HAVANA – Fifty years ago this month the US and USSR came terrifying close to full-scale thermonuclear war. I recalled those days of fear while staring at a rusting Soviet medium-ranged SS-4 missile displayed outside La Cabana fortress
Nuclear-armed Soviet SS-4’s, secretly brought into Cuba, were ready to destroy Washington and the entire US East Coast. Nuclear war was imminent. US forces were at DEFCON 2 and massed to invade Cuba. Washington was the prime target. As a student there at Georgetown University, I vividly recall how frightened we were, and how helpless we felt.
In the end, the Soviets prevailed in the Cuban missile crisis. President John Kennedy backed down, pledging the US would never invade Cuba. US missiles in Italy and Turkey targeted on the USSR were removed. Moscow took its SS-4’s out of Cuba.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev won his goal of saving Cuba and Fidel Castro’s Marxist regime from a US invasion. But it was such a terrifying gamble the Soviet Politburo deposed Khrushchev shortly after. Kennedy got far more credit than he deserved for the crisis.
In the early 1960’s, Communist Cuba was the vanguard of revolution in Latin America, then Africa. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s Cuba was the only Communist regime outside Mao’s China that had romantic appeal to western youth. Fidel’s vows to promote education, health care and land distribution sounded revolutionary when Latin America was mostly ruled by US-backed oligarchs and generals.