Cuban Missile Crisis Among Castro Legacies

Strategic Air Command personnel interpret a reconnaissance photo during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Strategic Air Command personnel interpret a reconnaissance photo during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Fidel Castro was the last of the three main protagonists in one of the Cold War's most frightening episodes: The 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which raised fears of a global nuclear war.

Castro, who died Friday night at the age of 90, was aligned with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev when a 13-day nuclear showdown with U.S. president John F. Kennedy began in October 1962.

Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and Khrushchev died in 1971.

The Cold War heated up as never before when the United States found out Moscow was secretly building nuclear missile launchpads in Cuba.

On Oct. 14, 1962, U.S. reconnaissance aircraft flying over Cuba took photographs of Soviet  intermediate-range missile launch sites.

Unwilling to allow the Soviets to position their nuclear arsenal so close to U.S. shores, Kennedy -- in unprecedented, nerve-jangling brinksmanship -- warned Khrushchev that the United States would not tolerate the presence of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba.

The most tense days came after Oct. 22, when Kennedy went public with what was happening, ordered a naval blockade of Cuba and mobilized 140,000 troops.

He pledged that any missile launched from Cuba would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union, and demanded the Soviets remove all offensive weapons from the island.

Castro put 400,000 of his own people on alert, anticipating a military invasion that -- it emerged years later -- was not in any of Kennedy's immediate plans.

At one point during the crisis, JFK ordered low-level reconnaissance missions once every two hours.

On Oct. 26, Khrushchev offered to withdraw the missiles if the United States promised not to invade Cuba and removed its Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

Castro, meanwhile, tried to set his own conditions.

He demanded the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, a halt to anti-Castro attacks from the United States, a stop to U.S. violations of Cuban airspace, and the return of the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, on the southeastern tip of Cuba.

Ignoring Castro's demands, Kennedy wrote a letter to Khrushchev on Oct. 27, in which he proposed an immediate withdrawal of Soviet missiles in exchange for an end of the naval blockade.

Privately, the United States told the Soviets it would remove its missiles from Turkey once the crisis was over.

The next day, Khrushchev gave in to the U.S. terms behind Castro's back, agreeing to take the missiles out in exchange for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba.

Essentially, Castro was left on the sidelines while Kennedy and Khrushchev struggled to find a peaceful solution to a military crisis that had threatened the entire planet.

Copyright (2016) AFP. All rights reserved.

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