in David Horowitz, ed., Containment and Revolution (Boston, 1967).  Written in a letter to President Wilson by Secretary of State Robert Lansing, uncle of John Foster and Allen Dulles.
  4. Facts on File, Cuba, the U.S. & Russia, 1960-63 (New York, 1964) pp. 56-8.
  5. International Herald Tribune (Paris), 2 October 1985, p. 1.
  6. New York Times, 23 October 1959, p. 1.
  7. Facts on File, op. cit., pp. 7-8; New York Times, 19, 20 February 1960; 22 March 1960.
  8. New York Times, 5, 6 March 1960.
  9. David Wise, “Colby of CIA – CIA of Colby”, New York Times Magazine, 1 July 1973, p. 9.
  10. A report about the post-invasion inquiry ordered by Kennedy disclosed that “It was never intended, the planners testified, that the invasion itself would topple Castro. The hope was that an initial success would spur an uprising by thousands of anti-Castro Cubans. Ships in the invasion fleet carried 15,000 weapons to be distributed to the expected volunteers.”  U.S. News & World Report, 13 August 1979, p. 82.  Some CIA officials, including Allen Dulles, later denied that an uprising was expected, but this may be no more than an attempt to mask their ideological embarrassment that people living under a “communist tyranny” did not respond at all to the call of “The Free World”.
  11. Attacks on Cuba: a) Taylor Branch and George Crile III, “The Kennedy Vendetta”, Harper’s magazine (New York), August 1975, pp. 49-63; b) Facts on File, op. cit., passim; c) New York Times, 26 August 1962, p. 1;21 March 1963, p. 3; Washington Post, 1 June 1966; 30 September 1966; plus many other articles in both newspapers during the 1960s; d) Warren Hinckle and William W. Turner, The Fish is Red: The Story of the Secret War Against Castro (Harper & Row, New York, 1981) passim.
  12. Branch and Crile, op. cit., pp. 49-63. The article states that there were in excess of 300 Americans involved in the operation, but in “CBS Reports: The CIA’s Secret Army”, broadcast 10 June 1977, written by Bill Moyers and the same George Crile III, former CIA official Ray Cline states that there were between 600 and 700 American staff officers.
  13. New York Times, 26 August 1962, p. 1.
  14. John Gerassi, The Great Fear in Latin America (New York, 1965, revised edition) p. 278.
  15. Branch and Crile, op. cit., p. 52.
  16. The Times (London), 8, 10 January 1964; 12 May, p. 10; 21 July, p. 10; 28, 29 October; The Guardian (London), 28, 29 October 1964.
  17. Washington Post, 14 February 1975, p. C31; Anderson’s story stated that there were only 24 buses involved and that they were dried and used in England.
  18. Branch and Crile, op. cit., p. 52.
  19. New York Times, 28 April 1966, p. 1.
  20. Branch and Crile, op. cit., p. 52.
  21. Washington Post, 21 March 1977, p.A18.
  22. Hinckle and Turner, p. 293, based on their interview with the participant in Ridgecrest, California, 27 September 1975.
  23. San Francisco Chronicle, 10 January 1977.
  24. Bill Schaap, “The 1981 Cuba Dengue Epidemic”, Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington), No. 17, Summer 1982, pp. 28-31.
  25. San Francisco Chronicle, 29 October 1980, p.15.
  26. Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington), 13 January 1967, p. 176.
  27. Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington), No. 22, Fall 1984, p. 35; the trial of Eduardo Victor Arocena Perez, Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, transcript of 10 September 1984, pp. 2187-89.  
  28. See, e.g., San Francisco Chronicle, 27 July 1981.
  29. Washington Post, 16 September 1977, p. A2.
  30. Ibid., 25 October 1969, column by Jack Anderson.
  31. Reports of the assassination attempts have been disclosed in many places; see Interim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, The Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (US Senate), 20 November 1975, pp. 71-180, for a detailed, although not complete, account. Stadium bombing attempt: New York Times, 22 November 1964, p. 26. 
  32. New York Times, 12 December 1964, p. 1.
  33. Ibid., 3 March 1980, p. 1.
  34. Terrorist attacks within the United States:  a) Jeff Stein, “Inside Omega 7”, The Village Voice (New York), 10 March 1980; b) San Francisco Chronicle, 26 March 1979, p. 3; 11 & 12 December, 1979; c) New York Times, 13 September 1980, p. 24; 3 March, 1980, p. 1; d) John Dinges and Saul Landau,* Assassination on Embassy Row* (London,  1981), pp. 251-52, note (also includes attacks on Cuban targets in other countries); e) Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington), No. 6, October 1979, pp. 8-9.
  35. The plane bombing:  a) Washington Post, 1 November 1986, pp. A1, A18; b) Jonathan Kwitny, The Crimes of Patriots (New York, 1987), p. 379; c) William Schaap, “New Spate of Terrorism: Key Leaders Unleashed”, Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington), No. 11, December 1980, pp.4-8; d) Dinges and Landau, pp. 245-6; e) Speech by Fidel Castro, 15 October 1976, reprinted in Toward Improved U.S.-Cuba Relations, House Committee on International Relations, Appendix A, 23 May 1977. The CIA documents: Amongst those declassified by the Agency, sent to the National Archives in 1993, and made available to the public.  Reported in The Nation (New York), 29 November 1993, p.657.
  36. Dangerous Dialogue: Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Miami’s Cuban Exile Community, p. 26, published by America’s Watch and The Fund for Free Expression, New York and Washington, August 1992. 
  37. Ibid., passim.  Also see: “Terrorism in Miami:Suppressing Free Speech”, CounterSpy magazine (Washington), Vol. 8, No. 3, March-May 1984, pp. 26-30; The Village Voice, op. cit.; Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington), No. 6, October 1979, pp. 8-9.
  38. New York Times, 4 January 1975, p. 8.
  39. San Francisco Chronicle, 12 January 1982, p. 14; Parade magazine (Washington Post), 15 March 1981, p. 5.
  40. The Village Voice, op. cit.
  41. Jerome Levinson and Juan de Onis, The Alliance That Lost Its Way: A Critical Report on the Alliance for Progress (A Twentieth Century Fund Study, Chicago, 1970) p. 56.
  42. Ibid.,p. 309; the list of Alliance goals can be found on pp. 352-5.
  43. Ibid., pp. 226-7.
  44. New York Times, 26 December 1977, p.37.  See also: Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary (New York, 1975) p. 380 (Editors Press Service).
  45. Tad Szulc, Fidel, A Critical Portrait (New York, 1986), pp. 480-1.
  46. Richard Nixon, Six Crises (New York, 1962, paperback edition) pp. 416-17.
  47. Victor Marchetti and John Marks,* The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence* (New York, 1975), p. 289.
  48. Marc Edelman, “The Other Super Power: The Soviet Union and Latin America 1917-1987”, NACLA’S Report on the Americas (North American Congress on Latin America, New York), January-February 1987, p.16; Szulc, see index.
  49. Szulc, pp. 427-8.
  50. Miami Herald, 29 April 1996, p. 1, from Kennedy administration documents declassified in 1996.

Books by William Blum

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else

Rogue State

Rogue State

A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower

Killing Hope

Killing Hope

U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II

Freeing the World to Death

Freeing the World to Death

Essays on the American Empire

West-Bloc Dissident

West-Bloc Dissident

A Cold War Memoir