Newly disclosed government documents show that U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger drew up plans to "smash Cuba" with air strikes nearly 40 years ago, in response to Cuban President Fidel Castro's 1976 military intervention in Angola and the small country's pursuit of its own foreign policy in Africa.
The documents are posted online and will be published this month in Back Channel to Cuba by longtime Cuba experts William M. LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, and Peter Kornbluh, the director of the National Security Archive's Cuba Documentation Project.
They reveal that Kissinger was "extremely apoplectic" that Castro passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of potentially expanding Cuba's presence in Africa, Kornbluh told the New York Times. In late 1975, Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas—which Kissinger feared could disrupt his own plans on the African continent.
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He was so angry, in fact, that he asked a top-secret group of government officials to draw up a plan for retaliation in case Castro deployed additional forces in other African countries.
According to the Times:
The officials outlined plans to strike ports and military installations in Cuba and to send Marine battalions to the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to "clobber" the Cubans, as Mr. Kissinger put it, according to the records. Mr. Kissinger, the documents show, worried that the United States would look weak if it did not stand up to a country of just eight million people.
"I think sooner or later we are going to have to crack the Cubans," Mr. Kissinger told President [Gerald] Ford at a meeting in the Oval Office in 1976, according to a transcript.
The government officials also proposed a military blockade of Cuba’s shores, which they warned would most likely lead to a conflict with the Soviet Union, a top Cuba ally at the time.
“If we decide to use military power, it must succeed,” Mr. Kissinger reportedly said in one meeting. “There should be no halfway measures—we would get no award for using military power in moderation. If we decide on a blockade, it must be ruthless and rapid and efficient.”
The Times reports: "Some Cuba historians said the revelations were startling, particularly because they took place just as the United States was coming out of the Vietnam War."
"The military piece dumbfounds me a little bit," said Frank O. Mora, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense who now directs the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. "For Kissinger to be talking the way they were talking, you would think Cuba had invaded the whole continent."
Kissinger, who is 91, did not respond to the Times' request for comment. The planned attacks, brewed 15 years after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, were shelved when Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976.