Confronting Castro | Pakistan Today

Confronting Castro

 Why did the Americans wait so long?

The American confrontation with Castro was unnecessary as it caused loss of precious lives and wastage of vital resources on both sides, however, it impacted Cuba more than the US. Castro survived with and without the Soviet support after the USSR disintegrated in 1989

If President Obama could shake hands to normalise relations with Cuba, why could not the past American presidents? Why there had to be an enmity of over half a century before the realisation that the two countries could live together as decent neighbours without being any danger to one another. When ‘tiny’ Cuba could not be a serious threat to the ‘American giant,’ why was this ‘giant’ so afraid of it? Was it just a case of misunderstanding when Castro assumed power in Cuba in January 1959 or there were some genuine reasons for confrontation?

Well begun is half done; exactly the opposite happened in the case of US-Castro relations and the Americans were to be blamed for this bad beginning. In the fourth month of his government, Castro visited Washington and desired a meeting with President Eisenhower, who refused to meet him. A clear affront to Castro. Next, Castro expected an immediate recognition of his revolutionary government but the Americans dilly-dallied. The US State Department was in favour of immediate recognition but the CIA and the National Security Council (NSC) vetoed because in the words of the then US Vice President Richard Nixon, the CIA chief Allen Dulles thought that Castro was “an unwitting front man for the communists, or perhaps even a communist himself.” For the Americans who believed in unbridled capitalism, to be a communist was an unpardonable sin. But was Castro really a communist when he took over Cuba? No! He was labelled, propagated and treated as a communist by the American governments. I found the answer in the autobiography of the ex-US Secretary of State Colin Powell entitled ‘My American journey’ in which he has quoted a conversation with Anatoly Dobrynin, who served as Soviet ambassador to the US from the time of Khrushchev to Chernenko. Dobrynin reminded Powell, “You are always beating up on us about Cuba, Cuba, Cuba. Do you know who gave Cuba to us? You did. Castro was a revolutionary, not really a Marxist. He came to the United Nations. He stayed in Hotel Theresa in Harlem. Your government ignored him, made him a pariah. So he dropped into our laps.”

As Dobrynin pointed out, Castro was, initially, not a communist but the Americans mistook him to be one and on the basis of this misunderstanding they made repeated attempts to overthrow his government through foul means. Nixon as vice president was present in that fateful meeting in early 1960 in which President Eisenhower “authorised the CIA to organise and train Cuban exiles for the eventual purpose of freeing their homeland” from Castro. To put the record straight, it was America and not Cuba which started confrontation that continued till Obama flew over to normalise relations.

The American efforts to ‘free’ Cuba from Castro’s hold continued well into the 21st century. Another former secretary of state, Condolezza Rice, records in her memoir that she herself co-chaired the Commission for Assistance set by US President Bush “to a Free Cuba to mobilise the US government in building a foundation for the democratic transition when the time came.” All US presidents from Eisenhower to Bush hated Castro but Ronald Reagan was quite rabid. Like an article of faith, he believed that Castro had overthrown the repressive right-wing pro-US dictatorship of Batista to make Cuba a Soviet satellite within ninety miles of the American shores. More than Castro, he was fearful of the Soviets, who, he felt had maneuvered Castro into power and thus purposely violated the Monroe Doctrine set in place by the fifth US president in 1823 to firmly oppose every move by any European power (read Soviet Union) to interfere in the affairs of the Americas. On top of this, Reagan was angry that while the Americans insisted that Castro was a Marxist-Leninist, the latter denied. In a radio broadcast in 1978, Reagan got extremely harsh and used such base words which were unbecoming of a head of a state to use against another head of a state. In an uncontrolled fit of anger, he snarled, “Calling a communist a liar when he is one is pretty frustrating. How do you insult a *** by calling it a ***? Communists are not bound by our morality. They say any crime, including lying, is moral if it advances the cause of socialism. That is Karl Marx as interpreted by Lenin.” (On Reagan, the man and his presidency, by Ronnie Dugger, p352)

Whatever system of governance, whether communism or otherwise, that Castro and Cubans wished to pursue in their country was their prerogative and the Americans or as a matter of fact any other nation had no right to tell them what was and wasn’t good for them. If we go by the flawed American logic about communism being evil (Reagan dubbed the Soviet Union an evil empire) then the same logic could be inversely applied to capitalism. When the American ‘bravado’ and ‘bluster’ assumed the form of a systematic anti-Cuba US campaign, threatening aggression and blocking Cuban trade with other countries, Castro sought shelter in the safety of Soviet Russia. Unlike the US which has the notorious reputation of leaving her friends in the lurch, the Soviets stood squarely behind Castro. Andrei Gromyko, who served the Soviet Union as its top diplomat for almost fifty years from Stalin to Gorbachev, warned the US President John F Kennedy (JFK) in unambiguous terms in a one-on-one meeting that “Should the USA undertake hostile action against Cuba, or against states which have good relations with her… the SovietUnion cannot play the part of bystander…. The USSR will not be a mere spectator when there is a threat of unleashing a big war in connection with the question of Cuba…” to which JFK replied, “My administration has no plans to attack Cuba, and the Soviet Union can take it that no threat to Cuba exists” and then admitted that “The action in the area of the Bay of Pigs was a mistake” — a reference to the American sponsored attack on Cuba to overthrow Castro after he had allowed the installation of Soviet missiles in his country. After this failed attempt to dislodge Castro, the Americans and the Soviets reached an understanding in 1962 whereby the Americans undertook not to overthrow Castro as long as the Soviets abstained from putting nuclear weapons in Cuba.

The American confrontation with Castro was unnecessary as it caused loss of precious lives and wastage of vital resources on both sides, however, it impactedCuba more than the US. Castro survived with and without the Soviet support after the USSR disintegrated in 1989, primarily, because being a giant in mind and heart, he selflessly served his people and became a legend in his own lifetime.When weighed in the balance of history, the American presidents look likedwarfs against the legendary Castro.