Saturday, April 16, 2016

History of the Cold War #10 Cuba

America's 20th century fight against communism eventually took us to South America.

We must introduce the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. President James Monroe stood before congress and spoke of many things. Those many things included a decree and warning to the European nations to stay out of the Americas, north and south, including land and nations in the western hemisphere. The intent was to stop further European colonization and their installation of puppet governments.

The first implementation of the Monroe Doctrine was in 1865 and justified US involvement in helping to rid Mexico of the French supported Emperor Maximilian and giving military and diplomatic support to Benito Juarez, who became the president of Mexico.

In 1904, America helped fight a corrupt government in Santo Domingo; in 1911 more corruption in Nicaragua, and in 1915 the US gave a helping hand in Haiti. The Monroe Doctrine would rise again in 1960s Cuba.

In 1953, Guatemala was threatened by the communists. The recently elected Arbenz was not a communist, but the United States worried about the influence and control communists might gain. Furthermore, 400,000 acres of land had been nationalized by the government. The land had belonged to the United Fruit Company, a US company with ties to government officials. Secretary of State Dulles had once been on the board of a law firm that had served the United Fruit Company; his brother, head of CIA was on the board of trustees, and President Eisenhower's secretary's husband was head of PR for the company. One gets the feeling, it pays to know people in high places.

Arbenz makes the mistake of buying arms from Czechoslovakia--which ties the country to the USSR.

The CIA begins training an army to dispose of Arbenz. Colonel Armas' coup is successful and he becomes president. The UFC gets its land back, but Armas turns out to be a tyrant. He is mysteriously murdered.

Over to the Atlantic, just 90 miles from Florida, Cuba has become an American playground. It's a prosperous nation; sugar plantations abound, tourism is a-plenty; education is revered. President Batista is in charge, but a Cuban attorney objects to how it's all run. He appeals to the nationalistic spirit and calls for a revolution. In a failed takeover of an army barracks, many of his accomplices die and many defenders die. Castro is sent to prison in Mexico, where he teems up with Che Guevara, an Argentinian revolutionary. The combination of angry men drive them to Cuba for the Cuban revolution. Batista escapes and Castro decrees him self president. Within two years, Castro cuddles up to the Soviets and declares communism in Cuba!

Yesterday, my students had the privilege of hearing from Tio Arturo, a man who left Cuba at age 11. His parents, a doctor and an attorney saw clearly the crazy misfortune that had befallen their home. When his mother refused to support Castro, she lost her job. They saw the repercussions of the revolution, the creation of slave labor camps, the murderous rampage poured upon Batista's government officials. The Argentine revolutionist was made president of the bank of Cuba. Desperate Cubans started to escape in boats through the Straits of Florida. It was a perilous journey and once they were close to Florida, the coast guard and immigration were overwhelmed.

In what is seen as an unusual cooperation between the the US and Castro, President Johnson welcomed Cubans to America and began freedom flights to Miami: twice a day flights, two times a week. Cubans could legitimately sign up to leave Cuba. Arturo's parents got on the list, but being on the list resulted in persecution. Castro called them worms; their property was confiscated and they lost their jobs. When it was Arturo's family's turn, their father wasn't on the list. He didn't join them until a year later.

The Voice of America radio was an important link during the seven years under Castro. The uncertain living conditions were countered with hope from America. Arturo lived through the Bay of Pigs incident and the Cuban Missile Crisis--with Cuban propaganda and the American point of view. Arturo remembers the real possibility of Cuba being blown off the map with nuclear war. He remembers his father building a hasty bomb shelter, and the vulnerability and fear he felt. They lived only 14 miles from the airport.

Bay of Pigs: With the support of the CIA, 1500 men trained to take back Cuba. President Eisenhower who had promised American air power, left office before the invasion. Kennedy allowed it to happen, but fear of backlash and American involvement, reduced air support to six planes--all disguised with Cuban flags.

Bay of Pigs was a failure and an embarrassment to the United States. The troops didn't get far; most were captured and released after 20 months in prison when the US negotiated $53 million dollars in aid.

Cuban Missile Crisis: From the beginning of Castro's revolution, silly Krushchev loved Castro. At the time, the USSR was battling its satellite states who wanted more autonomy and changes in policy. They were resisting communism and off in a far away island with no help from the Soviets, Castro brought communism 90 miles away from the Soviet Union's greatest enemy.

Krushchev was vacationing in Bulgaria and looked across the Black Sea to Turkey, where NATO controlled nuclear missiles were aimed at the USSR. Supposedly, this is where he got his idea to place nuclear warheads in Cuba.

When President Kennedy was informed that Cuba had the nuclear power to destroy every major city in America except Seattle, and the power to destroy every military base, he met with the Soviet ambassador. He kept quiet of his knowledge and that night the ambassador contacted the Kremlin with news that all is well. 

But all was not well and Kennedy and top cabinet members convened to figure out their options. Direct strikes against the weapons was considered. Direct hits with invasion was considered. Kennedy decided on a blockade of all ships entering Cuban waters, many of which were loaded with more nuclear weapons. Krushchev balked and refused to dismantle the weapons. Within the next three days, the possibility of nuclear war was the closest it  would ever be. Forty non-aligned nations sent letters to Krushchev and Kennedy begging put the brakes on a world disaster.

The US and USSR did reach an agreement, part of it a secret agreement at the time. Krushchev would remove the missiles and Kennedy would remove the missiles in Turkey- but only after declaring the missiles were obsolete and outdated: the secret, the lie. But the lie saved the world and placated a combatant and foolish Krushchev, who had said, if it came to nuclear war, then they would all meet in hell.

Our time with Arturo is short. I feel immense gratitude when we say our goodbyes and show our gratitude with robust clapping and cheers. Arturo became an American citizen shortly after his arrival  and is thankful to be American. He is thankful to be a Cuban too, and is saddened that he has to drive 40 miles or fly to Miami for good Cuban food. His parents were able to train and receive licenses to practice law and medicine in America. Arturo became a chemical engineer and his sister became a teacher. He reminds us that people don't want to leave their country--they flee to escape the life threatening political and economic problems of their beloved countries.

I am thankful for good people willing to share their stories with students who have only seen prosperity and peace. I am thankful for the political and economic safety I too have known my whole life.