August 15th., 1997
Castro joked, JFK firm in 1962 missile crisis
By Francois Raitberger
PARIS (Reuter) - President Fidel Castro cracked jokes as the world
on the brink of nuclear war during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis
Washington and Moscow, according to official documents published Thursday.
The French daily Le Monde carried what it said were the most extensive
excerpts ever published of Castro's account of the crisis and of White
meetings during the stand-off over Soviet nuclear missiles stationed in
Recently declassified recordings of the White House meetings also show
President John F. Kennedy resisting intense pressure from hawkish generals
invade the Communist-ruled island.
Vincent Touze, a French academic who obtained a copy of Castro's
account in Cuba and found the Kennedy passages in newly declassified
Le Monde the documents showed how little control Castro had over Soviet
the crucial role Kennedy played in avoiding a nuclear war.
The crisis, which could have been the opening to a third world war,
Oct. 15, 1962 when U.S. spy planes spotted Soviet missiles on Cuba and
Oct. 28 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said they would be withdrawn.
Castro, in a secret 1968 speech to his communist party's central
said: ``We were in the antechamber of the holocaust and we were cracking
jokes...Of course we knew that we would be made to play the part of the
man, but we were determined to play the part.''
Castro was less sure about his ally Khrushchev, who he says bungled
the start the risky bid to deploy missiles just off the Florida coast, and
admitted the Cubans were naive.
``We did not know what a missile of that type looked like, nor where
should be installed,'' he said.
``If we had known what the missiles looked like, and if the problem of
camouflaging the equipment had been left to us, how easy it would have
to...camouflage everything,'' he said.
Castro said the Soviet troops' failure to hide the missiles was so
some Cubans suspected it was done on purpose.
``I can assure them that this is completely wrong: it was a disaster,
total lack of foresight,'' he said.
Castro said he suggested 1,000 missiles when a Soviet field marshal
Havana to propose deploying the weapons. But Moscow offered 40, with some
Castro said he had wanted to inform Washington of the Soviet-Cuban
agreement before the missiles could be spotted. But Khrushchev rejected
suggestion in July 1962.
Castro's defense minister and brother Raul, who made the suggestion on
trip to Moscow with the late Ernesto ``Che'' Guevara, told the Central
Committee: ``Khrushchev, who was very rude, said 'Don't worry, I'll grab
by the balls'.''
The White House tapes, declassified in October 1996, showed leading
military men pressing hard for an invasion of Cuba and civilian advisers
between intervention and the naval blockade Kennedy finally chose.
``I just don't see any other solution except direct intervention --
now,'' U.S. Air Force chief Curtis Le May is quoted as telling Kennedy on
``In my judgment, from a military point of view, the lowest risk
action, if we are thinking of protecting the people of the United States
a possible strike on us, is to go ahead with a surprise air strike, the
and invasion,'' said U.S. Army chief Earle Wheeler.
``If you want to take over the place, and really put in a new
that is non-Communist, then you will have to invade the place,'' said
Corps head David Shoup, pounding the table. ``Don't frig around, go and
When Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman William Fulbright
a similar view to the president three days later, Kennedy replied:
``Some people would say, 'Let's go in there with an air strike'. You'd
these bombs go off and blow up 15 cities in the United States, and they
have been wrong.''
Kennedy, backed by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, announced
blockade of Cuba Oct. 22, and Soviet ships carrying strategic missiles to
island turned back two days later.
The excerpts show that Kennedy was still considering bombing or
Cuba as late as Oct. 26 but preferred to stick to a diplomatic showdown.
crisis ended Oct. 28 with the Soviet leader backing down.
Le Monde has posted transcripts and audio excerpts of the Kennedy
its Internet site (www.lemonde.fr).
Christian Ostermann of the Cold War International History Project said
tapes, though available to scholars and journalists since October, had
to come to public attention primarily for technical reasons.
``Most of them have not been transcribed. Most are extremely hard to
understand. It's a major transcription job,'' he said in a telephone
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