On October 14, 1962, the cuba crisis, in the middle of the Cold War. The United States discovered missile launch pads on the island provided by the Soviet Union. US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy then announced a naval blockade of the island. After several days of tense negotiations, during which a nuclear war seems imminent, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agrees to withdraw his missiles.
The origins of the Cuban crisis
On January 1, 1959, insurgents led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara overthrew the pro-American dictator Battista. Relations between Havana and Washington deteriorated rapidly after the land reform of June 1959, which banned properties over 40.5 ha, after the nationalization of sugar refineries (August 1959) and the nationalization of oil refineries (Oct. , 1959). At the end of 1960, the value of US corporate assets confiscated by the new Cuban regime was approximately $ 1 billion. As a retaliatory measure, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba and gave asylum and assistance to the anti-Castro Cuban refugees (more than 200,000 by 1961).
In October 1960, Washington imposed a trade embargo on the island. On April 17, a commando of anti-Castro exiles supported and trained by the United States landed in the Bay of Pigs, in the south of the island. The failure of this attempted invasion accelerated the socialist orientation of the regime, which moved closer to the USSR, which became the main buyer of Cuban sugar.
The missile crisis
In July 1962, Castro accepted that the USSR could install nuclear missiles in Cuba, thinking he could establish a balance of power with the American president and lead him to negotiate. The missiles are transported in the greatest secrecy in Russian ships carrying agricultural equipment to deceive the vigilance of the Americans. But on October 14, 1962, an American spy plane flying over Cuba discovered the current installations on the island.
The existence of these missiles does not fundamentally alter the military balance between the two great powers, as the American territory is already vulnerable to long-range missiles installed in the Soviet Union. However, the strength of the symbol (installing this type of weapon about 150 km from the coast of Florida) constitutes a provocation that the United States cannot leave unanswered, otherwise the credibility of its strike force will be called into question.
President Kennedy announced in October 1962 the establishment of a maritime blockade around Cuba in order to prevent the arrival of new Soviet missiles (officially, it was only a "quarantine"). Kennedy calls on the Soviet Union to dismantle and withdraw its weapons.
From Krutchev's retreat to relaxation
After several days of negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev, during which the world lives under the threat of a possible nuclear war, the Soviet leader agrees, on October 28, to dismantle the launch pads and bring the rockets back to the Soviet Union. He also offers the United States to inspect Cuban sites in exchange for the American guarantee not to invade the island. The final agreement between the two heads of state includes a secret clause by which the United States undertakes to withdraw the missiles recently installed in Turkey. The aerial reconnaissance carried out by the United States over Cuba confirms the dismantling of the sites as of November 12 and the quarantine is lifted on November 20.
The psychological standoff to which this crisis has given rise, through the magnitude of the dangers it reveals to the world, ultimately results in the beginning of relative easing in the arms race in which the two superpowers are engaged. The first sign of partial disarmament was given on August 5, 1963, with the signing of an agreement which banned nuclear tests at sea and in the atmosphere, even for peaceful purposes. In the process, a direct line of communication, the famous “red telephone”, was set up between the American and Soviet administrations to manage future crisis situations.
- 13 days, the Cuban Missile Crisis, by Robert Kennedy. Plural, 2018.
- How Kennedy Avoided World War III, October 1962: Journal of the Missile Crisis, by Vincent Touze. André Versailles editions, 2012.
- Thirteen Days That Shaken the World, historical fiction by Roger Donaldson. Metropolitan Video, 2013.