In 1959, after five years of guerilla war, Fidel Castro?s Cuban Revolution succeeded in ousting U.S. right-wing ally, President Fulgencio Batista. American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a WW-II five star general and former Supreme Allied Commander, was alarmed over Castro’s Communist rumblings a mere 90 mile stone?s throw from U.S. shores. Deeply embroiled in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, Ike couldn?t let the Castro threat stand. In March 1960, Ike directed the CIA to plan Castro’s overthrow.
In October 1960, with the exception of food and medicine, the U.S. embargoed exports to Cuba. Meanwhile, the CIA was hard at work training Cuban pro-democracy pro-U.S. exiles to retake Cuba from Castro. Following his November1960 election, president-elect John F. Kennedy was briefed on the Cuba invasion plan and gave his consent. The Bay of Pigs invasion path was now set.
Six months later, the main body of the attack against Cuba was launched by ship from Guatemala on April 13th, 1961. This CIA-funded and trained paramilitary force consisted of five light divisions totaling more than 1,400 men. The CIA also provided eight B-26 bombers, flown by Cuban and American crews, which attacked Cuban airfields before returning to the U.S. the evening of April 15. On April 16, during hours of darkness, the main invasion force from Guatemala arrived offshore the Bay of Pigs and conducted a WW-II style amphibious landing on a lightly defended beach named Playa Gir?n.
The assault initially succeeded in overwhelming Castro?s revolutionary militia defending the local area on April 17. However, the Cuban Army?s counter-offensive was swift and crushing. The U.S.-backed invaders urgently needed reinforcement, but it was not to come. President Kennedy issued the order to cease and desist all support and the U.S. turned a cold shoulder to the 1,400 counter-revolutionary invaders it had landed at the Bay of Pigs hours earlier. Without air support or naval bombardment, they were now on their own. On April 20, after an intense three-day battle, the previously U.S.-backed counter-revolutionary invaders surrendered. Before releasing them back to the U.S., Castro had the majority of the invaders publicly interrogated for the purpose of U.S. political embarrassment and negative U.S. propaganda.
This served to strengthen Castro’s standing throughout the Central and South American region and led to him openly proclaiming his government?s adoption of socialism. He further declared his intention to align his revolutionary government with the Soviet Union, which was a core embarrassment for U.S. foreign policy and newly elected president John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had failed his first major test as president and the world knew it. On 7 February 1962, the U.S. extended the Cuban embargo to include almost all imports, causing Castro to become even more trade-dependent on the Soviet Union. The USSR now had a friend and a foothold 90 miles from the shores of Florida. In retrospect, these events directly led to the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
The CIA was watching the Soviet-Cuban relationship develop. The Soviets had begun to establish an offensive missile capability in Cuba. Using secret U-2 spy plane over flights, CIA intelligence revealed clear photographic evidence that the Soviet Union was actively building and equipping a number of medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missile facilities in Cuba. Most threatening, these missiles were nuclear warhead-capable with enough range to reach all the major cities along the U.S. East Coast. In addition, the Soviets had stationed a menacing number of Ilyushin Il-28 (Beagle) bomb and torpedo-capable tactical light bombers at Cuban airfields. President Kennedy recognized this as a threat of immeasurable heights and it had to be eliminated one way or another.
On October 14, 1962, Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba and announced that the U.S. would stop, by force if necessary, all offensive weapons deliveries to Cuba. He further demanded that all missile site construction be immediately halted and the missiles already in Cuba be immediately dismantled and removed from Cuba. An edgy 13-day confrontation ensued between the two nuclear-capable Super Powers, playing out on worldwide television news. Not revealed publically by either side, was the secret existence of U.S. nuclear-tipped Jupiter medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) in Italy and Turkey that were targeted against the USSR with the ability to strike Moscow.
Negotiations between Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were tense. Whether the threat of mutual destruction prevailed, or intellectual integrity triumphed, agreement was reached to end the blockade on October 28th.
As in most agreements of this type, there is a secret part and a public part. The U.S. secretly agreed to dismantle all of its Jupiter MRBMs deployed in Turkey and Italy aimed at the USSR. What the USSR didn?t know was the fact that the Jupiter MRBM was largely obsolete and was already scheduled for removal from service by April 1963.
Publicly, the Soviets agreed to dismantle their missiles and support facilities in Cuba, subject to United Nations verification. In exchange, the U.S. publically agreed to never invade Cuba without direct provocation. The blockade was formally ended on November 20, 1962 after all the Soviet missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 bombers had been removed from Cuba. Even today, many believe it was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear exchange.
That brings us to President Obama?s 17 December, 2014 announcement about reestablishing full diplomatic relations with Cuba and normalizing relations. Since the U.S. has not had diplomatic relations with Cuba sine 1961, Obama?s announcement is history making.
But what does it really mean?
The president has the Constitutional and legal authority to make U.S. Foreign Policy. That means he can do what he has done ? end of discussion. Whether or not the way he did it as eloquent as some would like, is a moot point. That notwithstanding, Obama?s move could be wise from a political-military perspective ? especially if viewed in a strategic context.
Today, Russia?s Mr. Putin is rekindling the Cold War. He has taken Crimea and is threatening the rest of the Ukraine. He has recently agreed to a mutual agreement of cooperation with China that will result in closer Russian-Chinese ties across a variety of fronts. Putin has shown renewed interest in reestablishing strategic Russian bases in Cuba and several other South American Socialist/Communist countries historically friendly to the former Soviet Union. Make no mistake, Russia is on the move again and intends to regain its former superpower status.
During the Cold War, the U.S. and the USSR avoided direct, armed conflict with one another by using surrogate countries to fight the fight on their behalf. Part of the strategy during the Cold War and since, has been to engage both aligned and nonaligned countries through military aid, and financial and trade incentives to stabilize them and befriend them, thereby denying opposing powers the opportunity to do the same. That strategy has not changed for either the U.S. or Russia. Cuba, because of its location to the Americas, is a strategic prize for anyone it aligns with, and both the U.S. and Russia recognize this fact.
World fossil fuel prices are sharply plummeting and the Middle East is in disarray. As a result, Russia?s fossil fuel stranglehold over Germany?s industrial dependency, and thus, over the European Union?s, is significantly diminished. Compounding Russia?s ability to muscle Western Europe, Russia?s economy is currently in a death spiral. This significantly weakens Russia?s standing as a potential super power and offers vulnerability to those fledging nations who once depended upon Russia for trade and economic aid ? making Cuba ripe for the picking.
Could it be that Obama recognizes that the timing is right and now is the perfect time to act?
Might the Obama Administration recognize that by normalizing relations with Cuba, the move will drive a wedge between Cuba, Venezuela and Russia? Based upon Obama?s foreign policy track record, the likelihood of this being a conscious element of a long-range strategic plan to marginalize and ultimately vanquish Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is dubious. Nonetheless, it has the makings of a hot U.S. poker being slowly pushed into the political chest of the Communist/Socialist revolution on this side of the planet.
Can Obama lift the 1960 standing trade embargo with a stroke of his pen? The short answer is NO, that requires Congressional action, and here?s why. The Cuban embargo is enforced under six statutes: the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuba Assets Control Regulations of 1963, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Helms?Burton Act of 1996, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000. The Cuban Democracy Act was signed into law in 1992 for the specigic purpose of maintaining sanctions on Cuba so long as the Cuban government refuses to move toward “democratization and greater respect for human rights”. In 1996, Congress passed the Helms?Burton Act, which further restricted United States citizens from doing business in or with Cuba, and mandated restrictions on giving public or private assistance to any successor government in Havana until specific claims against the Cuban government are met. In 1999, president Bill Clinton expanded the trade embargo even further by disallowing foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. In 2000, Clinton authorized the sale of “humanitarian” U.S. products to Cuba.
Additional points to factor: The U.S. does not block Cuba’s trade with third parties ? we can?t. Quite simply, U.S. domestic laws do not apply to other countries. Cuba can and does, conduct international trade with many other countries. In evidence, Cuba has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995.
Obama?s surprise move is no surprise. Shortly after taking office in 2009, he publically outlined the expectations Cuba needed to meet before lifting the U.S. trade embargo. Later, during Hillary Clinton?s Secretary of State confirmation hearings, she stated that she believed the ban on Cuban-American family travel should be lifted. These qualifying statements, along with others, have been percolating at the highest levels within the Cuban government, and for a variety of reasons, they have now come to light.
With the goal of establishing embassies in Havana and Washington as a necessary element of normalizing diplomatic relations, Cuban and U.S. diplomats will find common ground in the coming months. The U.S. Department of State will also likely lift Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, eliminating numerous sanctions associated with that designation. As previously mentioned, formally lifting the trade embargo will take Congressional action and the extent of that action will be debated sometime in the near future. The eventual outcome of it all will be political transition of Cuba. In a broader sense, this will diminish the potential threat against the U.S. throughout the region and result in an independent and friendly Cuba.
Paul Evancoe is a novelist and freelance writer. His action novels ?Own the Night,? ?Violent Peace? and ?Poison Promise? deal with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and are available at AmazonBooks.com