U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower approved the implementation of a secret, multifaceted plan by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on March 17, 1960, to covertly remove Cuban leader Fidel Castro from power. Castro had assumed power in early 1959 after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, and was determined to do whatever it took to end Cuba’s neocolonial relationship with the U.S. Castro’s agrarian reforms, his nationalization of American-owned businesses in Cuba, and his economic agreements with the Soviet Union had convinced Eisenhower that he was a dangerous communist.
The Eisenhower administration’s decision to treat Castro as a Cold War adversary resulted in a steady deterioration in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. during the remainder of 1960. Things came to a head on October 19 when the U.S. imposed a trade embargo against Cuba, and the next day the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, Philip Bonsal, was recalled.
About a week later Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, the director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Miami, got a call from the State Department asking him to go to Washington, D.C. There he was asked to participate in a clandestine operation to smuggle Cuban children into the U.S. He agreed and was eventually given unprecedented authority to issue “visa waivers” that were smuggled into Cuba and allowed any unaccompanied Cuban child between the ages of 6 to 16 to ostensibly study in the U.S. The U.S. government did not, however, create a special visa program for the children’s parents.
I visited Cuba earlier this year with an American tour group and learned many things. One of them was that the U.S. government’s involvement in Cuban affairs before the Cuban Revolution was more extensive than what we’ve been taught – and not in a good way.
American involvement in Cuban affairs began as early as 1854, when the Ostend Manifesto was drafted by Southern expansionists who wanted to acquire Cuba from Spain in order to facilitate the expansion of their slave economy. Its publication outraged anti-slavery Northerners and the idea was shelved, although the Confederates would have pursued the acquisition of Cuba if they’d won the Civil War.
Many ex-Confederates moved to Cuba after the South lost the war because slavery was still legal there. They had little effect, however, because American businessmen were already heavily invested in Cuba and controlled its lucrative sugar industry.
The Spanish-American War
The Cuban War of Independence, inspired by Cuban patriot José Martí, began in 1895 and by 1897 the liberation army had the Spanish on the defensive. Then in 1898 the U.S. militarily intervened in the war after the American battleship U.S.S. Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor on February 15, killing 266 U.S. sailors. President William McKinley asked Congress to declare war in April and in the subsequent Spanish-American War an American army defeated Spanish troops at the Battle of San Juan Hill and a U.S. naval force subsequently destroyed a Spanish naval squadron at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. These losses, coupled with other Spanish military defeats in the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, caused Spain to sue for peace and a ceasefire was established on August 12. In the formal peace treaty that was signed in December, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico were annexed by the U.S. and Cuba became a protectorate – a virtual U.S. colony. Cubans were not included in the negotiations with Spain.
During my visit to Cuba I learned that most Cubans resent America’s intervention in their independence war. They believe they were close to defeating the Spanish on their own, and the Maine was blown up as part of a secret scheme by U.S. imperialists to create an excuse for America to gain control of Cuba. (No definitive cause for the ship’s explosion has ever been identified.)
Worldwide celebrations were held yesterday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, May 8, 1945, the day that Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the Allies and ended WWII in Europe. But while V-E Day is recognized as the official surrender date, important German armies had already surrendered.
On the Eastern Front, the Soviets had launched their attack on Berlin on April 16, and by the 25th they had completely encircled the city. German dictator Adolf Hitler had moved into his Führerbunker in Berlin on January 16. On April 30, after he was told that German forces defending the city couldn’t hold out any longer, he committed suicide. In a will he’d written on April 29, Hitler had designated Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who was also in the bunker, to succeed him as the new Chancellor of Germany.
On May 1 Goebbels sent General Hans Krebs to meet with General Vasily Chuikov, who commanded the Soviet troops in central Berlin, to negotiate terms of surrender. Chuikov rejected the offer and demanded that the Germans unconditionally surrender. After Krebs returned to the bunker and informed Goebbels of Chuikov’s reply, Goebbels committed suicide too. General Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the surviving German troops in Berlin, unconditionally surrendered on May 2.
On the Italian front, the western Allies had launched a massive attack against the Germans and their Italian fascist allies in northern Italy on April 6. The Allies succeeded in smashing through the Axis forces and on April 27 Italian resistance fighters captured Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and executed him the next day. General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, the commander of German forces in Italy, surrendered on May 2.
In his will, Hitler had also designated that German Admiral Karl Dönitz should become the new President of Germany and supreme commander of the armed forces. Dönitz set up his government at a German naval academy in Flensburg, in northern Germany near the Danish border. On May 4 the German troops he commanded in the Netherlands, Denmark and northwestern Germany surrendered to the opposing British forces. (Significant organized German resistance on the Western front had already ended on April 21, when the last of the German troops trapped in the Ruhr Pocket surrendered.)
Dönitz sent General Alfred Jodl to Reims, France, on May 6 with an offer to surrender all German forces fighting the Western Allies. But the Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, threatened to break off all negotiations unless the Germans agreed to an unconditional surrender of all German troops, including those still fighting the Soviets on the Eastern Front. Dönitz had no choice but to accept Eisenhower’s terms and authorized Jodl to sign surrender documents the next day, May 7.
But Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin wasn’t happy about the German surrender in Reims. His Soviet armies, after all, had done the bulk of the fighting in the war and had suffered millions of casualties. He claimed the Soviet representative at Reims had lacked the authority to sign a surrender document and demanded that the Germans also surrender directly to the Soviet forces in occupied Berlin. So on 8 May Dönitz sent General Wilhelm Keitel to Berlin to sign the “official” unconditional surrender with Soviet General Georgy Zhukov and other Allied representatives. Because it was signed late at night, and it was already May 9 in Moscow, Russia celebrates May 9 as Victory Day.