Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis and Colombia

Fidel Castro and Nikita Khruschev buddy up.
(Photo: Boston University)
A half-century ago, humanity came to the verge of armageddon when the United States discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. After several tense weeks, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev reached an agreement and backed away from the abyss.

But, during those tense weeks Cuban dictator Fidel Castro asked the Soviets to shoot at U.S. spyplanes, which could likely have triggered nuclear war, as recounted in this story in the New York Times.

Castro, a revolutionary accustomed to dramatic acts and gestures, favored military action against the U.S. Castro, who was still angry about the attempted U.S. invasion of Cuba, also resented not being consulted by Moscow. Castro was motivated by anger and desire for vengeance. Cuba was an important country, he believed, and would not accept being treated as a non-factor. If proving Cuba's importance meant burning millions of people, including Cubans, to ashes, so be it. In contrast, both the U.S. and Soviet leaders were much more rational actors: they wanted to further their interests, but knew that nuclear war would be bad for everybody.

“This is insane; Fidel wants to drag us into the grave with him!” Khruschev reportedly told his advisors.

Fortunately for the world - and particularly for the millions of Cubans and Americans who would have surely been blown to bits or fried by nuclear storms - the Soviets removed their missiles, and in exchange the U.S. removed its own nuclear missiles from Turkey and also promised never again to invade the communist island.

(Reportedly, Colombia had offered its support for a U.S. invasion of the island to remove the missiles.)

Fidel Castro and bearded comrades celebrate the 
revolution's victory.
The world gave a sigh of relief. But the Soviets' support and the U.S. assurance that it would never again invade Cuba, as it had disastrously in 1961 at the Bay of Pigs, gave Castro cover to try to foment Communism across the hemisphere. In 1968, Che Guevara died in Bolivia trying to ignite a Cuban-style revolution there. Castro also financed and trained armed insurgencies across Central and South America, including Colombia's ELN guerrillas. In recent years, however, Cuba has assisted with as-yet-unsuccesful peace negotations between the Colombian government and the ELN and FARC guerrillas.

A U-2 spy plane photo shows Soviet missile silos in Cuba.
(Photo: Smithsonian Museum)
Meanwhile, the United States and now-geriatric revolutionary Cuba, only 90 miles apart, still maintain one of the world's last remaining Cold War hostilities.

Today, Latin America's only situation even distantly resembling the 1962 Cuba is Venezuela, a leftist nation hostile to the U.S. which has during recent years purchased billions of dollars of mostly Russian military weapons. But those are conventional weapons, and Venezuela presents no military threat to the U.S., altho its armamanets are potentially worrisome to its neighbors, Colombia and Guyana.

A bit like Cuba a half century ago, Venezuela is a source of tensions between Moscow and Washington, still vying for influence.

The Soviet missiles have ended up achieving their original goal: preserving the Communist revolution on the U.S.'s doorstep. But in the meantime their builders, the Soviet empire, has crumbled, leaving Cuba as a sort of museum piece for a failed system. However, in the guerrillas which still afflict Colombia, Colombia continues to feel the the missile crisis' consequences.

So, for Colombia, the missile Crisis leaves mixed messages. By preserving revolutionary Cuba, the missiles contributed to Colombia's ongoing troubles. However, the communist island could now contribute to peace in Colombia.

And, the crisis' greatest lesson for Colombia is that determined and cautious leaders can resolve the most difficult crisis without firing a shot.

But are Colombia's guerrillas rational actors? For that matter, is the government?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Michelle said...

Thank you for this and great graphics!

Michelle said...

Thank you for this and great graphics!