The Real Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis
By Arturo Lopez-Levy, October 31, 2012
“When I saw the rockets being fired at Mario’s house, I swore to myself that the Americans would pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war is over a much wider and bigger war will begin for me: The war that I am going to wage against them. I know that this is my real destiny.”
Fidel Castro wrote these words in 1958, the decisive year of his guerrilla war against Dictator Fulgencio Batista. Mario was a peasant from Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountain range whose house was bombarded by the regime’s U.S.-equipped air force. Although Fidel Castro had expressed an adolescent admiration for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by 1958, he was acutely aware that a clash with Washington was probable if not inevitable. In Latin America, Washington’s support for dictators such as Batista was the norm, not the exception. No matter how terrible they were to their people, dictators were considered a safeguard against communist penetration in the hemisphere. Following this logic, not only communism, but most types of nationalism were considered anathema to Ike Eisenhower’s Washington.
In January 1959, the revolutionary army entered Havana and Fidel Castro became the most popular Cuban leader in history. The Cuban state took control of the main sectors of the economy after several nationalizations of foreign companies, including big American ones. The government mobilized workers, peasants, and a significant segment of the middle classes to launch campaigns against illiteracy and extreme poverty, and for land reform. By early 1960, Fidel Castro and his closest allies—especially his brother Raul and Commander Che Guevara—were already in contact with the USSR. In September, at the General Assembly of the United Nations, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev went to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem to meet Fidel Castro. Khrushchev declared to the press that he didn’t know whether Castro was communist, but he himself was a “Fidelista.”
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