Cuba 1959 to 1980s

The unforgivable revolution

excerpted from the book

Killing Hope

by William Blum



In the American lexicon, in addition to good and bad bases and missiles, there are good and bad revolutions. The American and French Revolutions were good. The Cuban Revolution is bad.


... in the infamous ClA-organized invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs... over 100 exiles died in the attack. Close to 1,200 others were taken prisoner by the Cubans. It was later revealed that four American pilots flying for the CIA had lost their lives as well.

The Bay of Pigs assault had relied heavily on the Cuban people rising up to join the invaders, but this was not to be the case. As it was, the leadership and ranks of the exile forces were riddled with former supporters and henchmen of Fulgencio Batista, the dictator overthrown by Castro, and would not have been welcomed back by the Cuban people under any circumstances.

Despite the fact that the Kennedy administration was acutely embarrassed by the unmitigated defeat-indeed, because, of it-a campaign of smaller-scale attacks upon Cuba was initiated almost immediately. Throughout the 1960s, the Caribbean island was subjected to countless sea and air commando raids by exiles, at times accompanied by their CIA supervisors, inflicting damage upon oil refineries, chemical plants and railroad bridges, cane fields, sugar mills and sugar warehouses; infiltrating spies, saboteurs and assassins ... any thing to damage the Cuban economy, promote disaffection, or make the revolution look bad ... taking the lives of Cuban militia members and others in the process ... pirate attacks on Cuban fishing boats and merchant ships, bombardments of Soviet vessels docked in Cuba, an assault upon a Soviet army camp with 12 Russian soldiers reported wounded ... a hotel and a theater shelled from offshore because Russians and East Europeans were supposed to be present there.

These actions were not always carried out on the direct order of the CIA or with its foreknowledge, but the Agency could hardly plead "rogue elephant". It had created an operations headquarters in Miami that was truly a state within a city-over, above, and outside the laws of the United States, not to mention international law, with a staff of several hundred Americans directing many more Cuban agents in just such types of actions, with a budget in excess of $50 million a year, and an arrangement with the local press to keep operations in Florida secret except when the CIA wanted something publicized.

Title 18 of the US Code declares it to be a crime to launch a "military or naval expedition or enterprise" from the United States against a country with which the United States is not (officially) at war. Although US authorities now and then aborted an exile plot or impounded a boat-sometimes because the Coast Guard or other officials had not been properly clued in-no Cubans were prosecuted under this act. This was no more than to be expected inasmuch as Attorney General Robert Kennedy had determined after the Bay of Pigs that the invasion did not constitute a military expedition.

The commando raids were combined with a total US trade and credit embargo, which continues to this day, and which genuinely hurt the Cuban economy and chipped away at the society's standard of living. So unyielding has the embargo been that when Cuba was hard hit by a hurricane in October 1963, and Casa Cuba, a New York social club, raised a large quantity of clothing for relief, the United States refused to grant it an export license on the grounds that such shipment was "contrary to the national interest''.

Moreover, pressure was brought to bear upon other countries to conform to the embargo, and goods destined for Cuba were sabotaged: machinery damaged, chemicals added to lubricating fluids to cause rapid wear on diesel engines, a manufacturer in West Germany paid to produce ball-bearings off-center, another to do the same with balanced wheel gears-"You're talking about big money," said a CIA officer involved in the sabotage efforts, "when you ask a manufacturer to go along with you on that kind of project because he has to reset his whole mold. And he is probably going to worry about the effect on future business. You might have to pay him several hundred thousand dollars or more.''


What undoubtedly was an even more sensitive venture was the use of chemical and biological weapons against Cuba by the United States. It is a remarkable record.

In August 1962, a British freighter under Soviet lease, having damaged its propeller on a reef, crept into the harbor at San Juan, Puerto Rico for repairs. It was bound for a Soviet port with 80,000 bags of Cuban sugar. The ship was put into dry dock and 14,135 sacks of sugar were unloaded to a warehouse to facilitate the repairs. While in the warehouse, the sugar was contaminated by CIA agents with a substance that was allegedly harmless but unpalatable. When President Kennedy learned of the operation he was furious because it had taken place in US territory and if discovered could provide the Soviet Union with a propaganda field-day and could set a terrible precedent for chemical sabotage in the cold war He directed that the sugar not be returned to the Russians, although what explanation w as given to them is not publicly known.

Similar undertakings were apparently not canceled The CIA official who helped direct worldwide sabotage efforts, referred to above, later revealed that "There was lots of sugar being sent out from Cuba, and we were putting a lot of contaminants in it."

The same year, a Canadian agricultural technician working as an adviser to the Cuban government was paid $5,000 by "an American military intelligence agent" to infect Cuban turkeys with a virus which would produce the fatal Newcastle disease. Subsequently, 8,000 turkeys died. The technician later claimed that although he had been to the farm where the turkeys had died, he had not actually administered the virus, but had instead pocketed the money, and that the turkeys had died from neglect and other causes unrelated to the virus. This may have been a self-serving statement. The Washington Post reported that "According to U.S. intelligence reports, the Cubans-and some Americans-believe the turkeys died as the result of espionage."

Authors Warren Hinckle and William Turner, citing a participant in the project, have reported m their book on Cuba that:

"During 1969 and 1970, the CIA deployed futuristic weather modification technology to ravage Cuba's sugar crop and undermine the economy. Planes from the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in the California desert, where hi-tech was developed, overflew the island, seeding rain clouds with crystals that precipitated torrential rains over non-agricultural areas and left the cane fields arid (the downpours caused killer flash floods in some areas).

In 1971, also according to participants, the CIA turned over to Cuban exiles a virus which causes African swine fever. Six weeks later, an outbreak of the disease in Cuba forced the slaughter of 500,000 pigs to prevent a nationwide animal epidemic. The outbreak, the first ever in the Western hemisphere, was called the "most alarming event" of the Year by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

Ten years later, the target may well have been human beings, as an epidemic of dengue fever swept the Cuban island. Transmitted by blood-eating insects, usually mosquitoes, the disease produces severe flu symptoms and incapacitating bone pain. Between May and October 1981, over 300,000 cases were reported in Cuba with 158 fatalities, 101 of which were children under 15.' In 1956 and 1958, declassified documents have revealed, the US Army loosed swarms of specially bred mosquitoes in Georgia and Florida to see whether disease-carrying insects could be weapons in a biological war. The mosquitoes bred for the tests were of the Aedes Aegypti type, the precise carrier of dengue fever as well as other diseases. In 1967 it was reported by Science magazine that at the US government center in Fort Detrick, Maryland, dengue fever was amongst those "diseases that are at least the objects of considerable research and that appear to be among those regarded as potential BW [biological warfare] agents." Then, in 1984, a Cuban exile on trial in New York testified that in the latter part of 1980 a ship traveled from Florida to Cuba with "a mission to carry some germs to introduce them in Cuba to be used against the Soviets and against the Cuban economy, to begin what was called chemical war, which later on produced results that were not what we had expected, because we thought that it was going to be used against the Soviet forces, and it was used against our own people, and with that we did not agree."

It's not clear from the testimony whether the Cuban man thought that the germs would somehow be able to confine their actions to only Russians, or whether he had been misled by the people behind the operation.

The full extent of American chemical and biological warfare against Cuba will never be known. Over the years, the Castro government has in fact blamed the United States for a number of other plagues which afflicted various animals and crops. And in 1977, newly released CIA documents disclosed that the Agency "maintained a clandestine anti-crop warfare research program targeted during the 1960s at a number of countries throughout the world."


The ingenuity which went into the chemical and biological warfare against Cuba was apparent in some of the dozens of plans to assassinate or humiliate Fidel Castro. Devised by the CIA or Cuban exiles, with the cooperation of American mafiosi, the plans ranged from poisoning Castro's cigars and food to a chemical designed to make his hair and beard fall off and LSD to be administered just before a public speech. There were also of course the more traditional approaches of gun and bomb, one being an attempt to drop bombs on a baseball stadium while Castro was speaking; the B-26 bomber was driven away by anti-aircraft fire before it could reach the stadium. It is a combination of such Cuban security measures, informers, incompetence, and luck which has served to keep the bearded one alive to the present day.

Attempts were also made on the lives of Castro's brother Raul and Che Guevara. The latter was the target of a bazooka fired at the United Nations building in New York in December 1964. Various Cuban exile groups have engaged in violence on a regular basis in the United States with relative impunity for decades. One of them, going by the name of Omega 7 and headquartered in Union City, New Jersey, was characterized by the FBI in 1980 as "the most dangerous terrorist organization in the United States". Attacks against Cuba itself began to lessen around the end of the 1960s, due probably to a lack of satisfying results combined with aging warriors, and exile groups turned to targets in the United States and elsewhere in the world.


The single most violent act of this period was the blowing up of a Cubana Airlines plane shortly after it took off from Barbados on 6 October 1976, which took the lives of 73 people including the entire Cuban championship fencing team. CIA documents later revealed that on 22 June, a CIA officer abroad had cabled a report to Agency headquarters that he had learned from a source that a Cuban exile group planned to bomb a Cubana airliner flying between Panama and Havana. The group's leader was a baby doctor named Orlando Bosch. After the plane crashed in the sea in October, it was Bosch's network of exiles that claimed responsibility. The cable showed that the CIA had the means to penetrate the Bosch organization, but there's no indication in any of the documents that the Agency undertook any special monitoring of Bosch and his group because of their plans, or that the CIA warned Havana.

In 1983, while Orlando Bosch sat in a Venezuelan prison charged with masterminding the plane bombing, the City Commission of Miami proclaimed a "Dr. Orlando Bosch Day."


Although there has always been the extreme lunatic fringe in the Cuban exile community (as opposed to the normal lunatic fringe) insisting that Washington has sold out their cause, over the years there has been only the occasional arrest and conviction of an exile for a terrorist attack in the United States, so occasional that the exiles can only assume that Washington's heart is not wholly in it. The exile groups and their key members are well known to the authorities, for the anti-Castroites have not excessively shied away from publicity. At least as late as the early 1980s, they were training openly in southern Florida and southern California; pictures of them flaunting their weapons appeared in the press. The CIA, with its countless contacts-cum-informers amongst the exiles, could fill in many of the missing pieces for the FBI and the police, if it wished to.


In 1961, amid much fanfare, the Kennedy administration unveiled its showpiece program the Alliance for Progress. Conceived as a direct response to Castro's Cuba, it was meant t prove that genuine social change could take place in Latin America without resort to revolution or socialism. "If the only alternatives for the people of Latin America are the status quo and communism," said John F. Kennedy, "then they will inevitably choose communism."

The multi-billion dollar Alliance program established for itself an ambitious set of goals which it hoped to achieve by the end of the decade. These had to do with economic growth, more equitable distribution of national income, reduced unemployment, agrarian reform, education, housing, health, etc. In 1970, the Twentieth Century Fund of New York-whose list of officers read like a Who's Who in the government/industry revolving door world-undertook a study to evaluate how close the Alliance had come to realizing its objectives. One of the study's conclusions was that Cuba, which was not one of the recipient countries, had come closer to some of the Alliance objectives than most Alliance members In education and public health, no country in Latin America has carried out such ambitious and nationally comprehensive programs. Cuba's centrally planned economy has done more to integrate the rural and urban sectors (through a national income distribution policy) than the market economies of the other Latin American countries.

Cuba's agrarian reform program as well was recognized as having been more widesweeping than any other Latin American country, although the study took await-and-see attitude towards its results.

These and other economic and social gains were achieved despite the US embargo of the inordinate amount of resources and labor Cuba was obliged to devote to defense of security because of the hovering giant to the north. Moreover, though not amongst the stated objectives of the Alliance, there was another area of universal importance in which stood apart from many of its Latin neighbors: there were no legions of desaparecidos, death squads, no systematic torture.

Cuba had become what Washington had always feared from the Third World-a good example.

Parallel to the military and economic belligerence, the United States has long maintained relentless propaganda offensive against Cuba. ... In addition to its vast overseas journalistic empire, the CIA has maintained anti-Castro news-article factories in the United States for decades. The Agency has reportedly subsidized at times such publications in Miami as Avan, El Mundo, El Prensa Libre, Bohemia and El Diano de Las Americas, as well as AIP, a radio news agency that produced programs sent free of charge to more than 100 small stations Latin America. Two CIA fronts in New York, Foreign Publications, Inc, and Editors Press Service, also served as part of the propaganda network.

Was it inevitable that the United States would attempt to topple the Cuban government? Could relations between the two neighboring countries have taken a different path? Based on the American record of invariable hostility towards even moderately leftist governments, the answer would appear to be that there's no reason to believe that Cuba's revolutionary government could have been an exception. Washington officials, however, were not immediately ill-disposed towards the Cuban Revolution. There were those who even expressed their tentative approval or optimism. This was evidently based on the belief that what had taken place in Cuba was little more than another Latin American change in government, the kind which had occurred with monotonous regularity for over a century, where the names and faces change but subservience to the United States remains fixed.


Then Castro revealed himself to be cut from a wholly different cloth. It was not to be business as usual in the Caribbean. He soon became outspoken in his criticism of the United States. He referred acrimoniously to the 60 years of American control of Cuba; how, at the end of those 60 years, the masses of Cubans found themselves impoverished, how the United States used the sugar quota as a threat. He spoke of the unacceptable presence of the Guantanamo base; and he made it clear enough to Washington that Cuba would pursue a policy of independence and neutralism in the cold war. It was for just such reasons that Castro and Che Guevara had forsaken the prosperous bourgeois careers awaiting them in law and medicine to lead the revolution in the first place. Serious compromise was not on their agenda; nor on Washington's, which was not prepared to live with such men and such a government. Soon, Castro and his regime were consigned to the "communist" slot, a word known to instantly cut off the flow of blood to the brain cells of the user.

A National Security Council meeting of 10 March 1959 included on its agenda the feasibility of bringing "another government to power in Cuba". This was before Castro had nationalized any US property. The following month, after meeting with Castro in Washington, Vice President Richard Nixon wrote a memo in which he stated that he was convinced that Castro was "either incredibly naive about Communism or under Communist discipline" and that the Cuban leader would have to be treated and dealt with accordingly. Nixon later wrote that his opinion at this time was a minority one within the Eisenhower administration. But before the year was over, CIA Director Allen Dulles had decided that an invasion of Cuba was necessary. In March of 1960, it was approved by President Eisenhower. Then came the embargo, leaving Castro no alternative but to turn more and more to the Soviet Union, thus confirming in the minds of Washington officials that Castro was indeed a communist. Some speculated that he had been a covert Red all along.

In this context, it's interesting to note that the Cuban Communist Party had long supported Batista, had served in his cabinet, and had been unsupportive of Castro and his followers until their accession to power appeared imminent. To add to the irony, during 1957-58 the CIA was channeling funds to Castro's movement; this while the US continued to support Batista with weapons to counter the rebels; in all likelihood, another example of the Agency hedging its bets.

If Castro had toned down his early rhetoric and observed the usual diplomatic niceties, but still pursued the policies of self-determination and socialism which he felt were best for Cuba (or inescapable if certain changes were to be realized), he could only have postponed the day of reckoning, and that not for long. Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala, Mossadegh of Iran, Cheddi Jagan of British Guiana, and other Third World leaders have gone out of their way to avoid stepping on Washington's very sensitive toes unnecessarily, and were much less radical in their programs and in their stance toward the United States than Castro nonetheless, all of them fell under the CIA axe.


Killing Hope