President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev trade verbal threats over the future of Cuba. In the following years, Cuba became a dangerous focus in the Cold War competition between the United States and Russia.
In January 1959, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew the long-time dictator Fulgencio Batista. Although the United States recognized the new Castro regime, many members of the Eisenhower administration harbored deep suspicions concerning the political orientation of the charismatic new Cuban leader. For his part, Castro was careful to avoid concretely defining his political beliefs during his first months in power.
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Castro’s actions, however, soon convinced U.S. officials that he was moving to establish a communist regime in Cuba. Castro pushed through land reform that hit hard at U.S. investors, expelled the U.S. military missions to Cuba, and, in early 1960, announced that Cuba would trade its sugar to Russia in exchange for oil. In March 1960, Eisenhower gave the CIA the go-ahead to arm and train a group of Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro regime. It was in this atmosphere that Eisenhower and Khrushchev engaged in some verbal sparring in July 1960.
Khrushchev fired the first shots during a speech in Moscow. He warned that the Soviet Union was prepared to use its missiles to protect Cuba from U.S. intervention. “One should not forget,” the Soviet leader declared, “that now the United States is no longer at an unreachable distance from the Soviet Union as it was before.” He charged that the United States was “plotting insidious and criminal steps” against Cuba.
In a statement issued to the press, Eisenhower responded to Khrushchev’s speech, warning that the United States would not countenance the “establishment of a regime dominated by international communism in the Western Hemisphere.” The Soviet Premier’s threat of retaliation demonstrated “the clear intention to establish Cuba in a role serving Soviet purposes in this hemisphere.”
The relationship between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly after the Eisenhower-Khrushchev exchange. The Castro regime accelerated its program of expropriating American-owned property. In response, the Eisenhower administration severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1960.
A little more than a year later, in April 1961, the CIA-trained force of Cuban refugees launched an assault on Cuba in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. The invaders were killed or captured, the Castro government cemented its control in Cuba, and the Soviet Union became Cuba’s main source of economic and military assistance.
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