After the Missiles of October: John F. Kennedy and Cuba, November 1962 to November 1963

By Rabe, Stephen G. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2000 | Go to article overview

After the Missiles of October: John F. Kennedy and Cuba, November 1962 to November 1963


Rabe, Stephen G., Presidential Studies Quarterly


In analyzing U.S. relations with Cuba during the Kennedy administration, scholars have understandably focused on dramatic events and policies--the Bay of Pigs invasion, the U.S. campaign of terrorism and sabotage known as Operation Mongoose, the assassination plots against Fidel Castro, and, of course, the Cuban missile crisis. Less attention has been given to the state of U.S.-Cuban relations in the aftermath of the missile crisis and during the last year of President John E Kennedy's life. Scholars have assumed, however, that Kennedy was in the process of reevaluating his hostile policies toward Cuba and indeed his entire cold war stance. In his seminal essay, "The Education of John F. Kennedy," Divine (1974) suggested that the eventful nature of the missile crisis had a transforming effect on the young president. Kennedy had once wholeheartedly embraced the cold war verifies of Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles. The Soviet Union directly threatened the security of the United States, and "only a tough determined American response, grounded in military superiority, could ensure the nation's survival" (p. 317). But the frightening missile crisis had been a turning point. After October 1962, Kennedy demonstrated a "far more mature concern for the ultimate questions of war and peace in the nuclear age" (p. 338). As proof, Divine pointed to Kennedy's eloquent speech given at American University in June 1963, his negotiation of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union, and his questioning of the U.S. commitment in South Vietnam. Although Divine did not specifically address Cuban issues, evidence exists to sustain his interpretation of the "new Kennedy." Kennedy had pledged to the Soviet Union not to invade Cuba and had ordered the dismantling of Operation Mongoose. According to Schlesinger (1965, 998-1000), the administration no longer needed to concentrate on Castro, since it had "destroyed" Castro's influence in Latin America. Schlesinger related, however, that he had the "impression" that in late 1963 Kennedy was reappraising his policy toward Castro, pointing to the president's opening of a channel of communication to Castro through Jean Daniel, a French correspondent (Daniel 1963a, 1963b). With the administration's approval, William Attwood, a U.S. diplomat at the United Nations, also began in the fall of 1963 to speak with Cuban officials (Attwood 1987, 245-64).

Historiography

By the mid 1970s, this appealing interpretation of a maturing president who abandoned his confrontational ways encountered the reality of startling new evidence. The Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, popularly known as the Church Committee, revealed that the United States had participated in plots to assassinate foreign leaders, including Castro. The Church Committee could not say definitively whether Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower or Kennedy authorized the plots, although individual senators, such as Howard Baker (R-TN), felt certain that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operated with presidential approval. The Church Committee discovered, however, that the assassination plots continued after the missile crisis. On November 22, 1963, CIA agents rendezvoused in Paris with a traitorous Cuban official, Rolando Cubela Secades, code-named AM/LASH. They passed to Cubela a ballpoint pen rigged with a poisonous hypodermic needle intended to produce Castro's instant death. In the previous month, Desmond Fitzgerald of the CIA's Directorate of Plans had assured Cubela that the CIA operated with the approval of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The Church Committee further disclosed that on June 19, 1963, President Kennedy approved a sabotage program against Cuba. The CIA was subsequently authorized to carry out thirteen major sabotage operations in Cuba, including attacks on an electric power plant, an oil refinery, and a sugar mill (U.S. Congress 1975, 170-80; Thomas 1995,297-309). …

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