How One Man With A Cigar

             Dominated American Foreign Policy

     In 1959, a rebel, Fidel Castro, overthrew the reign of 

Fulgencia Batista in Cuba; a small island 90 miles off the 

Florida coast.  There have been many coups and changes of 

government in the world since then.  Few if any have had the 

effect on Americans and American foreign policy as this one.

    In 1952, Sergeant Fulgencia Batista staged a successful 

bloodless coup in Cuba . 

    Batista never really had any cooperation and rarely 

garnered much support. His reign was marked by continual 


    After waiting to see if Batista would be seriously opposed, 

Washington recognized his government.  Batista had already 

broken ties with the Soviet Union and became an ally to the 

U.S. throughout the cold war.  He was continually friendly and 

helpful to American business interest. But he failed to bring 

democracy to Cuba or secure the broad popular support that 

might have legitimized his rape of the 1940 Constitution.

    As the people of Cuba grew increasingly dissatisfied with 

his gangster style politics, the tiny rebellions that had 

sprouted began to grow.  Meanwhile the U.S. government was 

aware of and shared the distaste for a regime increasingly 

nauseating to most public opinion. It became clear that Batista 

regime was an odious type of government.  It killed its own 

citizens, it stifled dissent. (1)

    At this time Fidel Castro appeared as leader of the growing 

rebellion.  Educated in America he was a proponent of the 

Marxist-Leninist philosophy. He conducted a brilliant guerilla 

campaign from the hills of Cuba against Batista. On January 

1959, he prevailed and overthrew the Batista government.

    Castro promised to restore democracy in Cuba, a feat 

Batista had failed to accomplish. This promise was looked 

upon benevolently but watchfully by Washington.  Castro was 

believed to be too much in the hands of the people to stretch 

the rules of politics very far. The U.S. government supported 

Castro's coup. It professed to not know about Castro's 

Communist leanings.  Perhaps this was due to the ramifications 

of Senator Joe McCarty's discredited anti-Communist diatribes.

    It seemed as if the reciprocal economic interests of the 

U.S. and  Cuba would exert a stabilizing effect on Cuban 

politics. Cuba had been economically bound to find a market for 

its #1 crop, sugar.  The U.S. had been buying it at prices much 

higher than market price. For this it received a guaranteed 

flow of sugar. (2)

    Early on however developments clouded the hope for peaceful 

relations.  According to American Ambassador to Cuba, Phillip 

Bonsal, "From the very beginning of his rule Castro and his 

sycophants bitterly and sweepingly attacked the relations of 

the United States government with Batista and his regime".(3) 

He accused us of supplying arms to Batista to help overthrow 

Castro's revolution and of harboring war criminals for a 

resurgence effort against him.  For the most part these were 

not true: the U.S. put a trade embargo on Batista in 1957 

stopping the U.S. shipment of arms to Cuba. (4) However, his 

last accusation seems to have been prescient.

    With the advent of Castro the history of U.S.- Cuban 

relations was subjected to a revision of an intensity and 

cynicism which left earlier efforts in the shade.  This 

downfall took two roads in the eyes of Washington: Castro's 

incessant campaign of slander against the U.S. and Castro's 

wholesale nationalization of American properties.

    These actions and the U.S. reaction to them set the stage 

for what was to become the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the end of 

U.S.- Cuban relations.

    Castro promised the Cuban people that he would bring land 

reform to Cuba.  When he took power, the bulk of the nations 

wealth and land was in the hands of a small minority.  The huge 

plots of land were to be taken from the monopolistic owners and 

distributed evenly among the people.  Compensation was to be 

paid to the former owners. According to Phillip Bonsal, " 

Nothing Castro said, nothing stated in the agrarian reform 

statute Castro signed in 1958, and nothing in  the law that was 

promulgated in the Official Gazzette of June 3, 1959, warranted 

the belief that in two years a wholesale conversion of Cuban 

agricultural land to state ownership would take place".(5) Such 

a notion then would have been inconsistent with many of the 

Castro pronouncements, including the theory of a peasant 

revolution and the pledges to the landless throughout the 

nation. Today most of the people who expected to become 

independent farmers or members of cooperatives in the operation 

of which they would  have had a voice are now laborers on the 

state payroll. (6) 

    After secretly drawing up his Land Reform Law, Castro used 

it to form the National Institute of Agrarian Reform  (INRA) 

with broad and ill defined powers. Through the INRA Castro 

methodically seized all American holdings in Cuba. He promised 

compensation but frequently never gave it.  He conducted 

investigations into company affairs, holding control over them 

in the meantime, and then never divulging the results or giving 

back the control. (7)

    These seizures were protested.  On January 11 Ambassador 

Bonsal delivered a note to Havana protesting the Cuban 

government seizure of U.S. citizens property.  The note was 

rejected the same night as a U.S. attempt to keep economic 

control over Cuba. (8)

    As this continued Castro was engineering a brilliant 

propaganda campaign aimed at accusing the U.S. of "conspiring 

with the counter revolutionaries against the Castro regime"(9).  

Castro's ability to whip the masses into a frenzy with wispy 

fallacies about American "imperialist" actions against Cuba was 

his main asset.  He constantly found events which he could work 

the "ol Castro magic " on, as Nixon said , to turn it into 

another of the long list of grievances, real or imagined, that 

Cuba had suffered.

    Throughout Castro's rule there had been numerous minor 

attacks and disturbances in Cuba. Always without any 

investigation whatsoever, Castro would blatantly and publicly 

blame the U.S..  

    Castro continually called for hearings at the Organization 

of American States and the United Nations to hear charges 

against the U.S. of "overt aggression".  These charges were 

always denied by the councils. (10)

    Two events that provided fuel for the Castro propaganda 

furnace stand out.  These are the "bombing" of Havana on 

October 21 and the explosion of the French munitions ship La 

Coubre on March 4, 1960.(11)

    On the evening of October 21 the former captain of the 

rebel air force, Captain Dian-Lanz, flew over Havana and 

dropped a quantity of virulently anti-Castro leaflets. This was 

an American failure to prevent international flights in 

violation of American law. Untroubled by any considerations of 

truth or good faith, the Cuban authorities distorted the 

facts of the matter and accused the U.S. of a responsibility 

going way beyond negligence. Castro, not two days later, 

elaborated a bombing thesis, complete with "witnesses", and 

launched a propaganda campaign against the U.S. Ambassador 

Bonsal said, "This incident was so welcome to Castro for his 

purposes that I was not surprised when, at a later date, a 

somewhat similar flight was actually engineered by Cuban secret 

agents in Florida."(12)

     This outburst constituted "the beginning of the end " in 

U.S.- Cuban relations. President Eisenhower stated ,"Castro's 

performance on October 26 on the "bombing" of Havana spelled 

the end of my hope for rational relations between Cuba and the 


    Up until 1960 the U.S. had followed a policy of non 

intervention in Cuba.  It  had endured the slander and seizure 

of lands, still hoping to maintain relations.  This ended, 

when, on March 4, the French munitions ship La Coubre arrived 

at Havana laden with arms and munitions for the Cuban 

government. It promptly blew up with serious loss of life. (14)

    Castro and his authorities wasted no time venomously 

denouncing the U.S. for an overt act of sabotage.  Some 

observers concluded that the disaster was due to the careless 

way the Cubans unloaded the cargo. (15) Sabotage was possible 

but it was preposterous to blame the U.S. without even a 

pretense of an investigation.  

    Castro's reaction to the La Coubre explosion may have been 

what tipped the scales in favor of Washington's abandonment of 

the non intervention policy.  This, the continued slander, and 

the fact that the Embassy had had no reply from the Cuban 

government to its representations regarding the cases of 

Americans victimized by the continuing abuses of the INRA.

    The American posture of moderation was beginning to become, 

in the face of Castro's insulting and aggressive behavior, a 

political liability. (16)

    The new American policy, not announced as such, but 

implicit in the the actions of the United States government was 

one of overthrowing Castro by all means available to the U.S. 

short of open employment of American armed forces in Cuba.

    It was at this time that the controversial decision was 

taken to allow the CIA to begin recruiting and training of 

ex-Cuban exiles for anti-Castro military service. (17)

    Shortly after this decision, following in quick steps, 

aggressive policies both on the side of Cuba and the U.S. led 

to the eventual finale in the actual invasion of Cuba by the 


    In June 1960 the U.S. started a series of economic 

aggressions toward Cuba aimed at accelerating their downfall.

    The first of these measures was the advice of the U.S. to 

the oil refineries in Cuba to refuse to handle the crude 

petroleum that the Cubans were receiving from the Soviet Union.  

The companies such as Shell and Standard Oil had been buying 

crude from their own plants in Venezuela at a high cost.  The 

Cuban government demanded that the refineries process the crude 

they were receiving from Russia at a much cheaper price. These 

refineries refused at the U.S. advice stating that there were 

no provisions in the law saying that they must accept the 

Soviet product and that the low grade Russian crude would 

damage the machinery.  The claim about the law may have been 

true but  the charge that the cheaper Soviet 
crude damaging the 

machines seems to be an excuse to cover up the attempted 

economic strangulation of Cuba. (The crude worked just fine as 

is soon to be shown)

    Upon receiving the refusal Che Gueverra, the newly 

appointed head of the National Bank,and known anti-American, 

seized all three major oil company refineries and began 

producing all the Soviet crude,not just the 50% they had 

earlier bargained for.  This was a big victory and a stepping 

stone towards increasing the soon to be controversial alliance 

with Russia.

    On July 6, a week after the intervention of the refineries, 

President Eisenhower announced that the balance of Cuba's 1960 

sugar quota for the supply of sugar to the U.S. was to be 

suspended. (18).  This action was regarded as a reprisal to 

the intervention of the refineries. It seems obvious that it 

was a major element in the calculated overthrow of Castro.

    In addition to being an act of destroying the U.S. record 

for statesmanship in Latin America, this forced Cuba into 

Russia's arms and vice-versa.

    The immediate loss to Cuba was 900,000 tons of sugar 

unsold.  This was valued at about $100,000,000.(19) Had the 

Russians not come to the rescue it would have been a serious 

blow to Cuba.  But come to the rescue they did, cementing the 

Soviet-Cuban bond and granting Castro a present he could have 

never given himself. As Ernest Hemingway put it,"I just hope to 

Christ that the United States doesn't cut the sugar quota. That 

will really tear it.  It will make Cuba a gift to the 

Russians." (20) And now the gift had been made.

    Castro had announced earlier in a speech that action 

against the sugar quota would cost Americans in Cuba "down to 

the nails in their shoes" (21) Castro did his best to carry 

that out.  In a decree made as the Law of Nationalization, he 

authorized expropriation of American property at Che Gueverra's 

discretion.  The compensation scheme was such that under 

current U.S. - Cuban trade relations it was worthless and 

therefore confiscation without compensation.

    The Soviet Unions assumption of responsibility of Cuba's 

economic welfare gave the Russians a politico-military stake in 

Cuba. Increased arms shipments from the U.S.S.R and 

Czechoslovakia enabled Castro to rapidly strengthen and expand 

his forces.  On top of this Cuba now had Russian military 

support.  On July 9, three days after President Eisenhowers 

sugar proclamation, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev announced, 

"The U.S.S.R is raising its voice and extending a helpful hand 

to the people of Cuba.....Speaking figuratively in case of 

necessity Soviet artillerymen can support the Cuban people with 

rocket fire. (22) Castro took this to mean direct commitment 

made by Russia to protect the Cuban revolution in case of U.S. 

attack.  The final act of the U.S. in the field of economic 

aggression against Cuba came on October 19, 1960, in the form 

of a trade embargo on all goods except medicine and medical 

supplies. Even these were to be banned within a few months. 

Other than causing the revolutionaries some inconvenience, all 

the embargo accomplished  was to give Castro a godsend. For the 

past 25 years Castro has blamed the shortages, rationings, 

breakdowns and even some of the unfavorable weather conditions 

on the U.S. blockade.

    On January 6, 1961, Castro formally broke relations with 

the United States and ordered the staff of the U.S. embassy to 

leave.  Immediately after the break in relations he ordered 

full scale mobilization of his armed forces to repel an 

invasion from the United States, which he correctly asserted 

was imminent.  For at this time the Washington administration, 

under new President-elect Kennedy was gearing up for the Cuban 

exile invasion of Cuba.  The fact that this secret was ill kept 

led to increased arms being shipped to Cuba by Russia in late 


    President Kennedy inherited from the Eisenhower-Nixon 

administration the operation that became the Bay of Pigs 

expedition.  The plan was ill conceived and a fiasco.

    Both Theodore Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger describe the 

President as the victim of a process set in motion before his 

inauguration and which he, in the first few weeks of his 

administration, was unable to arrest in spite of his 

misgivings.  Mr. Schlesinger writes -"Kennedy saw the project 

in the patios of the bureaucracy as a contingency plan.  He did 

not yet realize how contingency planning could generate its own 

reality." (23)

    The fact is that Kennedy had promised to pursue a more 

successful policy towards Cuba.  I fail to see how the proposed 

invasion could be looked upon as successful.  The plan he 

inherited called for 1500 patriots to seize control over their 

seven million fellow citizens from over 100,000 well trained, 

well armed Castroite militia!

    As if the plan wasn't doomed from the start, the 

information the CIA had gathered about the strength of the 

uprising in Cuba was outrageously misleading.  If we had won, 

it still would have taken prolonged U.S. intervention to make 

it work.  This along with Kennedys decision to rule out 

American forces or even American officers or experts, whose 

participation was planned, doomed the whole affair.

    Additionally these impromptu ground rules were not relayed 

to the exiles by the CIA, who were expecting massive U.S. 

military backing!

    The exiles had their own problems; guns didn't work, ships 

sank, codes for communication were wrong, the ammunition was 

the wrong kind - everything that could go wrong, did.  As could 

be imagined the anti-Castro opposition achieved not one of its 

permanent goals.  Upon landing at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 

1961, the mission marked a landmark failure in U.S. foreign 

politics.  By April 20, only three days later, Castro's forces 

had completely destroyed any semblance of the mission: they 

killed 300 and captured the remaining 1,200!

    Many people since then have chastised Kennedy for his 

decision to pull U.S. military forces.  I feel that his only 

mistake was in going ahead in the first place, although, as 

stated earlier, it seems as if he may not have had much choice.

    I feel Kennedy showed surer instincts in this matter than 

his advisors who pleaded with him not to pull U.S. forces.  For 

if the expedition had succeeded due to American armed forces 

rather than the strength of the exile forces and the anti- 

Castro movement within Cuba, the post Castro government would 

have been totally unviable: it would have taken constant 

American help to shore it up.  In this matter I share the 

opinion of `ambassador Ellis O. Briggs, who has written "The 

Bay of Pigs operation was a tragic experience for the Cubans 

who took part, but its failure was a fortunate (if mortifying) 

experience for the U.S., which otherwise might have been 

saddled with indefinite occupation of the island.

    Beyond its immediately damaging effects, the Bay of Pigs 

fiasco has shown itself to have far reaching consequences.

    Washington's failure to achieve its goal in Cuba provided 

the catalyst for Russia to seek an advantage and install 

nuclear missiles in Cuba.  The resulting "missile crisis" in 

1962 was the closest we have been to thermonuclear war.

    America's gain may have been America's loss.  A successful 

Bay of Pigs may have brought the United States one advantage.  

The strain on American political and military assets resulting 

from the need to keep the lid on in Cuba might have lid on Cuba 

might have led the President of the United States to resist, 

rather than to enthusiastically embrace, the advice he received 

in 1964 and 1965 to make a massive commitment of American air 

power, ground forces, and prestige in Vietnam.

    Cuban troops have been a major presence as Soviet 

surrogates all over the world, notably in Angola.

    The threat of exportation of Castro's revolution permeates 

U.S.-Central and South American policy. (Witness the invasion 

of Grenada.)

    This fear still dominates todays headlines. For years the 

U.S. has urged support for government of El Salvador and the 

right wing Contras in Nicaragua.  The major concern underlying 

American policy in the area is Castro's influence.  The fear of 

a Castro influenced regime in South and Central America had 

such control of American foreign policy as to almost topple the 

Presidency in the recent Iran - Contra affair.  As a result the 

U.S. government has once again faced a crisis which threatens 

to destroy its credibility in foreign affairs.  All because of 

one man with a cigar.

    In concluding I would like to state my own feelings on the 

whole affair as they formed in researching the topic.  To 

start, all the information I could gather was one-sided.  All 

the sources were American written, and encompassed an American 

point of view.  In light of this knowledge, and with the 

advantage of hindsight, I have formulated my own opinion of 

this affair and how it might have been more productively 

handled.  American intervention should have been held to a 

minimum.  In an atmosphere of concentration on purely Cuban 

issues, opposition to Castro's personal dictatorship could be 

expected to grow.  Admittedly, even justified American 

retaliation would have led to Cuban counterretaliation and so 

on with the prospect that step by step the same end result 

would have been attained as was in fact achieved.  But the 

process would have lasted far longer; measured American 

responses might have appeared well deserved to an increasing 

number of Cubans, thus strengthening Cuban opposition to the 

regime instead of, as was the case, greatly stimulating 

revolutionary fervor, leaving the Russians no choice but to 

give massive support to the Revolution and fortifying the 

belief among anti-Castro Cubans that the United States was 

rapidly moving to liberate them.  The economic pressures 

available to the United States were not apt to bring Castro to 

his knees, since the Soviets were capable of meeting Cuban 

requirements in such matters as oil and sugar.  I believe the 

Cuban government would have been doomed by its own 

disorganization and incompetence and by the growing 

disaffection of an increasing number of the Cuban people.  Left 

to its own devices, the Castro regime would have withered on 

the vine. 

ammunition was 

the wrong kind - everything that could go wrong, di
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