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Digital Archive International History Declassified

January 26, 1968

FRAGMENTS OF THE INTERVENTION OF COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF FIDEL CASTRO AT THE PLENARY SESSION OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY

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    January 25-26, 1968. F. Castro speaks of relations with the US and Kennedy, friendship with the USSR, as well as placement of missiles, security issues as the US's imperialistic nature, while extolling the virtures of socialism, Cuba, and "The Revolution." Castro also stresses that Soviet withdrawal of weapons from Cuba is a blow to the international Communist movement.
    "Fragments of the Intervention of Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro at the Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party," January 26, 1968, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Cuban documents released for the International Conference, "La Crisis de Octubre," October 2002. Translated from Spanish by the Cuban Council of State. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/110767
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MEETING OF THE
CENTRAL COMMITTEE
OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA
PALACE OF THE REVOLUTION
HAVANA
JANUARY 26, 1968
YEAR OF THE HEROIC GUERRILLA

MORNING SESSION
COMMANDER FIDEL CASTRO: In the early hours of [this] morning we stopped while on the topic of the reply sent to the Soviet Government in response to their letter attempting to find justifications in alleged alarms, and purporting insinuations of a nuclear strike in the sense that we had advised the USSR to attack the United States.
[1]


These issues were made perfectly clear in that letter. Later there was another long letter containing the same points of view, and though couched in more diplomatic terms, so to speak, answering each of the items in Khrushchev's letter one by one.
[2]


At that time, we also received Mikoyan's visit. Mikoyan's visit was also taken down....No, Mikoyan's visit was not taken down in shorthand; there were notes on Mikoyan's visit. U Thant's visit was the one that was taken down in shorthand. It is a real pity that the discussions with Mikoyan were not taken down in shorthand, because they were bitter; some of the incidents in the meeting were anecdotal.


Initially, after we explained to him our standpoints, we had him clarify what was going to happen with the IL-28 planes, and he vouched that no, the IL-28s would not leave Cuba. Then, if I remember correctly, I asked him, "But what if they demand their withdrawal, what will you do?" He answered, "then to hell with the imperialists, to hell with the imperialists!"


Then some 24, or at most 48 hours later, he arrived at the meeting--those famous meetings at the Palace of the Revolution--Mikoyan arrived bearing the sad news that the IL-28 planes would also have to be returned.
[3]


That was really unpleasant, but the situation was such that, with the missiles withdrawn, we were on the verge of another problem over the planes. It would have made sense to have had it out over the missiles, but not over the IL-28 planes--they were useful planes: it is possible that had we possessed IL-28s, the Central American bases might not have been organized, not because we would have bombed the bases, but of their fear that we might. What we were most concerned about then was avoiding a new impact on public opinion as regards a new blow, a new concession.


We recall perfectly well how we assumed the always unpleasant initiative of making a statement--at my suggestion--that would create the right atmosphere, trying to justify the action by saying that the planes were obsolete, etc. All of which was done in consideration for public opinion, to protect the people from the trauma of another blow of that nature, since we were seriously concerned--and, in our view, rightly so given those circumstances--over the pernicious effects of a chain of such blows on the confidence and the consciousness of the people. And, I repeat, given that under the circumstances we were profoundly incensed, we saw that action as a mistake, in our opinion there had been a series of mistakes, but the extent of our overall confidence, and that deposited in the Soviet Union and its policies, was still considerable.


So the planes went too. Together with the planes--and that is something that they had requested, the issue of the missiles--they requested the withdrawal of the Soviet mechanized infantry brigades stationed in Cuba. Let me add here, in case anyone is unaware of it, that at the time of the missile issue, there were over 40,000 Soviet troops stationed in Cuba. The imperialists must also have known that, but they never declared the amount, they limited themselves to speculative figures, which revealed their interest in reducing the amount, perhaps due to possible effects on public opinion.


In fact, anyone who reads Kennedy's statements, his demands, will notice that he did not include those divisions, which were not offensive or strategic weapons, or anything of the sort. We must note that the withdrawal of the mechanized brigades was a freely granted concession to top off the concession of the withdrawal of the strategic missiles.


We argued heatedly, firmly, were against this. He said that it would not be carried out immediately but gradually, and we reiterated that we were against it and insisted on our opposition. I am explaining all this for the sake of subsequent issues, so that you can understand how all this fits into the history of our relations with the Soviet Union. We flatly rejected the inspection issue. That was something we would never agree to. We told him what we thought about that gross, insolent arbitrary measure, contrary to all principles, of taking upon themselves the faculty of deciding on matters under our jurisdiction. And when it was remarked that the agreement would fall flat--an agreement that we were completely at odds with--we said that we could not care less and that there would simply be no inspection.


That gave rise to endless arguing and counter-arguing, and they actually found themselves in a very difficult situation. I think that at this point Raul made a joke that caused quite a commotion in the atmosphere of that meeting. I think it was when we were discussing expedients. Do you remember exactly? Was it the Red Cross thing?


CARLOS RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ: He went to the extreme of proposing that the international vessel be brought to Mariel, saying that because it was an international vessel it would no longer be Cuban territory, and the UN supervisors could be on board the vessel and could supervise the operation. It was then that Raul woke up and said, "Look, why don't you dress them up in sailor suits?" (LAUGHTER), referring to the international supervisors.


COMMANDER RAUL CASTRO: These people think that I said that because I had been dozing; I actually woke up at that point and came out with that, have them bring those people on their vessel, dressed up as Soviet sailors, but leaving us out of the whole mess. It is true that I was falling asleep, but I was not that far gone.


COMMANDER FIDEL CASTRO: That was it.

--------

COMMANDER FIDEL CASTRO: We had problems with the translators and there were occasions when some of the things we said were badly translated and there was even one point when poor Mikoyan got furious. It was over some phrase or other.


Anyway, those deliberations--as well as some of the others--were characterized by total and complete disagreement. Needless to say, we have the highest opinion of Mikoyan as an individual, as a person, and he was always favorably inclined toward Cuba, he was Cuba's friend, and I think he still is a friend of Cuba; I mean, he did quite a bit for us. That is why he always received from us a certain deferential treatment.


It was during those days that it gradually became evident that we were totally correct--as was, unfortunately, so often the case throughout that whole process--about the imperialists' attitude vis-a-vis the concessions. This could be seen as low-flying aircraft increased their constant and unnecessary daily flights over our bases, military facilities, airports, anti-aircraft batteries, more and more frequently; they harbored the hope, after the October [Cuban Missile] Crisis, of demoralizing the Revolution and they fell on us, hammer and tongs, with all their arsenal of propaganda and with everything that might demoralize our people and our army.


We had agreed not to shoot; we agreed to revoke the order to fire on the planes while the talks were under way; but made it clear that we did not consider those talks conclusive at all. I believe we were totally right on that; had we acted differently, we would still have their aircraft flying low over us and--as we would sometimes say--we would not even be able to play baseball here.


The demoralizing effect began to manifest itself in the fact that the anti-aircraft gunners and the crews at the air bases had begun to draw caricatures reflecting their mood and their situation, in which they depicted the planes flying above them, the Yanquis sticking their tongues out at them, and their planes and guns covered with cobwebs. And we realized once again to what extent the men who were supposed to be very experienced in struggling against the imperialists were actually totally oblivious to imperialist mentality, revolutionary mentality, our people's mentality, and the ultra-demoralizing effects of such a passive--more than passive, cowardly--attitude.


So we warned Mikoyan that we were going to open fire on the low-flying planes. We even did him that favor, since they still had the ground-to-air missiles and we were interested in preserving them. We visited some emplacements and asked that they be moved given that they were not going to shoot and we did not want them destroyed, because we were planning to open fire on the planes.


We recall those days because of the bitter decisions that had to be made.


1. Ed. note: Castro is here alluding to his exchange of correspondence with Khrushchev of 26-31 October 1962 (esp. Castro's letters of October 26 and 31 and Khrushchev's letter of October 30), first released by the Cuban government and published in the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma on 23 November 1990, and published as an appendix to James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn, and David A. Welch, Cuba On the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (New York: Pantheon, 1993, 474-91.


2. Ed. note: It is not clear what lengthy letter Castro is referring to here, or whether it has been made available to researchers: a lengthy letter reviewing the crisis and its impact on Soviet-Cuban relations, dated 31 January 1963, from Khrushchev to Castro was released at the 1992 Havana conference.


3. Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Havana on 2 November 1962. The first meeting with the Cuban leader was on November 3. By the account here, Mikoyan notified the Cubans on about November 5 or 6 that the IL-28s would be removed. Declassified contemporary documents, however, including Kennedy-Khrushchev correspondence and Castro-Mikoyan conversation minutes, suggest that Mikoyan informed Castro about Moscow's acquiescence to Kennedy's demand to remove the IL-28s only on November 12.

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