Stevenson: Cuba and the colossus of the north

Columbus discovered Cuba during his journeys and claimed the island for Spain.  When the United States became an established constitutional government, Americans including Thomas Jefferson, began to look at Cuba with an acquisitive eye.  President James Monroe developed a policy, later labeled the Monroe Doctrine, whose intent was to exclude European powers from North and South America.  Still later, steel hulled steam ships needed coaling stations, and Cuba seemed like a good spot.

Commentary by Jack Stevenson

Commentary by
Jack Stevenson

In the late 1800s, Cubans revolted against Spanish rule.  The USS Maine was dispatched to Cuba where it anchored in Havana Harbor.  While anchored, the Maine exploded.  Although the cause was unknown, it was assumed to have been caused by a Spanish mine, and that idea was used as an excuse to evict the Spanish from Cuba.  Two inquiries concluded that the blast was, indeed, external.  However, during World Wars One and Two, a great deal of knowledge was gained about the way ship’s steel deforms when subjected to high explosives.  Scientific knowledge also advanced.  Admiral Hyman Rickover, the “father of America’s nuclear navy,” performed a scientific analysis of the event and concluded that it was an internal explosion that sunk the Maine.  The captain of the Maine kept the boilers fired so that the ship could maneuver quickly if necessary.  The ship’s powder room was separated from the boilers by only a heat conducting steel wall, and the ship was anchored in warm bay water.

In 1933, Fulgencio Batista, a Cuban army sergeant, seized control of the Cuban government.  He initially did some good things but eventually became the epitome of corruption garnering deals with New York mobster Meyer Lansky who operated gambling casinos in Cuba.  It was said that U.S. thousand dollar bills covered the gambling tables.  For those who are too young to remember, one-thousand dollar bills used to be circulating currency in the United States.  At the conclusion of World War Two when Detroit manufacturers resumed production of automobiles, I accompanied by father to an auto dealership where he paid for a new Ford sedan with a thousand dollar bill.

In addition to mob gambling deals, Batista also made deals with U.S. corporations resulting in a small class of Cubans becoming prosperous while most Cubans languished in poverty.  American capitalists dominated the Cuban economy without regulation or accountability.  It was Batista’s corruption that motivated Fidel Castro.

Castro’s revolutionary movement in Cuba received favorable publicity in some of the U.S. national news media.  Many Americans thought that Castro was a modern political Robin Hood.  But disenchantment ensued after Batista abdicated and Castro gained control of Cuba.  Castro began to expropriate American businesses.  He also turned to Russia, then organized as the Union of Soviet Social Republics (USSR), as a counterweight to the colossus of the north.

The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) organized an invasion of Cuba known to history as the Bay of Pigs.  The intent was to overthrow Castro.  The invasion was a miserable failure.  The CIA also made some feeble and failed attempts to assassinate Castro.  Castro and his intelligence agents certainly knew about those attempts.

The Russians, seeking to counter the United States’ attempts to encircle Russia, seized the opportunity to install missiles in Cuba that could deliver nuclear warheads to American cities.  That produced a crisis, but both sides soon realized their folly.  The Russians withdrew their missiles from Cuba in exchange for America withdrawing missiles from Turkey that had been placed there to target Russia.  If there had been a nuclear exchange over Cuba, it surely would have been the stupidest thing that humans had ever done.

A year after the missile confrontation, the president of the United States was assassinated.  Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s immediate off-the-cuff reaction was that Castro had done it, that thought being based on his knowledge that the CIA had been attempting to assassinate Castro.

Finally, the United States emplaced an embargo around Cuba in an attempt to isolate the island and generate Cuban animosity toward the Castro government.  The Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, have governed Cuba for 58 years.  If the embargo works, it certainly is a slow moving ploy.

It now looks as if American vacationers will again be basking in the warm winter sun in Cuba.

Jack Stevenson, now retired, served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer. He retired from military service and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. Mr. Stevenson also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). He currently reads history, follows issues important to Americans and writes commentary from his Florida home.

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