In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War

  • Introduction
  • Che Guevara

Latin American Studies The United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War
Piero Gleijeses
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0073


President Dwight Eisenhower did not hesitate to recognize the government established by Fidel Castro. On 7 January 1959, six days after Fulgencio Batista had fled Cuba, the White House extended the hand of friendship to the victorious guerrillas. Within a year, however, Eisenhower had decided that Castro must go. It was not Castro’s record on political democracy that bothered the Americans. US presidents, including Eisenhower, had maintained good relations with the worst dictators of the hemisphere—as long as they accepted US hegemony. Castro, however, would not bow to the United States. “He is clearly a strong personality and a born leader of great personal courage and conviction,” a US official noted in April 1959. “He is inspired by a messianic sense of mission to aid his people,” the CIA reported two months later (quoted in Gleijeses 2009, p. 6, cited under Overviews of Castro’s Cuba). Castro dreamed of a sweeping revolution that would uproot his country’s oppressive socioeconomic structure. He dreamed of a Cuba free of the United States, which had dominated the island since 1898, when it intervened in the Cuban–Spanish War. As relations with Washington soured, Castro turned for assistance to the Soviet Union, which responded eagerly. He transformed Cuba into a Communist bastion and sought to spread revolution in the hemisphere. The United States countered Castro’s challenge in two ways: trying to overthrow him and preventing the spread of Castroism in the hemisphere. The 1960s were years of bitter, relentless hostility between the two countries, but in the early 1970s the storm seemed to abate: Castro’s guerrilla offensive in Latin America had failed. His regime was secure at home, but he had lost, US officials believed, his crusading zeal to export revolution abroad. They were wrong. Suddenly the Cuban challenge exploded across the ocean as thirty-six thousand Cuban soldiers poured into Angola between November 1975 and April 1976 to repel a South African invasion that had been encouraged by Washington. It was the opening act of a policy that stunned the world. Twelve thousand Cuban soldiers went to Ethiopia in early 1978 to defend that country from a Somali invasion. Tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers remained in Angola until 1991. Whether as a proxy of the Soviet Union—as US officials claimed—or as an independent actor, Cuba’s actions were unprecedented in modern times. Throughout the Cold War Cuba and the United States clashed repeatedly in Latin America, where Washington was able to impose its will. But in southern Africa, Cuba changed the course of history despite Washington’s best efforts to prevent it. In the process, it repeatedly humiliated its powerful neighbor to the north. Washington has neither forgotten nor forgiven. Castro is “still a bone . . . stuck in American throats,” a former British ambassador in Havana wrote in 2002 (Coltman 2003, cited under Fidel Castro: Biographies). The Cold War is over, but the US war against Cuba continues.

Introductory Works

In 1898 Cuba broke free from Spanish rule—only to become a US protectorate. The Platt Amendment, which granted the United States the right to send troops to Cuba whenever it deemed necessary, was abrogated in 1934, but the United States dominated Cuba until 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power. The clash between the regime he installed and the United States continues to this day.

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