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E. Amatei Akuete

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A Study of Super-power Perceptions of


 By E. Amatei Akuete, B. Sc. (Econ.) Hons. (Lond.), M. A. (JHU)


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Page Five (Bibliography)




“……While your messages are critical of the United States, they make no mention of your concern for the introduction of secret Soviet missiles into Cuba. I think your attention might well be directed to the burglar rather than those who caught the burglar.” [1] - John F. Kennedy


“The actions of the USA with regard to Cuba are outright banditry or, if you like, the folly of degenerate imperialism.”  - Nikita Khrushchev




The first quotation above is part of the late President Kennedy’s response to a letter sent to him by the late Bertrand Russell on October 24, 1962 while the second illustrates the view of the late Nikita Khrushchev on U.S. actions towards Cuba at that time. The significance of these two excerpts, besides the literary style, lies in the marked difference which they show regarding the perceptions of the two leaders towards each other’s policies and actions towards Cuba.


Since the time of the missile crisis, several questions have been raised as to how much of it was preconceived and how much can be attributed to miscalculation or improvisation by the main adversaries, then the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as their motives and assumptions.


In order to grasp the full meaning and effect of this crisis, it is necessary to understand some of the root causes of the event to facilitate analysis of the various actions that were taken by the parties. Such an exercise demands delving into the political antecedents in U.S. – Cuban relations from about 1902 to 1962 with particular reference to certain conditions and events that led to the Cuban Revolution of 1959.


Many scholarly works have been produced on the origins and course of the Revolution since that event occurred and it may not be particularly necessary to explore those details here.  Rather, in the following essay, brief references will be made to the remote causes of the Revolution, whilst those events having immediate bearing on the Crisis, the special circumstances of their occurrence, and the various measures adopted to deal with them would receive closer examination.  In that regard, particular attention would be given to the roles played by the protagonists in the conflict, the impact of their measures on the course of events and an evaluation of the conclusions that had been drawn from the event so far.


Much to the discomfort of most Americans, it became fashionable in the 1960s through the 1980s to refer to the United States as an “imperialist nation” considering its historical record in Latin America since the turn of the twentieth century and, in Africa and Asia after the end of the Second World War. 


Whatever the validity or otherwise of such a view, it is generally conceded that the end of Spanish colonization in South America by 1898 marked the beginning of United States’ dominance in that region with Cuba as its first base. And, from 1898 to perhaps 1959 when U.S. influence in Cuba declined, it can be said that the history of Cuba was one of a series of political upheavals and grave disappointments with U.S.-backed corrupt dictatorships which ultimately led to the Revolution of 1959.


As pointed out earlier, several interpretations reflecting different biases had been given to the causes, both remote and immediate, of that Revolution.  However, it is important to note one very important event in U.S.-Cuban relations by the passage of the Platt Amendment of 1902. By the provisions of the Act, the U.S. was given the right to intervene in Cuban affairs whenever it thought fit “for the preservation of Cuban independence and the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.”[2]  By any stretch of the imagination, this right seriously curtailed the exercise of Cuban sovereignty as an independent republic.


It may also be recalled that under the terms of the Treaty of Relations (based on the Platt Amendment) signed in Havana on May 22, 1903 between Cuba and the U.S., Cuba was required to grant the U.S. “the opportunity to lease or buy naval sites in specified areas… and not to negotiate agreements which would impair its independence or enable a foreign power to control any portion of the island.”[3]

The powers that the provisions of the two Acts conferred on the U.S. in its relations with Cuba proved offensive to Cuban nationalism and there were several protestations against the U.S. It is also instructive to note that the late Philip Bonsal, a distinguished career diplomat and the last U.S. Ambassador to Cuba had cause to describe U.S. policy on Cuba in the early 1900s as “a policy of irksome interference.”[4] Despite Cuban protestations, there was no relaxation of United States dominance in Cuban affairs and by 1934 when the Platt Amendment was repealed, Cuba had experienced no less than three U.S. military interventions – in 1906, 1912 and 1916.


With the abrogation of the Platt Amendment in 1934, the United States adopted the ‘Good Neighbor’ Policy which, among other things, stimulated not only U.S. exports to Cuba, but also American investment in the island.  The period between 1934 and 1956 saw several groups of Cuban politicians who came to power on promises of social and economic reforms only to turn into diehard dictators, corrupt and incompetent public officials invariably supported by influential American business interests.  By 1956, the Cuban economy was almost wholly controlled by the United States in that American companies controlled “80 percent of Cuba’s utilities, 90 percent of its mines and cattle ranches, nearly all its oil, and 40 percent of Cuba’s sugar.”[5]

No one would doubt that the tremendous American involvement in the Cuban economy bestowed some benefits on the Cuban people.  However, as Bonsal rightly pointed out, the impact of American economic activities in Cuba “was irritating, stifling, and frustrating to the rising sense of Cuban nationalism.”[6]  In addition to those nagging problems, it can be said that the United States did not endear itself to the broad mass of the Cuban people by its support of the oppressive regime of Batista during this period.


It has been suggested by some writers (including Theodore Draper in “Castro’s Revolution”, (Praeger, New York, 1962) that contrary to most Cuban accounts and Castro’s own views, the causes of the revolution were not primarily economic.  It seems that Stillman and Pfaff, although not to the same extent as Draper, also question the validity of what they call “the conventional economic, ultimately Marxist, notions of the motivation of revolution.” [7]  This is because “living standards in Cuba, even in the Batista era, were well in the vanguard of the Caribbean and of Latin America as a whole.”



 2. Bonsal, Philip W., Cuba, Castro, and the United States (Foreign Affairs; January 1967, p.262)
3. Leopold, Richard W., The Growth of American Foreign Policy (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1967, p.199)
4 Bonsal, Philip W., op.cit, p.262

5. Spanier, John W., American Foreign Policy Since World War II (Praeger, New York, 1968, p.174)
6. Bonsal, Philip W., op cit., p.265
7. Stillman, Edmund & Pfaff, William, Power and Impotence: The Failure of America’s Foreign Policy (Vintage Bk., 1966, p118)



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