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Back Channel to Cuba

Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana

William M. LeoGrande
Peter Kornbluh
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Back Channel to Cuba
    Book Description:

    Challenging the conventional wisdom of perpetual hostility between the United States and Cuba--beyond invasions, covert operations, assassination plots using poison pens and exploding seashells, and a grinding economic embargo--this fascinating book chronicles a surprising, untold history of bilateral efforts toward rapprochement and reconciliation. Since 1959, conflict and aggression have dominated the story of U.S.-Cuban relations. Now, William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh present a new and increasingly more relevant account. From John F. Kennedy's offering of an olive branch to Fidel Castro after the missile crisis, to Henry Kissinger's top secret quest for normalization, to Barack Obama's promise of a "new approach," LeoGrande and Kornbluh reveal a fifty-year record of dialogue and negotiations, both open and furtive, indicating a path toward better relations in the future.LeoGrande and Kornbluh have uncovered hundreds of formerly secret U.S. documents and conducted interviews with dozens of negotiators, intermediaries, and policy makers, including Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter. The authors describe how, despite the political clamor surrounding any hint of better relations with Havana, serious negotiations have been conducted by every presidential administration since Eisenhower's through secret, back-channel diplomacy. Concluding with ten lessons for U.S. negotiators, the book offers an important perspective on current political debates, at a time when leaders of both nations have publicly declared the urgency of moving beyond the legacy of hostility.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1765-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-5)

    In early April of 1963, during talks in Havana over the release of Americans being held in Cuban jails as spies, Fidel Castro first broached his interest in improving relations with the United States. “If any relations were to commence between the U.S. and Cuba,” Castro asked U.S. negotiator James Donovan, “how would it come about and what would be involved?”¹

    Sent to Cuba in the fall of 1962 by President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert to undertake the first real negotiations with Cuba’s revolutionary regime, Donovan had secured the freedom of more than one thousand members of...

  6. 1. EISENHOWER Patience and Forbearance
    (pp. 6-41)

    Fidel Castro, in his olive green fatigues, and Acting Secretary of State Christian A. Herter, in his three-piece suit and bow tie, made an incongruous couple. Castro, on his first trip to the United States since the triumph of the revolution, met Herter for lunch in the Pan-American Room of Washington’s luxurious Statler Hilton Hotel on April 16, 1959. Sitting in front of a large primitive art mural of a Latin American peasant tilling the soil, they engaged in animated conversation. When Castro pulled out a cigar, Herter lit it for him.¹

    Fidel’s mood was buoyant. Just four months earlier,...

  7. 2. KENNEDY The Secret Search for Accommodation
    (pp. 42-78)

    On November 22, 1963, the French journalist Jean Daniel was in Cuba to transmit a message of potential reconciliation from President John F. Kennedy to Fidel Castro—“a gesture,” as Castro would describe it years later, “an indication of a desire to establish contact … to establish a certain kind of communication.”¹ At a government protocol house in Varadero Beach, local fishermen had brought a big, fresh fish for lunch as “a homage to Fidel,” Daniel recalled. In the middle of the meal, as he and Castro were discussing Kennedy’s secret “feeler” about the possibility of better relations, the phone...

  8. 3. JOHNSON Castro Reaches Out
    (pp. 79-118)

    Just seventy-two hours after the death of President Kennedy, White House aide Gordon Chase typed out a top secret briefing paper on the opportunity that had been destroyed by an assassin’s bullet. “President Kennedy could have accommodated with Castro and gotten away with it with a minimum of domestic heat,” he wrote. Unlike Kennedy, however, Lyndon Johnson had “no background of being successfully nasty to Castro [during the missile crisis], and would probably run a greater risk of being accused, by the American people, of ‘going soft’” on communism. In addition, Chase pointed out, the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald...

  9. 4. NIXON AND FORD Kissinger’s Caribbean Détente
    (pp. 119-154)

    At 2:32 p.m., on April 24, 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger took a phone call from Frank Mankiewicz, a longtime Democratic Party operative. “That trip I told you about is now on … to the Caribbean,” Mankiewicz said as Kissinger’s secret taping system recorded his cryptic remarks. “I told you I might be doing a television interview with …” Kissinger immediately understood: “Yes, yes, I know exactly—of course. Good. Then I want to see you…. I must see you before you do that.”¹ Nine weeks later, when Mankiewicz and two colleagues, Saul Landau and Kirby Jones, traveled to...

  10. 5. CARTER Close, but No Cigar
    (pp. 155-224)

    “I have concluded that we should attempt to achieve normalization of our relations with Cuba,” President Jimmy Carter ordered in Presidential Directive NSC-6, just weeks after his inauguration. “To this end, we should begin direct and confidential talks in a measured and careful fashion with representatives of the Government of Cuba.”¹ No president before or since has made as determined an effort to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations. Carter’s personal belief in civil relations with friend and foe alike, Cuba’s reduced support for Latin American revolutions, and détente between the superpowers all led Carter toward normalization. “I felt then, as I do...

  11. 6. REAGAN AND BUSH Diplomatic Necessity
    (pp. 225-267)

    “You just give me the word,” Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig told President Ronald Reagan, “and I’ll turn that fucking island into a parking lot.”¹ In March 1981, just a few weeks after inauguration, Reagan’s National Security Council began debating how to respond to the escalating civil war in El Salvador. Haig advocated “going to the source,” telling his stunned colleagues they would have to invade Cuba and put an end to the Castro regime. The president seemed tempted, but to Haig’s chagrin, no one else was eager to begin the new administration with a foreign war.²

    Ronald Reagan...

  12. 7. CLINTON From Calibrated Response to Parallel Positive Steps
    (pp. 268-344)

    In late August 1994, the Nobel Prize–winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez traveled to Martha’s Vineyard for a private dinner with President Bill Clinton. “Gabo wanted to come and talk to Clinton about Cuba,” recalled Rose Styron who, along with her famous husband, William, hosted the evening at their rambling island home.¹ But neither the Styrons nor the majority of the other luminaries at the dinner table—Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes and former deputy assistant secretary of state William Luers among them—knew that García Márquez was there as a secret emissary between Havana and Washington. While the guests gathered...

  13. 8. GEORGE W. BUSH Turning Back the Clock
    (pp. 345-367)

    In June 2003, the director of the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, retired general Jay Garner, met with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office to report on progress. At the close of the upbeat meeting, Bush asked, “Hey Jay, you want to do Iran?”

    “Sir, the boys and I talked about that and we want to hold out for Cuba.” Garner replied. “We think the rum and the cigars are a little better…. The women are prettier.”

    “You got it,” Bush laughed. “You got Cuba.”¹

    They were joking, of course, but just a few days later, Bush drew...

  14. 9. OBAMA A New Beginning?
    (pp. 368-401)

    “We’ve been engaged in a failed policy with Cuba for the last 50 years, and we need to change it,” declared presidential candidate Barack Obama in August 2007, at a political rally in Miami’s Little Havana, the citadel of Cuban American conservatism. Obama promised to end restrictions on remittances and family travel for Cuban Americans, resume “people-to-people” educational and cultural exchanges, and engage Cuba in talks on issues of mutual interest. Engagement, he argued, offered the best hope for promoting “a democratic opening in Cuba,” which would be “the foremost objective of our policy.”¹

    While Obama’s opponents, Hillary Clinton and...

    (pp. 402-418)

    “Mr. President, I am Castro,” Raúl said as he reached out to shake hands with the president of the United States.

    “I know,” Barack Obama replied, smiling. Their encounter lasted just a few seconds, but it was historic—the first time since 1959 that a U.S. president met publicly with the president of Cuba. Neither government was willing to say that the handshake implied any warming of relations, but the sheer normalcy of this simple gesture was itself unusual in a relationship long fraught with tension and distrust. Its symbolism was underscored by the occasion; the two leaders met at...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 419-484)
    (pp. 485-500)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 501-524)