3 November 1962 / Record of a conversation between A.I Mikoyan and Fidel Castro
Record of a conversation between First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR A.I. Mikoyan and Prime Minister of the Cuban Revolutionary Government Fidel Castro
3 November 1962
Today a two-hour conversation took place between Comrade A.I. Mikoyan and Fidel Castro, which I also attended.
The conversation took place in an intimate and amicable atmosphere. Castro was very forthright and laid out all of the issues that have been troubling the Cuban leadership.
After the two greeted each other, A.I. Mikoyan relayed greetings to Castro from the Central Committee of the CPSU and Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, and noted that the Central Committee of the CPSU highly regards Castro’s bravery and that of all of the Cuban people, which have resolutely upheld the freedom and the independence of their country. Mikoyan stated that he was personally pleased to be fulfilling the assignment of the Central Committee, since he knows Cuba and the leadership of the Cuban revolution.
Mikoyan pointed out that, unfortunately, a number of differences of opinion had arisen between the leadership of the Republic of Cuba and our own leadership. Ambassador Alekseyev provided information on these differences, as well as the speech by Castro on 1 November 1962, in which he clarified the position of the revolutionary government to the Cuban people.
The CPSU Central Committee, Mikoyan stressed, sent me to Cuba in order to discuss with our Cuban comrades all outstanding issues in all sincerity. Judging by the reception offered at the airport, the Cuban leaders feel that such a meeting is beneficial. I came here, Mikoyan continued, in order to speak with you genuinely and openly. Right now it seems to me that it would also be beneficial if you, Comrade Fidel Castro, tell me frankly what issues are bothering you. Only by speaking frankly can we ensure there will be full trust and mutual understanding. As we’ve both agreed, after this conversation, we will organize a meeting with the Secretary of the National Leadership of the ORO and speak similarly on all of the issues.
By way of response to this, F. Castro said that the Cuban leaders were happy to once again see A.I. Mikoyan in Cuba and speak with him on the challenges important to both sides. We know, F. Castro joked, that N.S. Khrushchev once said that “there is a Cuban in the CPSU Central Committee. And that Cuban is A.I. Mikoyan.” We’re able to speak with you, F. Castro continued, in absolute sincerity. We deeply trust the Soviet Union.
As far as the issues with which, as we announced to the people, there were differences, I’d like to say the following.
These issues arise, first and foremost, from psychological factors. I would like to mention that during the time when the serious threat arose, all of our people felt a huge responsibility for the fate of the country. There was a sense that the people were united in their determination to defend Cuba. All of the Cubans were prepared, with weapons in hand, to stand up to the aggressors, to give their lives defending their country. All of the people stood together in their hatred of US imperialism. During that time, we didn’t even detain anyone, since the unity of the people was stunning. This unity was the result of the powerful ideological work that we had undertaken, explaining to the people the importance of the Soviet Union helping Cuba, explaining the purity of the principles of the USSR’s policy.
We told the people about the exalted patriotic songs that we pursue, arming the country for protection against the aggressor. We said that the strategic weapon is the pledge of strength of our defense. We did not classify the weapon as defensive or offensive, since that all depends on the target against which it is used…
Speaking of psychological issues, I would like to stress that the Cuban people understood us. They understood that we received Soviet weapons, and that Cuba’s defensive capabilities grew immeasurably. So when Kennedy tried to intimidate us, the Cuban people responded very decisively, very patriotically. It’s hard to imagine the level of enthusiasm and trust in victory with which the Cubans enlisted as volunteers in the military during those days. The people felt immense strength. Knowing the true solidarity of the Soviet government and people, psychologically the Cubans felt powerful. Solidarity from the Soviet Union has taken on a tangible embodiment; it has become the banner around which the strength and courage of our people rallied together.
The people of Cuba felt a great responsibility to the Communist bloc, seeing strategic Soviet weapons on their territory. They recognize that these powerful weapons must be safeguarded in the name of the entire Communist bloc. Therefore, in spite of the fact that US aircraft were constantly violating our airspace, we opted to weaken the air defense of Havana by at the same time strengthening the air defense of the missile emplacements. Our people were proud to recognize their role as the defenders of the interests of socialist countries. Air defense forces and all of the soldiers protecting our missile emplacements were fully enthusiastic and were ready to defend them with their very lives.
The tension grew, as did the psychological strain. The entire Cuban nation was ready to defend…
And all of a sudden, the concessions…
The concessions from the Soviet Union produced a dismal mood. Our people were nor mentally prepared for this. A sense of deep disillusionment emerged, bitterness, distress. It was as if we didn’t simply lose the missiles, but the very symbol of our solidarity. At first, reports of the missile sites being dismantled and returned to the USSR came across as outright lies. You see, the Cuban people knew nothing of any agreement, had no idea that the missiles continued to belong to the Soviets. They didn’t understand the legal status of these weapons. They became adjusted to the idea that the Soviet Union had given us the weapons, and that they subsequently became our property.
And then the report from the American UPI that the “Soviet Premier gave the order to Soviet personnel to take down the missile sites and return them to the USSR.” The people couldn’t believe this. It caused tremendous confusion. The people didn’t understand the very raising of the issue of the removal of the missiles from Cuban soil if the Americans were to close down their bases in Turkey.
I said, Fidel Castro continued, that for years after the revolution we carried out sustained ideological efforts with the nation, preparing them to understand the concept of socialism, the idea of Marxism. They thought highly of the policy of the Soviet government, learning by the example of the Soviet people, for which there is heartfelt thanks for the invaluable support and assistance. But at that difficult time, our people found themselves astray, so to speak. The report that on October 28th, Khrushchev gave the order to dismantle the missile sites, that this order was given to Soviet officers, that the communication didn’t carry a single word about permission from the Cuban government, this absolutely dumbfounded the nation.
The nation was overcome with this sense of disillusionment, bewilderment, and bitterness. I took to the streets, visited military units, and saw that the people did not understand the decision.
Why was the decision made unilaterally? Why are the missiles being taken from us? Will they bring all of the weapons back? – these were the questions that were perturbing our entire nation.
Some 48 hours later, this sense of bitterness and despair had spread throughout the country. Developments were taking place quickly, one after another. On October 27th, the proposal was made to remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for shutting down the bases in Turkey. On the 28th came the order to dismantle and agree to inspections.
We were extremely concerned that the people’s morale had fallen so sharply. This also exacted a toll on their fighting spirit. On top of that, the impertinent flights of US aircraft into Cuban airspace intensified, and we were asked to not open fire on them. All of this was incredibly demoralizing. Again, the sense of disillusionment, despair, and bitterness sweeping the nation could be exploited by the counter-revolutionaries to incite anti-Soviet attitudes. Our enemies could use the opportunity to point out that the principles of law that we had so long spoken of to the people were now simply forgotten. The decision had been made with no consultations and with no coordination with our government.
Nobody wanted to believe this. Everyone thought that it was a lie.
First, the correspondence didn’t carry a single line about Cuba’s prior consent. It would seem that consent is just a formal element, but Cuba is more than just a little country with brave but insignificant people.
Our revolution is more important than the fate of our country, than the fate of even our own people. We have to protect and cherish our revolution for the whole world. It seemed to our people that the decisions made without the Cuban government’s agreement inflicted moral injury to our revolution and affected the credibility of the Latin American peoples. And yet, Fidel Castro said, we always believe in the stature of our revolution. Don’t get us wrong, the people aren’t bothered by resentment or wounded pride, but that our prestige in Latin America could be undermined. The more so, since in our country’s history there were cases of infringements on our reputation, on our sovereignty. Therefore, our nation is particularly sensitive to this. After all, after the end of the war for independence, the Americans imposed the Platt Amendment, which in any event we will fight, but that’s not the point.
In light of current events, it’s difficult for us to understand the reason for the withdrawal of the Soviet weapons. This begs the question: has this issue been thought out thoroughly and given sufficient exploration. Or was it by design from the very beginning that the missiles would be withdrawn, and we didn’t know about it.
We were not informed in advance of the Soviets’ intentions and plans. When Che Guevara traveled to Moscow, the issue was raised regarding the publication of the text of the agreement. The question remained unclear. We thought that the point was to maintain missiles in Cuba. So it was hard for us to swallow that they were being returned to the Soviet Union.
On October 27th, the missiles were in Cuba, and we felt a responsibility to the entire Communist bloc. It came across to our people that the missiles were being withdrawn from Cuba on the back of impinging on our national interests. Had the question arisen of the simultaneous shut-down of the American base in Guantanamo, our people would have understood this requirement.
It’s been very difficult, trying to explain to the nation the current situation. Had these decisions been made in a different capacity, it would have been easier. If the question had been raised for a cessation of hostilities, to secure approval for the question, we would be in a better position.
Comrade A. I. Mikoyan noted that the threat of aggression was so acute that there simply wasn’t any time for consultations.
F. Castro added that in spite of his complaints and discord, the Cuban people are true friends of the Soviet Union. Above all else, we are Marxists and Leninists! There will be no fault lines between the Soviet Union and Cuba! We believe in the fundamental policy of the government. Above all else, we are revolutionaries. Our people are prepared to fight, they are inspired by the Soviet Union’s example. We will safeguard our fellowship with the Soviet Union like a treasured possession, protect our ties of friendship and strengthen them. And so in order to protect these ties, we’ve decided to appear before the people – it was necessary to say something to lift the spirits of our nation.
I thought a great deal, Castro continued, consulted with my comrades among the seniors, and we decided to tell the people about a number of discrepancies in order to take the ground from under the feet of the counter-revolutionaries who could embark in anti-Soviet propaganda on the pretext that the challenges will be resolved without us.
Appearing before them was critical from a tactical point of view. We said that there are differences, but that we can overcome them through dialogue. Let the people not worry, we will discuss it all. We underscored the Soviet Union’s selfless assistance to Cuba, its government, its Party. We especially paid great attention in the print media to the announcement you made before departing New York. It was of paramount importance, and delivered considerable impact. It is up to the people to forget their grievance. Our task now is to completely restore the people’s trust. Our government’s position is currently good. We’ve decided that it would be useful to discuss our differences, but under no circumstances will we allow any anti-Soviet pronouncements. Our friendship with the Soviet Union is the main thing.
Next, for thirty minutes, A. I. Mikoyan clarified the issues that F. Castro had touched on, but this explanation was interrupted by the news of the passing of Mikoyan’s wife. The record of this part of the conversation will be sent together with the record of the next conversation.