14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 11 March 2016 — I remember clearly my mom in her militia uniform, kneeling beside me, instructing me to get under a bed, cover myself with a wet towel and bite the stick of cedar she had hung around my neck when the bombs began to fall. I remember nothing more of those days. The intensity of those recommendations was recorded in the precocity of a six-year-old girl.
They were useless recommendations for what was expected. My parents and my brothers were mobilized and I was left in the care of my grandmother. The Americans were coming. We Cubans expected to be disintegrated under a mushroom cloud.
This simple view of the October crisis took on form with the years. So I disagree with another myth of Cuba’s relations with the United States: “Cuba brought the world to the brink of a worldwide holocaust in October of 1962.”
I will focus on the analysis of the overblown letter of 26 October 1962 that Fidel Castro delivered to the Soviet embassy to get it to the hands of Nikita Khrushchev; but not on what everyone usually comments on, that the USSR should never allow the United States to take the lead and set off the first nuclear strike.
What interests me is what it says a little later: …if the United States should “manage to carry out an invasion of Cuba — a brutal act in violation of universal and moral law — then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defense. However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.”
If anything defines these high-level messages it is the use of very precise terms to leave no doubt about the idea to be expressed. Without any errors in translation, it speaks of an invasion and not of an attack on Cuba, it being understood that this would be a conventional invasion with the landing of troops and air support. In the face of such action, it asks the Soviet leadership that its response “eliminate such danger forever.”
It does not mention eliminating the Pentagon; it does not mention eliminating the Capitol, the White House, the intercontinental ballistic missile silos closest to Cuba, it does not even mention another target previously agreed to by the parties, no.
Those words must have produced stupor in the Soviet hierarchy. While the Russians were already negotiating with the US government, the leadership of the Cuban Revolution was willing to immolate its own people if, with that, Yankee imperialism would disappear from the face of the earth.
In Fidel Castro’s words, the consideration does not appear that a military invasion by the United States would have received immediate condemnation from the international community, given that it is a small island whose Revolution enjoyed enormous sympathy among the global intelligentsia and opinion leaders. The Cold War and the pro-American blockade were not enough to observe such a scenario impassively. Nor should the diplomatic route be contemplated as a solution to the crisis, as is laid out at the end of the paragraph: “However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.”
Probably, Khrushchev had a profound effect on the psychology of the Cuban leader when he made the offer to place the R-12s and other strategic weapons on our territory. While Fidel Castro was looking for an open and defiant installation, the Soviets, excellent chess players and with more political experience, were aware that the United States would not allow with impunity that installation so close to its shores; the Soviets were looking not to the Caribbean, but to the Mediterranean, specifically to the missiles aimed at the USSR from stations in Italy and Turkey.
With Operation Anadyr the Soviet leadership put on Cuban soil the war material necessary to then negotiate the withdrawal of the Titan and Minuteman missiles from Turkey, which, according to the political divisions of the time, had borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan, territories of the USSR, and to achieve a moratorium on US aggressions against Cuba for a period of 15 years.
The end of the crisis was a setback for the Cuban leadership in general and for Fidel Castro’s pride in particular. Despite the so-called Five Points, the truth is that he was not taken into account in the negotiation; he was not even consulted, and most likely the Soviet side made that decision knowing that the Cuban leadership would be against the removal of the weapons and rationality indicates not opening several fronts of conflict if they could not be managed.
I bring up again the Soviets and chess, because Khrushchev took advantage of the impulsiveness and inexperience of the Cuban leader to move the pieces according to his own interests and to achieve – collaterally – guarantees for his new Caribbean ally.