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Digital Archive International History Declassified

December 11, 1962

DOCUMENTS CONCERNING CONVERSATIONS IN MOSCOW BETWEEN CUBAN COMMUNIST OFFICIAL CARLOS RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ AND SOVIET LEADER NIKITA KHRUSHCHEV

This document was made possible with support from the Leon Levy Foundation

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    The report of a conversation in Moscow between Cuban Communist Official Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev, discussing Soviet-Cuban relations and public announcements of support.
    "Documents Concerning Conversations in Moscow between Cuban Communist Official Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev," December 11, 1962, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Provided by the Cuban Government for the October 2002 Havana conference (“La Crisis de Octubre: Una vision politica 40 años despues”) organized by the National Security Archive. Translated by Chris Dunlap. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/115171
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Memorandum from Carlos Rafael Rodriguez to Commander Raúl Castro, re: Sending of Documents

Dear comrade:

I am sending now to the members of the Secretariat the report of the conversation with comrade Nikita S. Khrushchev in Moscow, as well as that of the meal we had with him and other leaders of the Soviet Government.

Subsequently, I will send you the report on the result of the negotiations. Later, information on some political aspects of the trip that I believe are of great interest to us.

Fraternal regards,

REPORT ON THE CONVERSATION OF COMRADE CARLOS RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ WITH COMRADE NIKITA KHRUSHCHEV WITH THE PRESENCE OF COMRADE ANASTAS MIKOYAN, 11 DECEMBER 1962

Upon arrival, comrade Carlos Rafael Rodríguez was received by comrades Khrushchev and Mikoyan. The press, television and film crews were there, took various photos, some of which have already appeared in Pravda and Izvestia.

Once photographers left, we were alone with the translator Vladimir Titmienev.

Comrade Khrushchev asked: Well, is the shock over now?

Carlos Rafael Rodríguez answered: The shock is not completely done. Among other things, the UN situation persists and that has meant that the differences between us are repeating themselves to various extents. We all want this matter to be settled, the moment of declarations to pass, and to begin the possibility of working anew toward agreement. We have made an effort to have the smallest possible discrepancies in our declarations before the Security Council, but evidently, some public disagreements will inevitably continue.

Khrushchev explained that “the President” had problems and that he had asked the Republicans to help him work around their demands, with the objective of being able to fulfill all their commitments to the USSR.

On the other hand, we must take into account that Kennedy does not really wish to keep these commitments. He is an enemy. Under these conditions, the Soviet Union is helping to shape the development of events in the desired direction, that is, forcing the imperialists to accept a public commitment with respect to Cuba.

Khrushchev said, “We also have felt much bitterness.” He continued: “We have never stated that the missiles would serve to convert Cuba to a military installation against imperialism. Only the foolish could argue that we placed the missiles there with the purpose of keeping them in that location. We think that we have gained a victory for Cuba and for the Soviet Union, and that the objectives that we sought in bringing the missiles there have been achieved. The imperialists have been claiming victory and the American press has made many arguments along these lines. We have not wished to answer them, though they have used even the press organs closest to Kennedy. Why not? Because if we were to use brusque arguments to answer them, if we were to show that we had won a victory and boasted too much about it, those arguments would work against Kennedy and not allow him to develop his policies, making him feel obligated to threaten Cuba again.

But what is fundamental is this: We have achieved our bottom line. Let us ask ourselves: Why did they not attack Cuba? The only answer is: because of the missiles. We were certain that the attack would come, and because of that we decided to place our missiles there. We accomplished our objective. However, we must not get excited. It is necessary to show a “sense of moderation.”

Cuba is in a different situation. Cuba can shout more. However, speaking frankly, we do not think it is necessary to egg on the enemies, who are strong.

We have become bitter about the fact that after having made an extraordinary effort by situating the missiles in Cuba, the effort that brought us to move men, weapons, risk war and spend enormous sums of money, when we believed we had arrived at the end victorious, suddenly your rude criticism of us crops up. And afterwards, we have seen how your attitudes get in the way of solving problems, not only in Cuba but elsewhere. (This version is not literal, but rather more free in interpretation; the word “estorban” was that used by Comrade Khrushchev.)

I must admit to you that we have not moved beyond this shock either. When Fidel declared that he was opposed to moderation, we asked ourselves: “What the hell pushed us to send the missiles to Cuba? Why have we done this, risking so many things?” And always, we have had to answer: We did it thinking of Cuba, we have thought principally of Cuba, and they now answer us in this way.

[One paragraph excised]

If we speak of blasphemy, we are in better conditions to do so; we have 45 years of experience in speaking blasphemies to the imperialists, and if this were all that we had to do, it would be very easy.

“We are convinced that if we had not placed missiles in Cuba, Cuba would already have been crushed.” (Literal) Kennedy had launched this attack before the elections. In his interview with Adschuvey [Adzhubei[1]], he made an ominous comparison between Cuba and Hungary. He told him: “We have not finished our work in Cuba. We failed there. Khrushchev resolved his problems in Hungary in three days.” It was a grim announcement. Because of this, we decided to place the missiles to frighten the imperialists.

Of course you are proud, for you can “die like heroes,” you are prepared to do it, but that does not resolve our problems. I asked [Soviet Defense Minister Rodion] Malinovski, who knows all that you have in Cuba, how much time it would take him with forces like those of the United States to occupy Cuba, and he answered three days. I am completely in agreement with Malinovski’s judgment. The Americans’ war capabilities are extremely powerful. We could, for example, bombard the territory of Cuba from a distance, without reaching [its] airspace. We must think about this. The people do not want to die; they want to live. We cannot give them a program to die.

Mikoyan reminded me of the lyrics of a song from the [Russian] civil war (Mikoyan says that actually it was Khrushchev that remembered this song) in which we too talked about dying heroically, but that is good for songs.

We have ordered the Soviet troops to die alongside the Cubans. You can be certain that they would.

In making our decisions, we have thought this action would be beneficial to Cuba, but it did not seem this way to you. You walked out in order to bring up our differences.

There is another way to solve this problem, through nuclear strikes, but we will only do this when there is no other way out. For then, we are not talking about a war game, but a terrible nuclear war, with enormous losses for humanity. [2 lines excised]

Cuba is not a convenient weapons station. Its small size and geographic conditions do not let it become such a thing.

You have Spanish blood – you are proud, you speak of principles. Maybe you think that we Russians have a different temperament, and maybe you do not appreciate this about us, but we too are proud. Khrushchev then reminded us that Lenin in 1905 tried for a revolution, failed, and was required to emigrate. He said then Lenin was neither scared nor desperate, that he carefully prepared the revolution, organized the Party, assembled the revolutionary forces, and in the decisive moment initiated combat. This is what must be done; this is Marxism-Leninism: measure the forces of the enemy, know how to distinguish the appropriate forces, and only then fight. [1 line excised]

He then explained that previously the United States did not accept the presence of forces of socialism in the Americas. They talked about the Monroe Doctrine, etc. Now they have left that aside, and have accepted Cuba’s survival, including public guarantees of non-invasion. This is a decisive shift. They have yielded guarantees, besides, from other States not to invade.

“This skirmish has been the most interesting in all of history between imperialism and socialism, and it is imperialism that has retreated.” (Literal)

We have retreated tactically, but they have withdrawn in essence. I repeat: We have not retreated on any front, we are not in any way on the defensive; I insist, not anywhere, even in Cuba. Everywhere, we are on the offensive. (Mikoyan said some words corroborating this statement.)

But the Cubans did not understand us, and they began to attack us in their press, using the words of the Albanians and the Chinese. If you are in favor of this position, please tell us so, and we promise you that we can shout more than the Albanians and the Chinese.

We have sent men, weapons, and spent hundreds of millions of rubles on this war. In transport alone, we have spent 20 million dollars, since we had to concentrate our whole fleet on this operation and rent capitalist vessels for the shipment of our merchandise to other countries. [1 line and a couple words excised] Now there is the promise not to attack Cuba, now Cuba exists. Cuba will be a catalyst for the revolution in Latin America. We have dedicated all of our efforts to saving Cuba, so that it may serve as an example to the region, and all the efforts and expenditures will be justified, in our judgment, since Cuba exists [as a revolutionary country].

“We saw it all when we transported the missiles – we knew that they would put us on the brink of war and that we could collapse into war itself.” (Literal) When the decision reached the diplomatic core, we had more problems with you than with Kennedy. Mikoyan barely left Cuba alive (laughing). I’ve told Mikoyan that only he would be able to complete that mission, that no other member of the Presidium could carry it out.

I have told him that if I had gone to Cuba, in spite of how much I love and respect Fidel, perhaps we would have fought and I would have exited long before Mikoyan did. “We are satisfied, however, having achieved the principal goal.” (Literal)

Now we have a situation in which imperialism is not on the rise anywhere, nowhere, even in Cuba. Underline: nowhere. [approximately 2 pages excised]

However, time has now passed. At the beginning, we were quite upset, but when Mikoyan arrived, he softened us up. I don’t know what you did to him there, what kind of treatment you gave him. I have told him “You have become a Cuban agent, they will have to interrogate you.” (Mikoyan clarified that nothing similar has been said to him.)

“We are very pleased about Cuba, and at the same time, we are upset. We are very proud of you.” (Literal)

We share your ideas, we support them, but at the time it was necessary to do things more sensibly. You have behaved something like fighting roosters. We know that for you things have been difficult, but for the United States they have not been easy. Later we will know how many pairs of underwear have been changed during this crisis.

We think that the non-aggression against Cuba is assured for six years. We know that Kennedy has two years left, and we are sure that he is a manipulator and will win a second term, which will give us four more years. Six years is a good period. In these years, the correlation of forces will be favorable to us. It may be that Brazil and other countries enter the revolution.

We feel that it has been hard to resolve these things with you, the bearded ones, but things have been settled.

Khrushchev burst out laughing, and said: “Well, I am tired, and I have vented to you now, comrades.”

When comrade Khrushchev finished speaking, an hour and a half had passed. I asked him if he had time to listen to me, because I had to talk about many topics. He told me that he did. I told him then that before getting deep into the matter I wished to “clear up” some problems about which I believed they had certain erroneous interpretations. Jokingly, he replied, “You think you’re going to talk and everything will be clarified?” I said to him: I don’t expect that. I only mean to put forward a few things about which I am profoundly convinced, and that I hope they will also be convincing [to him].

I then began to tell him that I thought they had the impression that the Cuban people and leadership underestimated their Soviet counterparts, that we believed them to be a people susceptible to weakening in the face of danger, while we thought Cuba and its leaders capable of all types of heroism. I argued that this was an erroneous opinion, that the Cuban people knew the history of the Russian people and the history of the Soviet Revolution, that we had a deep appreciation for all the Russian people had done and for all the work of the Soviet Revolution; we well knew the admirable heroism of the Russians and Soviets during the Second World War and, on our part, a great admiration existed for all their actions and heroism. Certainly, we Cubans were proud, as he said, but our pride in the bravery of our people, and in their revolutionary position, we did not regard relative to other countries, but only with respect to our own national attitude.

He added that comrade Mikoyan had been able to confirm this admiration and affection by the Cuban people for the Soviet people, because in spite of the crisis, and notwithstanding the bitterness of the Cubans, he found everywhere the affection to which I had referred. (Mikoyan interrupted to say this was true and to tell short anecdotes of his travels with Raúl and Fidel, the messages at the Santiago Airport, the reception by the university students and other similar things.)

I told him that, secondly, I wanted to make perfectly clear that in the attitude of Cuba during this crisis, not a trace of the Chinese position could be found, nor did Cuban positions derive from Chinese ones. I expressed that they knew well, and I did not wish to hide it from them, that among our leaders there were some who sympathized in concrete ways with some of the positions of our Chinese comrades, but I wished to explain how, in this crisis, even the comrades that felt more sympathy toward some Chinese positions found the attitude of the Chinese government erroneous, and that the solidarity they had expressed was too late and not sufficiently enthusiastic.

I stated, thirdly, that I wished to pause to discuss some statements by comrade Khrushchev which had given off the impression that he had attributed to comrade Fidel a position prepared to provoke a war, discounting the importance of nuclear devastation, and that comrade Khrushchev insisted upon interpreting Fidel’s letter from the 27th [of October 1962] as a proposition that the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear war. I told him these ideas were false and one of the things that most irritated Fidel during the crisis had been the letter from Khrushchev in which he insinuated these opinions. I had carefully read Fidel’s letter, and in it many things had been made clear in the sense of warning of the imminence of the attack on Cuba, expressing the Cuban disposition to resist until the end. At the same time, it advised him, once the attack against Cuba was done, not to vacillate on deploying [i.e., using—ed.] atomic weapons, since the attack on Cuba would be apparently followed by atomic aggression against the Soviet Union and socialist countries should not allow an imperialist force to destroy, for the second time, all that their peoples had created.

I expressed categorically that it was unfair and completely false to present Fidel and the Cuban leadership as having an attitude supporting war at any cost against imperialism. I told them, instead, the way in which Fidel had personally conducted events and had given orders to impede incidents, even at the cost of our pride, as they said, of our own love and even our military needs; they had tolerated situations (that I described) that other leaders would have found difficult to withstand, all to block a conflict that could degenerate into a war of universal proportions. I explained the firm but cautious position of Fidel in the whole process of relations with the United States.

I then told him that I wished to get more deeply into the matter. I set out with all possible clarity our points of view, although with a little more care in expression, than I had done in the Havana conversation with comrade Mikoyan, warning Khrushchev that they were points unanimously shared by all comrades in the leadership.

I said that I wanted to speak starting from the great respect that I had always possessed toward the Soviet Party and the Soviet Union, and asked that my words not be misinterpreted, but that I understood that a serious error had occurred in the process. The fundamental error had consisted in not treating us as a Party, and furthermore, not even as a State to which things should be explained. If they had developed a strategy that imagined the withdrawal of the missiles at a given moment, this strategy had to be discussed carefully with us. Things had not been this way, and we had all held an interpretation of the presence of the missiles that, evidently, did not correspond to the intentions of the Soviet government.

I explained that for Fidel, the acceptance of the missiles was not grounded in the needs of Cuba but in the consideration that installing the missiles meant the Soviet Union was devising a global strategy, and the presence of the missiles would be beneficial for the socialist area. (At this time, Khrushchev spoke to Mikoyan as if surprised by what he was hearing.) When we accepted the missiles, we had also accepted the danger of atomic destruction, in the same way that they had risked atomic warfare by placing the missiles [in Cuba], but that we had done so thinking it was best for the socialist world, even though at its extreme ends, if things led to war, Cuba would practically disappear from the map.

I told him as well that the comrades that had led the first discussions were convinced that the missiles had come there to stay, as part of a global strategy. His [Khrushchev’s] interviews with Che [Guevara] and [Emilio] Aragonés [when they visited the Soviet Union in late August/early September 1962] had left some comrades with this impression, and that he had even said things more or less along the lines of “the Yankees will scream, but they will have to put up with the missiles.” The reference to the sending of the Baltic Fleet and other related things had confirmed our opinions and therefore, when we learned of the offer to withdraw the missiles, and after his decision to remove them, we were overwhelmed by the surprise and disoriented by the choice they made. We understood that there was sufficient time to discuss the matter with us and, besides, the way in which the problem had been brought up left us in a harmful situation that has threatened the influence and prestige of the Cuban Revolution and the sovereign character of our country, obligating us to make a public expression of our differences, things that for Fidel and all others have been a bitter decision. As a result of this way of leading the process, Cuba has had to adopt a position that clashed with the commitment from the USSR.

Once these two initial positions had been adopted, each had its logical development. The development of each made convergence of our positions practically impossible, which brought us to maintain different positions until the last possible moment in the UN, in spite of all the efforts that we were making to reduce these divergences to a minimum. In our leadership there had been an overwhelming desire that the process unfold at the UN so that we did not remain in this dead-end alley, to which we had been driven by the way the crisis was managed.

Khrushchev answered as follows: “If we are going to return once more to the problem of the missiles, I should say that I do not understand the Cuban interpretations. It is absurd to think that we placed the missiles to defend the socialist world. The missiles were placed for Cuba and thinking only about Cuba. We have intercontinental missiles, capable of striking severe blows against the United States and all countries allied with them – why would we need Cuba as a missile base?” He then focused on explaining the incapability of Cuba serving as a weapons storehouse, due to its narrowness, the vulnerability of the missile sites, the fact that the open emplacements could have been destroyed or rendered ineffective by bombs exploding many kilometers away from its coasts, but with waves able to destabilize the sites. He expressed his irritation with the Soviet generals, and even spoke about Marshal [Sergei] Briusov [sic; Biryuzov] in a way that I did not understand clearly and that I refused to confirm because it did not seem opportune to me (I am referring to the Chief of Soviet Missile Forces.)

Then he explained what we already know about the way to emplace the missiles, about the security from palm forests where the missiles would not be seen, about the lack of attention to Khrushchev’s order to locate them in horizontal positions during the day, etc. etc. I made a small intervention, insisting on what had been said about our interpretation of their propositions and he said: I cannot understand the reason behind these interpretations. [3-4 lines excised]

(He then told us what Mikoyan had said about what Khrushchev brought up upon returning from Bulgaria [after his visit from 14-20 May 1962—ed.].) In my conversations with Raúl, I started from the idea that no declaration would be sufficient to contain the Americans, so we decided that the missile forces could provoke a shock, though their placement would be very dangerous, yet we decided to send them because we were convinced that the result would be that the Yankees would have to reconcile themselves to the Revolution and accept it as a done deal.” Then he said this: “Probably we will too share the blame for not having made the plan clear, though what is certain is that we spoke. The fault is ours for having spoken badly, but in spite of all the serious dangers that have threatened us, we can all be happy today, because Cuba exists, the Revolution exists, and the red flag flies. Today you criticize us harshly, but someday you will understand us.[”]

We were convinced that Kennedy had a complex, having failed in the previous invasion, and therefore felt a necessity to raise his prestige by attacking Cuba, and had the forces to do it. His references to Hungary, comparing it to the case of Cuba, were statements of this sort of inferiority. The imperialists have tried to “appeal” to our conscience so that we understand their actions, starting from what they understand us to have done in the Hungarian case. Kennedy insisted that Cuba is to them what Hungary is to us.

Only the missiles could contain the United States, only the fear. We expected the aggression before the American elections on November 6, so we began the transport of weapons and incurred great costs in currency to rush the date of arrival. But things were done poorly, and the agents of the Federal Republic of Germany were the first to discover them. They were surprised. Their reports said that the way in which the Soviets were acting gave the idea that they wanted to impress, that they wanted Western powers to know that they had the missiles in Cuba.

[almost 3 pages redacted]

My idea came from there. I did everything in the interest of Cuba. It cost three times as much to install the missiles there as to add a device of the same power among the intercontinental missiles installed at Soviet bases. Apparently, our ideas were not clear from the beginning.

Regarding the military agreement, this is a problem that has concerned us. What should we do? How do we leave things in a way that Cuba remains fully protected with some assurance that it will continue in the same manner? He added that tomorrow, I would have the opportunity to hear a report [to the USSR Supreme Soviet] that would contain a strong declaration on Cuba, in that if the Americans did not fulfill their promises, neither would the Soviet Union, and the USSR would feel free to act in whatever manner necessary. He also explained that the report would link the problem of Cuba to the beginning of a war.

Then comrade Khrushchev said he must confess that we Cubans had scared them. He laughed, and said: “We find it difficult to sign treaties with you, because you don’t leave space to maneuver.” You have scared us a great deal, apparently, as relations are worse now. [2 lines redacted] We’ll think, and give a satisfactory solution. We must think, and have some amount of control. I don’t have the formula right now. We’ll keep thinking about this and return to the discussion. (At this time, I tell him that in the conversations between Fidel and Mikoyan an idea has come about, the possibility of transforming the content of the military pact so that Soviet soldiers presently in Cuba remain as specialists, similar to those who stayed and worked in Indonesia, exactly as he talked about them in the conversation with us. These specialists would stay in Cuba, showing Cubans how to operate weapons, and leave the country as soon as our troops were prepared to use all kinds of armaments. We had to find the proper balance through which our people and others of the world, as well as the imperialists, would come to know that Cuba would have the level of military readiness necessary to contain aggression.

Khrushchev said verbatim: “This is not a problem. However, I don’t think it would be sufficient. Something else must be considered, although tomorrow in my report I will talk about the same thing in a way that I hope you will find satisfactory.” (It would be good if we continued thinking about and discussing this matter.)

Khrushchev said: Tomorrow I will say that if Kennedy does not come through, we will feel unconstrained. Besides, I’ll state that we will never stop supporting Cuba and that we will stand by our duties toward Cuba.

[several lines excised] Mikoyan left at this time, 7:15 in the evening, for an interview with the Yugoslavians, as Khrushchev joked that he would look after the revisionists. I said that it was already too late [3/4 page excised].

He stood up and said, laughing, “I’ll do this: Tomorrow, on television, I’ll say that we have spoken, that you have told us your needs, and that we still have differences around this problem…(I then interrupted him and said) “but, as you are a Marxist-Leninist, you will help us.” Then Khrushchev said, “Yes, I will also establish publicly that we have differences.”

I began to excuse myself, and Khrushchev said to me, “No, we are going in the same direction, so come with me. Put on your coat and we’ll leave together.”

Leaving the place where we had put our coats, the news that we were heading out with Khrushchev caused a firestorm, since on principle, people did not understand what it meant. Then we left together. Khrushchev asked the driver to go to some other places to show me the other new things that were along the way, and finally we arrived at the home.

I climbed out of the car, and we said goodbye, but the car had to drive around the residence to be able to get out. Two or three comrades came to the door, and Khrushchev greeted them at a distance then stepped out of the car. We invited him to enter and he accepted with great enthusiasm. He came in, we had some time together telling stories and joking, and soon after he left for his own house.

The meal with Khrushchev

The day of the session of the Supreme Soviet, a little before they began, comrade Mikoyan told me that Khrushchev had invited me to dine with them, and that I should choose the comrades who would accompany me. I decided that my guests would be all the official delegates, and they were officially invited during the session.

When the session ended, Tito left immediately, and Khrushchev directed me to sit down and take tea. For some time, they commented on the Congresses of Prague and Italy. [CPSU politburo member Frol] Koslov [Kozlov] said he had seen [Cuban Communist Party leader] Blas [Roca], who had spoken with him, and that [Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro] Togliatti’s report was very good, the position of [Italian Communist Giancarlo] Pajett [Pajetta] and other comrades had completely changed, and their speeches had been very enthusiastic.

Brezhnev then said that Blas had not been able to go to Czechoslovakia, but that [Cuban foreign minister Raúl] Roa had vetted his speech with him by telephone from Geneva. He never gave his opinion on the speech, but said there had been 69 [national communist] Parties, that all but four had condemned the Chinese position. I felt somehow implicated in this statement but did not think it necessary to say anything in response.

After this, we went toward the official residences. Khrushchev drove me in his car. Mikoyan went with [Cuban foreign trade minister Alberto] Mora, etc. Upon our arrival, Mora told us that he needed to send off his mother at the airport and, as he had not known about the dinner beforehand, he would need to leave. I explained the matter to Khrushchev. He said that of course it was necessary for him to go to see his mother off, but he wanted him to have a drink with us first.

[1] Ed. note: Alexei I. Adzhubei, the editor of Izvestia and Khrushchev’s son-in-law, interviewed Kennedy at his home in Hyannis Port in November 1961, a conversation that was subsequently published, but the reference here is to his private talk with JFK in Washington in January 1962. In his report on this conversation, the translation of which appears in this issue of the CWIHP Bulletin, Adzhubei quoted Kennedy as saying, after slamming his fist on his desk: “Once I summoned [CIA director] Allen Dulles and rebuked him. I said to him: ‘Learn from the Russians. When they had a tough situation in Hungary, they put an end to the conflict in just three days. When they didn’t like the events in Finland, the president of that country went to meet with the Soviet premier in Siberia, and everything was worked out. And you, Dulles, couldn’t do a thing.’”

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