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Cuban Missile Crisis: Lessons for Iran?

By Saul Landau
Fifty years ago millions of people around the world worried that nuclear war would break out between the U.S. and USSR over demands that the Soviet Union withdraw its nuclear missiles from Cuba. Many Americans still think that an angry Fidel Castro wanted to launch them at U.S. targets because he hated our country At that time, although few Americans know, the United States was preparing an invasion of Cuba, following a Kennedy-authorized terrorist war against the island, which included assassination plots.

As the cause-blame debate evolves over what to do about the mere possibility that Iran might now be developing a nuclear weapon, it appears few have learned much from the countless publications about the frightening October 1962 events.

Historians and the major media have ignored the real cause of the crisis. In August 1961, four months after Kennedy suffered a humiliating defeat of CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, and in the midst of daily raids by U.S.-based CIA agents against Cuban people and property, Castro sent Che Guevara to Uruguay to meet Richard Goodwin, Kennedy’s Latin America adviser. At this secret session, Che told Goodwin that “Cuba  “would like a Modus Vivendi” with the United States and is prepared to offer certain policies to please the U.S. administration. “They could not give back the expropriated properties – the factories and banks.....but could pay for them in trade…They could agree not to make any political alliance with the East – although this would not affect their natural  sympathies.” Che also offered in effect to stop exporting revolution. (White House, Memorandum for the President Conversation With Command Ante Ernesto Guevara of Cuba, August 22, 1961)

As  a token of sincerity, Che gave Goodwin a gift for Kennedy, a box of JFK’s favorite Montecristo #1 cigars.            

At the ensuing debriefing session at the White House, as Goodwin told the story, Kennedy lit a cigar saying, “You know Goodwin, I should have had you smoke the first one,” apparently referring to the CIA’s poison cigar plot aimed at killing Fidel. Goodwin advised the President that Che’s offer spelled “weakness” and suggested Kennedy “turn up the heat.” So, following Cuba’s “modus vivendi” offering, Kennedy increased the numbers of terrorist attacks against Cuba. Castro, taking these actions as Kennedy’s hostile response to his offer, accepted the Soviet offer to place nuclear missiles on the island. 

Cuba assumed the U.S. would quickly learn of the new weaponry in Cuba – including tactical nuclear missiles designed to deter an invasion of U.S. ground forces – and understand its deterrent effect. Instead, the U.S. remained ignorant of the missile placement and continued to pursue its terrorist war (Operation Mongoose and Autonomous Operations as the CIA called them) against the island while expanding its regular military force, which Cuba interpreted, logically, as an invasion threat.


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