Fifty years later, Cuba still haunted by missile crisis

Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:38pm EDT
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By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Fifty years ago, in October 1962, Estela Rivas Vasquez stood watch in a newly dug bunker outside Havana's grandiose Hotel Nacional, using binoculars to scan the Straits of Florida for signs of an American invasion.

She did not fully know why Cuban leader Fidel Castro had put the country on a war footing, but as a civilian militia member she was certain of one thing - at the tender age of 18 she was prepared to die for her country.

"I'll tell you the truth - I did not feel fear ... I had to defend the country and I didn't care about dying," said Rivas, a petite woman still as feisty as she was then.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev eventually negotiated an end to what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, which began on October 16, 1962 when Kennedy was told the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles on Cuba, barely 90 miles off the Florida coast.

On October 28, after 13 tense days with the world on the verge of nuclear war, Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles in exchange for Kennedy's promise that the United States would never invade the island, with whom U.S. relations had steadily worsened after Castro took power in a 1959 revolution.

Most of the world was relieved that a potential World War III had been avoided, but in Cuba the reaction, led by Castro, was at best ambivalent. Although tempered by time, it remains so today.


Cubans shared the world's relief 50 years ago, but felt betrayed because Castro had been excluded from the negotiations.   Continued...

This map of Cuba annotated by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy is displayed for the first time at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, July 13, 2005. REUTERS/Brian Snyder