Oct 11, 2012 4:52 PM GMT
Cuba would have become the first nuclear power in Latin America 50 years ago, if not for the dynamics captured in this remarkable verbatim transcript -- published here for the first time -- of Fidel Castro's excruciating meeting with Soviet deputy prime minister Anastas Mikoyan, on November 22, 1962. The document comes from the personal archive of his son, the late Sergo Mikoyan, which was donated to the National Security Archive and which appears for the first time in English this month in the new book, The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis.
Long after the world thought the Cuban Missile Crisis had ended, with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's withdrawal of his medium-range nuclear missiles announced on October 28 -- and two days after President John F. Kennedy announced the lifting of the quarantine around Cuba -- the secret crisis still simmered. Unknown to the Americans, the Soviets had brought some 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba -- 80 nuclear-armed front cruise missiles (FKRs), 12 nuclear warheads for dual-use Luna short-range rockets, and 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers. Even with the pullout of the strategic missiles, the tacticals would stay, and Soviet documentation reveals the intention of training the Cubans to use them.
But Fidel Castro was livid. Khrushchev had not consulted or even informed Castro about any deals with the Americans -- Fidel heard about the missile withdrawal from the radio. The Cuban leader refused to go along with any onsite inspections in Cuba, and raised further demands. The Soviets had their own Cuban crisis: They had to take back what the Americans called the "offensive weapons," get the U.S. to confirm its non-invasion pledge, and most importantly, keep Cuba as an ally. At the Soviet Presidium, everyone agreed only one man could achieve such a resolution: Anastas Mikoyan.
Mikoyan arrived in Cuba on November 2, 1962, and over 20 days of often-bitter conversations with Cuban leaders -- culminating in this tense meeting -- Mikoyan began to appreciate the danger tactical nuclear weapons posed if they were left on the island, especially in Cuban hands. On one day, Castro would refuse to see Mikoyan; on another, Fidel would order his anti-aircraft crews to shoot at the American surveillance planes.
The final straw apparently came on November 20, when Castro sent instructions to Cuba's representative at the United Nations, Carlos Lechuga, to mention "we have tactical nuclear weapons, which we should keep" -- partly as leverage in negotiations over inspections, also to establish the fact that the weapons were in Cuban possession. Extremely worried, Mikoyan cabled the Soviet Presidium that he now planned to inform the Cuban leader that all tactical nuclear weapons would be withdrawn from Cuba. Mikoyan had to break this unpleasant news to his hosts, and he had to do it in such a way that they would remain Soviet allies.
This four-hour conversation on November 22 provided the final blow to the Cuban revolutionaries, now that the Soviet Union was removing all the weapons for which Cuba had to suffer so much. Castro opened the conversation saying that he was in a bad mood because Kennedy stated in his speech that all nuclear weapons were removed from Cuba, but surely the tacticals were still on the island. Mikoyan confirmed that "the Soviet government has not given any promises regarding the removal of the tactical nuclear weapons. The Americans do not even have any information that they are in Cuba." But the Soviet government itself, said Mikoyan, not under U.S. pressure, has now decided to take them back.