In October 1962, in what is widely known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Washington pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. The events brought to a head the drive by the U.S. rulers to launch a direct invasion of Cuba and overthrow the revolutionary government there.
Released on the 40th anniversary of these events, the Pathfinder book October 1962: The "Missile" Crisis as Seen from Cuba, by Cuban author Tomás Diez Acosta, tells the story of what really happened.
The Militant has been printing excerpts from the new book. The one below is from the transcript of a meeting between Fidel Castro, Cuba’s prime minister, and U Thant, United Nations secretary-general, held in Havana on Oct. 30, 1962. Also participating as part of the Cuban delegation were President Osvaldo Dorticós, Foreign Minister Raúl Roa, and Carlos Lechuga, the newly appointed Cuban representative to the United Nations.
The accompanying box (see below) outlines how, in face of the U.S. government’s plans to invade the island, Cuban working people mobilized in their millions to defend their revolution, staying Washington’s hand.
Two days before the meeting recorded below, the Cuban leadership learned from a Radio Moscow broadcast of a letter sent by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to U.S. president John Kennedy ordering the removal of missiles from Cuba that were part of the mutual defense pact between the Cuban and Soviet governments.
The U.S. government demanded that Cuba accept "inspectors" to "verify" the removal of the missiles. U Thant visited Cuba for two days of talks to try to convince the revolutionary leadership to accept a team of UN inspectors on Cuba territory combined with a UN reconnaissance plane that would operate over Cuba’s airspace.
As the following exchange shows, Castro explained in no uncertain terms why this proposal was unacceptable. Copyright © 2002 by Pathfinder Press; reprinted by permission.
Click here for Background to 1962 ‘missile’ crisis in Cuba
U THANT: Both proposals would involve the United Nations. It would consist of two units: one on the ground and the other from the air, for as long as it takes to dismantle the bases, that is, around two weeks.
CASTRO: I don’t understand why they ask these things of us. Could you explain a little better?
U THANT: The explanation the United States gives is that it wants to make sure that the launchers are really being dismantled and that the missiles are being returned to the Soviet Union.
CASTRO: What right does the United States have to ask this? Is this based on a genuine right, or is it a demand imposed by force, made from a position of force?
U THANT: My viewpoint is that this is not a right. Something like this could be undertaken only with the approval and acceptance of the Cuban government.
CASTRO: What we do not understand is precisely why this is asked of us. We have not violated any law. Nor have we carried out any aggression against anybody whatsoever. All our actions have been based in international law; we have done absolutely nothing outside the norms of international law. To the contrary, we have been the victims, in the first place, of a blockade, which is an illegal act. And secondly, we have been victims of another country’s claim to determine what we have the right to do or not do within our own borders.
It is our understanding that Cuba is a sovereign state, no more and no less than any other member state of the United Nations, and that Cuba has all the attributes inherent to any of those states.
Moreover, the United States has been repeatedly violating our airspace without any right to do so, thereby committing an act of intolerable aggression against our country. It has tried to justify this by referring to an agreement of the OAS [Organization of American States], but so far as we are concerned that agreement has no validity. We were expelled from the OAS, in fact.
We can accept anything that respects our rights, anything that does not imply a reduction in our status as a sovereign state. But the rights that have been violated by the United States have not been restored. And we accept nothing imposed by force.
As I see it, all this talk about inspection is one more attempt to humiliate our country. We do not accept it.
This demand for inspection aims to validate the U.S. presumption that it can violate our right to freely act within our borders, that it can dictate what we can or cannot do within our borders. And our line on this is not only a line for today; it is a view we have always maintained, without exception.
In the revolutionary government’s reply to the joint resolution of the U.S. government, we said the following:
"Equally absurd is its threat to launch a direct armed attack should Cuba strengthen itself militarily to a degree the United States takes the liberty to determine. We have not the slightest intention of rendering accounts or of consulting the illustrious members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives about the weapons we find it advisable to acquire, nor the measures to be taken to fully defend our country.... Do we not have the rights that international norms, laws, and principles recognize for every sovereign state in any part of the world?
"We have not surrendered nor do we intend to surrender any of our sovereign prerogatives to the Congress of the United States."
That view was repeated by the president of the Republic of Cuba at the United Nations, and also in numerous public statements I have made in my capacity as prime minister of the government. This is the firm position of the Cuban government.
All these steps were taken for the sake of the country’s security, faced with a systematic policy of hostility and aggression. They have all been taken in accordance with the law, and we have not renounced our decision to defend those rights.
We can negotiate with full sincerity and honesty. We would not be honest if we agreed to negotiate away the sovereign rights of our country. We are willing to pay whatever price is necessary to uphold these rights. And that is not a mere formula, mere words; it’s the deeply felt stance of our people.
U THANT: I understand perfectly Your Excellency’s feelings. That is why I clearly said to the United States and others: "Any action of the United Nations in Cuban territory can be undertaken only with the consent of the people and government of Cuba." I told them so in the name of peace, which all the world and all the peoples of the world ardently wish for. I told the forty-five countries that I agreed to come to Cuba without having commitments from either side.
Some press reports last night and this morning, before I left on this trip, said I was coming to arrange details of a UN presence in Cuba. That is totally erroneous--that would constitute a violation of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba. I have come here solely to present the viewpoints of the other side and to explore the options of finding a peaceful solution.
As well, the forty-five countries that asked me to come know which position is legal and which one is not.
But in the name of world peace--and for a period of only one or two weeks, perhaps three--they have asked me to come and try to find a possible solution.
Your Excellency, my conscience is clear on this issue--the United Nations can undertake an action of this kind only when it has the consent of the government involved. This is not the first time this has happened. In Laos, when a situation arose that threatened international peace, the United Nations went into that country only after obtaining the consent of the government of Laos. In 1956 a situation arose in Egypt, in the United Arab Republic, and the United Nations went into Egypt--and is still in Egypt--always with the consent of the government. Similarly in 1958, another situation that threatened world peace arose in Lebanon, and the United Nations went in there after obtaining the consent of the government of Lebanon.1
One condition is absolutely necessary in order to undertake this kind of action: the consent of the government involved....
CASTRO: In the case of the Congo...
U THANT: There was also the case of Somalia.2
CASTRO: In the case of the Congo, my understanding is that they requested the United Nations come in.3
U THANT: In the Congo the request was made by the government of the Congo.
CASTRO: In the Congo, the government that made that request is now dead and buried!
Our government has not the slightest doubt that the present secretary-general of the United Nations is acting with good intentions, impartiality, and honesty. We have no doubt about your intentions, your good faith, and your extraordinary interest in finding a solution to the problem. We all have a high regard for your mission and for you personally. I say this with all sincerity.
I understand that we must all take an interest in peace. But sacrificing the rights of the peoples, violating the rights of the peoples, is not the road to peace; that is precisely the road that leads to war. The road to peace is to guarantee the rights of the peoples, and the willingness of the peoples to resist and defend those rights.
In all the cases cited by Mr. Secretary--Laos, Egypt, Lebanon, the Congo, which I mentioned--in all those cases, what has been seen is nothing but a chain of aggressions against the rights of the peoples. It all has been caused by the same thing.
The road to the last world war was the road that included toleration of German imperialism’s annexation of Austria and its dissolution of Czechoslovakia--that is what led to war. These dangers are a warning to us. We know the course that aggressors like to follow. In our own case, we can foresee the course that the United States wants to follow.
That is why it is really difficult to understand how one can speak about immediate solutions without speaking of future solutions. What interests us most is not paying whatever price to achieve peace today. Rather, we are interested in definitive guarantees of peace. What interests us is not having to pay every day the price of an ephemeral peace.
Of course Cuba is not Austria, or Czechoslovakia, or the Congo. We have the firmest intention to defend our rights and surmount all the difficulties, all the risks. In order for your mission to be successful, Mr. Secretary-General, you must be aware of our determination, so that you can work fully informed of these circumstances.
U THANT: I am fully aware of the sentiments and the points of view that Your Excellency has expressed.
Concerning the point of immediate and long-term solutions, I wish to say that the Security Council has authorized me to look for the means by which peace can be obtained for this region.
I understand that immediate and long-term solutions are closely linked; and we must explore the possibilities for long-term solutions in light of the situation as it is now. That is what the Security Council has authorized me to do. In practice it is very difficult to separate these things.
I believe that if we can find an immediate solution, doing so would lead us toward a permanent solution, not only for the United Nations but for all interested parties.
In citing Laos and the other cases where the United Nations has gone in, I agree with you, but I also wish to say that in those places the United Nations has been able to avoid or prevent outside aggression.
Please consider this: the presence of the United Nations in Cuba for a period of three weeks, perhaps more, would also be able to eliminate or make more remote the danger of aggression.
I am of the opinion that now and in the coming period, the presence of the United Nations in some countries will especially serve to push back and prevent aggression.
DORTICÓS: I would like to say something. I share the view expressed by our prime minister concerning our full appreciation for the mission that Mr. Secretary-General is undertaking with great nobility. That mission, of course, is none other than seeking ways to guarantee peace in this crisis situation.
It seems there is a question to be answered: Wherein lies the danger of war? Is it perhaps in the weapons of one kind or another that Cuba possesses, or is it in the aggressive intentions of the United States against Cuba?
We believe it is aggression that can lead to war. The weapons that exist in Cuba, no matter what they may be, will never initiate aggression. Therefore we ask ourselves this question: Why is inspection and our agreement to inspection a requirement to guarantee peace? In order to guarantee peace, it would be enough for the United States to pledge, with all necessary assurances through the United Nations, not to attack Cuba....
U THANT: In the first place I wish to thank Your Excellencies, Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, for your words regarding me personally and the position I occupy. I fully agree with both of you that the solution we find for short-term agreements must also include negotiations for long-term agreements. But in terms of the United Nations, I believe that the best solution--and I think that the 110 member nations will agree on this--is that through the Security Council UN representatives should be provided to set about looking for and finding a long-term solution. But for now, at this moment, I do not think that the United Nations, its Security Council, can reach a positive and acceptable long-term solution that is in the best interests of the whole world and of world peace. If a long-term solution is found, that will be in the best interests of the whole world and of world peace, but I believe it is difficult to achieve that in the United Nations at this time.
CASTRO: As I see it, if the short-term solution that Mr. Secretary talks about is not achieved, it will simply be because the United States does not want it, because the U.S. persists in demanding inspection as an act of humiliation against Cuba. To achieve the unilateral security that the U.S. requires, it ought to have been enough for them that the Soviet government decided to withdraw the strategic weapons that it had brought here for the defense of the Republic of Cuba.
The Cuban government has placed no obstacles in the way of the withdrawal of those weapons. The decision by the Soviet government inherently involves a public decision; and the mere fact of being adopted in that way in front of everyone has had repercussions on world opinion. The United States knows that this decision was adopted by the Soviet Union seriously and that the strategic weapons really are being withdrawn.
But if, in addition to this, what the United States is actually seeking is to humiliate our country, it will not succeed!
We have not vacillated for even one minute in our determination to defend our rights. We cannot accept conditions of the kind imposed only on a defeated country. We have not relinquished our decision to defend ourselves. Our determination is such that they will never be able to impose conditions on us, because first they would have to destroy us and annihilate all our people. And in that case they will find nobody here upon whom to impose humiliating conditions.
U THANT: Concerning the subject of the U.S. declaration, the United States has said that it will make a public statement of nonaggression and of respect for the territorial integrity of Cuba, once the missiles have been dismantled and withdrawn.
In my opinion there is no disagreement. I fully agree with Mr. Prime Minister that action by the United Nations involves an invasion of the rights of a member state. And in this case, speaking about Cuba, if you do not agree to accept UN action, then my duty, what I must do, is to report this back to those who made the proposal.
It is not my intention here to impose anything. My duty is solely to explain the possibilities of finding ways, means, or forms in which we could find a peaceful solution, without making specific proposals. I will take into account everything that has been said here this afternoon, and I will return to present my report to the interested parties.
I believe this meeting has been very useful, and if the prime minister agrees, we will meet again in the morning before I leave. Meanwhile, I will ponder what has been expressed on these matters by Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister.
CASTRO: To conclude, I would like to respond on the matter of inspection by the Red Cross. We are equally opposed to such inspection in our ports. I ask myself: If the Soviet Union authorizes inspection of its ships on the high seas, then why would it be necessary to inspect them again in Cuban ports?
Secondly, I see that Mr. Secretary is focusing his attention on getting the United States to make a public statement, a pledge before the United Nations that it will not invade Cuba.
Let me say, first of all, that the United States has no right to invade Cuba. One cannot negotiate over a promise not to commit a crime, over the mere promise not to commit a crime. Faced with the threat of this danger, we have more confidence in our determination to defend ourselves than we do in words from the U.S. government.
But furthermore, if the United Nations puts such a high value on a public pledge made before it by the United States--the pledge not to invade--why does it not put the same value on the public pledge the Soviet Union made before the United Nations to withdraw the strategic weapons that the USSR sent to defend the Republic of Cuba? These would be two equally public commitments. If one of the two pledges--the U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba--does not need any additional guarantee, why then does the pledge by the Soviet Union to withdraw its strategic weapons require the additional guarantee of inspecting us?
We will meet again, with pleasure, as often as you wish and at any time you wish.
U THANT: Thank you very much, Your Excellency.
On the first point I just want to say that when the Soviet government declared its willingness to accept inspection by the Red Cross on the high seas, we reported this to the Red Cross. Initially they said yes, even though they had to submit the issue to their governing body; they had to vote on this and accept it. But they indicated to us that it would be simpler to do this at the ports of disembarkation rather than on the high seas. That is, it’s not a question of inspecting again, it’s only once.
Also, I am very pleased to have your response on this matter and to have talked about this.
DORTICÓS: We could reach some arrangement on the hour to meet tomorrow.
U THANT: I have some consultations to make here, particularly with the ambassador of Brazil.
CASTRO: As far as we’re concerned, we can meet at any hour you wish. It is not necessary to set the time now. Simply contact our foreign ministry and say what time you wish to see us.
U THANT: Tomorrow, not today.
CASTRO: Whenever you wish.
Egypt was invaded in October 1956 by British, French, and Israeli troops in response to that country’s nationalization of the Suez Canal in July. In November the United Nations sent a "peacekeeping" force, which remained until Egypt asked them to leave in 1967.
In Lebanon, a popular rebellion broke out in early 1958 against the pro-imperialist government. In June the United Nations sent troops to protect the regime under the guise of preventing "illegal infiltration of personnel or supply of arms" from Syria. In July the U.S. government too sent in 10,000 troops, ostensibly to "protect U.S. citizens."
2 In 1949 the United Nations established a trusteeship over Somalia to be administered by Italy, its former colonial master. The country did not become independent until 1960.
3 After the Congo won its independence from Belgium in June 1960, Washington and its allies moved quickly to destabilize the new government headed by Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who had been the leader of the independence struggle. In July 1960, Moise Tshombe began a war against the new regime by declaring the secession of the southern province of Katanga (today Shaba), with himself as president. Lumumba’s government appealed to the United Nations for help, and the UN sent "peacekeeping" troops. Washington and its allies moved swiftly to disarm Lumumba’s forces, sending Belgian and UN troops into the capital, Léopoldville. They also backed Tshombe’s proimperialist breakaway regime in Katanga.
The U.S.-led intervention succeeded by late 1960 in winning over a faction within the Congolese government, headed by army chief of staff Joseph Mobutu, and Lumumba was deposed in September. As UN troops stood watch, he was later arrested and handed over to Tshombe’s forces, who murdered him in January 1961.
After Cuban workers and farmers overthrew a U.S.-backed dictatorship and began a deep-going revolution in 1959, Washington took increasingly aggressive actions to try to overthrow the new revolutionary power. In April 1961, Cuba’s revolutionary militias and armed forces crushed a U.S.-organized mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs.
In the spring and summer of 1962, in face of escalating preparations by Washington for a full-scale invasion of Cuba, the revolutionary government signed a mutual defense pact with the Soviet Union. In October U.S. president John Kennedy demanded removal of Soviet nuclear missiles installed on the island. Washington imposed a naval blockade of Cuba, stepped up preparations for an armed assault, and placed its armed forces on nuclear alert.
In face of the mobilization of Cuban workers and farmers to defend their national sovereignty and revolutionary gains, the U.S. government backed off its invasion plans. Following an exchange of communications between Washington and Moscow, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, without consulting Cuba, announced his decision to remove the missiles on October 28.
Opposing views heard at New York meeting on October 1962 crisis
Castro: ‘Anyone who tries to inspect Cuba had better arrive in full combat gear’
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