After our full-day trip to Viñales yesterday, it was nice to have a less-structured day today with more free time. We visited the open-air workshop and gallery at the home of José Fuster, a world-renowned painter and ceramic artist. He is also known as the “Picasso of the Caribbean.” Since we are allowed to bring back works of art under our travel license, some of us bought various items.
We also toured some of the open and underground bunkers at the Hotel Nacionál, which sits on a strategic hill overlooking the ocean to the north. They were rapidly constructed after the Bay of Pigs Invasion and before the Cuban Missile Crisis (known as the October Crisis in Cuba). There were displays of newspapers from Cuba, the U.S., and from around the world, describing that brief, terrifying and ominous period in world history. I talked with Carlos, an older docent at the display who described being at the Nacionál over half a century ago. He told me about looking out to the ocean and seeing dozens of U.S. Navy ships offshore, their huge guns pointed towards various parts of Havana. Many Americans today still don’t realize it, but recently-released (and not publicly emphasized) documents clearly showed that the U.S. had planned a full-scale invasion after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. (Please check out the following article about Operation Northwoods. If the link doesn’t work, copy and paste this URL into your browser bar: abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92662&page=1#,T8zn3lKTiuJ). Most Congressmen and some military leaders apparently had no idea of how difficult and bloody this invasion would probably have been. They had little understanding of the size of Cuba (sometimes referred to as “that little Caribbean island).” Cuba’s coastline is longer than the coast of California. Perhaps they had it confused with Jamaica or Grand Cayman. They had no idea that it was riddled with extensive, inter-connected, well-supplied caverns where much of the Cuban military had settled in. And perhaps most important, they had no concept of how much the Cubans hated foreign occupation and domination—by the Spanish for four centuries, and by the U.S. for sixty years after that. There was only one thing on earth that prevented what would have been an incredibly bloody and costly invasion by the U.S.—Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles. When these missiles were discovered, the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis took place over a couple of weeks in October of 1962. The details of this period are fascinating, but in a nutshell, Kennedy’s military advisers pressed for a full-scale invasion, believing that it would be a “quick little war.” In the end, Kennedy used back-channel communications to reach an agreement with the Soviets that if they withdrew their missiles, Kennedy would promise to cancel the planned full-scale invasion of Cuba.
It’s ironic that most Americans have a vague idea of the history of that time, when we could have been involved in a nuclear war. But what is not generally understood is that the missile crisis quite likely prevented a full-scale invasion of Cuba, which most likely would have been the bloodiest and worst foreign policy blunder by America up to that time.
This evening we had dinner at the home of a friend, who was a young soldier in Castro’s Army during the revolution. The memories of his experiences during this period half a century ago were still very clear to him.