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 he was determined to do whatever it took to end Cuba’s neocolonial relationship with the U.S. His subsequent agrarian reforms, nationalizations of American-owned businesses in Cuba, and economic agreements with the Soviet Union had convinced Eisenhower that he was a 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” which 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.)