The Need to Resolutely Defend Sovereignty and the Rights of All -- End the Blockade of Cuba!
- Dougal MacDonald -
October 16 to October 29 marks the 50th anniversary of what is called the "Cuban Missile Crisis" when the world faced an imminent danger of nuclear war as a result of the confrontation between the two superpowers at that time, the United States and the Soviet Union. The events have been rendered as a distorted Cold War account in which the United States emerges as the hero while the facts are mostly hidden or distorted. Why Soviet missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads were set up in Cuba with the permission of the Cuban government and how the crisis was resolved are mostly not explored. During these events, the U.S. ruling circles also prepared a major military strike against Cuba -- possibly involving nuclear weapons -- to "take out" the missiles. The U.S. imperialists were of course applying their usual double standard because as of May 1962 they had deployed Jupiter IRBM nuclear missiles in Turkey which threatened the Soviet Union. The crisis ostensibly ended when the Soviets dismantled the missile sites in Cuba and shipped the missiles back to the Soviet Union or, depending on the rendering, when the U.S. was forced by events to dismantle the missiles in Turkey, thus leading the Soviet Union to dismantle its missiles in Cuba. We are told that hardliners wanted Cuba invaded to stop the threat, while luckily U.S. President John F. Kennedy wanted to give diplomacy a chance.
The role played by Nikita Khruschev is largely distorted while Kennedy was portrayed then and continues to be portrayed today as the great peacemaker of the era, even while the U.S. escalated aggression against the people of Viet Nam, increasing U.S. troop numbers from 500 to 16,000. In such accounts, revolutionary Cuba is a mere footnote, a fly to be swatted away. The clear implication then was the same as it is today -- that a small country like Cuba should not stand up to the imperialists because such resistance might ignite a world war.
The U.S. imperialists had long considered Latin America, including Cuba, to be their personal domain. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 stated that efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention. The Spanish-American war of 1898 substituted U.S. domination of Cuba for Spanish domination. Cuba was declared nominally independent in 1902 after signing the notorious Platt Amendment which gave the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. But prior to the 1959 revolution, Cuban leaders rarely made important decisions without consulting the U.S. ruling circles. U.S. monopolies, the Mafia, and the CIA dominated the Cuban economy, mainly through manipulating the sugar industry.
The historic Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959, sent the imperialists into a frenzy and on April 17, 1961, the U.S. launched an unsuccessful invasion at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón), Cuba, with the full backing of the "peacemaker" Kennedy, in an attempt to destroy the revolution by armed force. Cuban forces quickly routed the U.S. invaders. In retaliation for their defeat, at the Punta del Este meeting of the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS) in January 1962, the U.S. spearheaded the passing of an arms embargo against Cuba and on February 3, President Kennedy declared an embargo against trade with Cuba. The U.S. blockade of Cuba continues to the present day even though it has been opposed by the vast majority of the world's people for decades on the basis that only the Cuban people have the right to decide their political and economic system.
The real essence of the Cuban Missile Crisis was Cuba's staunch defence, under the revolutionary leadership of its legendary leader Fidel Castro, of its sovereignty and rights in the face of continuing U.S. provocation and aggression. The U.S. imperialists used the excuse of "national security" to justify their crimes, giving themselves the right to decide what Cuba could do within its own borders, including what weapons Cuba should have. Before and during the crisis the U.S. flew regular flights over Cuba in U-2 spy planes which routinely violated Cuban airspace, sent agents into Cuba, carried out economic sabotage, performed naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea in close proximity to Cuba with the intent to intimidate, and broadcasted anti-Cuba propaganda. The U.S. never accepted the right of the Cuban people to determine their own destiny and had plans to destroy the revolution right from the day of victory. As well, the U.S. continued to illegally occupy the Guantanamo Naval Base on Cuban territory which it does to the present day.
On October 30, 1962, the day after the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle the missile sites in Cuba and remove the missiles, United Nations Secretary-General U Thant approached Cuban Premier Fidel Castro with the arrogant demands which the U.S. had put forth to "help resolve the crisis." U Thant stated that the U.S. wanted two teams of United Nations representatives created -- one in an airplane and one on land -- to inspect the dismantling of the missile ramps in Cuba, which the Soviet Union was carrying out. The U.S. stated that if Cuba agreed to the U.S. demand for monitoring of the missile sites, the U.S. would agree not to invade Cuba and to end the illegal blockade. In other words, the U.S. would not commit acts of aggression and would abide by international law only if Cuba fell to its knees before U.S. demands!
Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro justly replied to U Thant that Cuba was upholding international law while the U.S. was cynically violating it: "We do not understand at all why this is asked of us, since we have not violated any right, we have not committed aggression against anyone. All our acts have been based on international law, we have done absolutely nothing outside the norms of international law. On the contrary we have been victims, in the first place, of a blockade which is an illegal act; in the second place of the presumption to determine from another country what we can or cannot rightfully do within our own borders."
Prime Minster Castro continued, firmly asserting Cuba's rights as a sovereign state: "We understand Cuba is neither more nor less of a sovereign state than any other member state of the United Nations, enjoying all the attributes inherent in those states. Besides, the United States has repeatedly violated our air space without any right, committing an intolerable act of aggression against our country. It has tried to justify this by an agreement of the Organization of American States but that agreement has no validity for us. We have, moreover, been expelled from the OAS. We can accept anything which is according to law, anything which does not infringe upon our condition as a sovereign state. The rights that were violated by the United States have not been re-established and we do not accept any imposition of force. "
Prime Minister Castro then dismissed the request for inspection as a further attack on Cuba's sovereignty and rights. "I understand that this question of inspection is a further attempt to humiliate our country. Therefore we do not accept it. The demand of inspection is intended to confirm its presumption to violate our right to act with complete freedom within our own frontiers, our right to decide what we can or cannot do within our own borders. And our present line is not one made up for this occasion; it is a point of view which we have always and invariably maintained."
Prime Minister Castro also reminded U Thant that Cuba's just stand had already been made very clear in the Revolutionary Government's reply to the October 22 Joint Resolution of the U.S. Congress announcing the blockade: "It is absurd to threaten a direct armed attack, in the event of Cuba's strengthening itself militarily to a degree which the United States takes on itself to specify. We have not the least intention of informing or consulting the U.S. Senate or House as to the weapons we see fit to acquire and the measures to be taken to defend our country properly. Are we not supported in this by the rights which international norms, laws and principles recognize for every sovereign state throughout the world? We have not granted the U.S. Congress any sovereign prerogative, nor do we intend to do so. This point of view was reaffirmed in the United Nations by the President of the Republic of Cuba and also has been repeatedly proclaimed by me in numerous public statements as Prime Minister of the government. And it is a firm stand of the Cuban government."
Prime Minister Castro concluded by reasserting Cuba's vow to always defend its sovereign rights: "All these steps have been taken to ensure the security of our country, in the face of a systematic policy of hostility and aggression; they have been taken in full accordance with the law, and we have not renounced our decision to defend our rights. We can negotiate with all sincerity and honesty. We should not be honest if we agreed to negotiate a sovereign right of our country. For these rights we are ready to pay whatever price is necessary and this is not a mere verbal formula but the very deeply felt attitude of our people."
Far from being a paean to the so-called peacemaking of President Kennedy and U.S. imperialism, Prime Minister Castro's incisive remarks show the significance of the Cuban Missile Crisis: it showed once again that it was then and continues to be today thanks to the Cuban people's militant defence of their sovereignty that the U.S. imperialists are unable to prevail. They are the real warmongers and the real road to peace in the world is that which guarantees the rights of the peoples and the decision of the peoples to resist in defence of these rights. The people of Cuba were determined to continue to defend their rights in the face of all difficulties, even when threatened by the most powerful country in the world. "Cuba stands as a symbol of the struggle for liberation and independence that imperialism is striving to annihilate. Nothing stimulates Cubans more than their determination to stay in permanent combat in defence of their identity, culture and life itself, as sovereign nation and the master of its own destiny."
In the world today, U.S. imperialism still gives itself the right to try to force every other country to do U.S. bidding or be attacked. Current examples include Syria and Iran. In both cases, U.S. imperialism is trying to dictate what these countries can or cannot do within their own territories. Cuba, on the other hand, has consistently called for non-interference in the affairs of both Syria and Iran. In the current climate, countries would do well to emulate Cuba's many examples over the past fifty years of staunchly defending its sovereign rights and the rights of others in the face of aggression. This just stand has always been an integral part of the Cuban people's heroic struggle for the better future that they want to achieve, free from outside interference.
1. In his self-serving account Thirteen Days, the U.S. President's brother Robert F. Kennedy, stated: "[President Kennedy] had ordered the Pentagon to make all the preparations necessary for further military action. Secretary [of Defense Robert] McNamara, in a confidential report, had listed the requirements: 250,000 men, 2,000 air sorties against the various targets in Cuba, and 90,000 Marines and Airborne in the invasion force...Troops were rapidly moving into the southeastern part of the U.S. equipped and prepared. Arrangements were begun to gather the over a hundred vessels that would be needed for an invasion." (Kennedy, Robert F. . Thirteen Days. New York: W. W. Norton.)
2. One notorious post-war example is the U.S.'s 1954 violent overthrow of the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala, ushering in decades of death-squads, torture and murder, totalling well over 300,000 victims. For a detailed account of the coup, see Bitter Fruit by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, 1982.
3. The Mafia established itself in Havana in the 1930s, engaging in both criminal activity and "legitimate" business. In December 1946, a major meeting of leading mobsters from the United States was held in Havana, presided over by mob financier Meyer Lansky, who had taken up residence. Lansky left Havana the day after the revolution.
4. In 1952, the CIA organized the overthrow of the Prio family government, which had challenged Rockefeller control of Cuban nickel mines and had declared unlimited sugar production for 1951. The coup put the more obedient General Fulgencio Batista in power until the revolution.
5. At the last United Nations General Assembly vote (2011) on ending the blockade of Cuba, the count was 187 countries voting to end the blockade and only the U.S. and Israel supporting the blockade. The U.N. has voted overwhelmingly against the blockade for the last twenty years. The next vote will be November 13.
6. On October 27, 1962, a high-flying U-2 spy plane piloted by U.S. Major Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down over Cuba by a SAM missile.
7. Castro, Fidel (1963). Television Speech delivered on November 1, 1962. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.
8. Bains, Hardial . Visiting Cuba. Toronto: New Magazine Publishing Company.
(Historical photos from Cuba: "Cien Imagenes de la Revolucion Cubana, 1953-1996," Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado; Instituto Cubano del Libro; Editorial Arte y Literatura. Havana, 2004. Photo from UBC: Ubyssey)