Cuba: Kissinger planned to ‘clobber a pipsqueak’

On Oct. 1 the National Security Archive, a Washington, DC-based research organization, published declassified US government documents about secret contingency plans that the administration of former US president Gerald Ford (1974-1977) made in 1976 for a possible military attack on Cuba. Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger called for the plans in response to Cuba's decision in late 1975 to send troops to support the left-leaning government of Angola against rebels funded by South Africa and the US; he was furious that Cuba had defied the US after a round of secret negotiations he had sponsored in 1975 aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries.

In meetings at the White House in February and March 1976, Kissinger talked about "clobbering the Cubans" and the need to "smash" Cuba's leader at the time, Fidel Castro Ruz—a "pipsqueak," according to Kissinger. "I think sooner or later we have to crack the Cubans… I think we have to humiliate them," the secretary of state said. "If there is a perception overseas that we are so weakened by our internal debate [over Vietnam] so that it looks like we can't do anything about a country of eight million people, then in three or four years we are going to have a real crisis," Kissinger told Ford at another meeting. Donald Rumsfeld, who was secretary of defense under Ford as well as under former president George W. Bush (2001-2009), was involved in the planning for actions which ranged from economic sanctions to a naval blockade or even air strikes.

Security advisers warned Kissinger that "a Cuban/Soviet response [to the attacks] could escalate in areas that would maximize US casualties and thus provoke stronger response." A situation that could lead to a military strike on Cuba "should be serious enough to warrant further action in preparation for general war," they said. Kissinger and Ford were apparently willing to risk this, although they agreed that the attacks shouldn't be carried out until after the 1976 elections. The plans were shelved when Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.

Documents on Kissinger's plans to attack Cuba are available on the National Security Archive's website and are also described in a new book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana, by Peter Kornbluh, the director of the group's Chile Documentation Project, and American University professor William M. LeoGrande. (National Security Archive, Oct. 1; New York Times, Oct. 1; La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 2, from correspondent) The new information was made public just as Kissinger, now 91, was busily promoting his own latest book, World Order, in radio and television interviews and at public events. (Washington Post, Sept. 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 5.