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US Troops Occupy Cuba - History

US Troops Occupy Cuba - History

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After a revolt broke out in Cuba, the Cuban leader Tomas Estrada Palama asked the United States to intervene. U.S. forces occupied the island and organized a provisional government.

The Platt Amendment and US-Cuba Relations

The Platt Amendment set the conditions to end the United States military occupation of Cuba and was passed at the end of the Spanish-American War of 1898, which was fought over which country should oversee the governing of the island. The amendment was intended to create a path to Cuban independence while still allowing the U.S. to have an influence in its domestic and international politics. It was in effect from February 1901 until May 1934.

Why the United States Controls Guantanamo Bay

I t was six years ago, on Jan. 22, 2009, two days after he became President, that Barack Obama issued an executive order designed to “promptly close detention facilities at Guantanamo.” The closing of that prison at the U.S. naval base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay would, he said, take place no less than a year from that date.

Five years after the 2010 deadline passed &mdash and even as relations between the U.S. and Cuba begin to thaw &mdash the detention facilities remain in use. More than 100 prisoners remain there, even though that number is declining and officials have said that Obama would still like to achieve the closure before he leaves office.

But how did the U.S. end up with such a facility in Cuba in the first place?

The story of Guantanamo goes back more than a century, to the time of the Spanish-American War. And, during that time, it’s been, as it is now, a source of controversy.

Until 1898, Cuba had belonged to Spain as the Spanish empire diminished, Cubans fought for their independence. The U.S. joined in to help its neighbor and, though the Spanish-American War ended up focused mainly on the Spanish presence in the Philippines, Cuba was the site of the sinking of the USS Maine, the event that precipitated American military involvement. (Remember “Remember the Maine“? That’s this.) When the war ended, Spain gave the U.S. control of Cuba &mdash among other territories, like Puerto Rico &mdash and, about three years later, Cuba became an independent nation.

However, that independence was not without a catch: as part of the Platt Amendment, the document that governed the end of the occupation, the new Cuban government was required to lease or sell certain territory to the United States. Here’s how TIME later summarized (with numbers accurate for 1960) what happened next:

The U.S. rights in Guantanamo are clear and indisputable. By a treaty signed in 1903 and reaffirmed in 1934, the U.S. recognized Cuba’s “ultimate sovereignty” over the 45-sq.-mi. enclave in Oriente province near the island’s southeast end. In return, Cuba yielded the U.S. “complete jurisdiction and control” through a perpetual lease that can be voided only by mutual agreement.

For a low rental ($3,386.25 annually), the U.S. Navy gets its best natural harbor south of Charleston, S.C., plus 19,621 acres of land, enough for a complex of 1,400 buildings and two airfields, one of them capable of handling entire squadrons of the Navy’s hottest jets, e.g., 1,000-m.p.h. F8U Crusaders, 700-m.p.h. A4D Skyhawks. In terms of global strategy, Guantanamo has only marginal value. It served as an antisubmarine center in World War II, and could be one again. But its greatest worth is as an isolated, warm-water training base for the fleet. With an anchorage capable of handling 50 warships at once, it is the Navy’s top base for shakedown cruises and refresher training for both sailors and airmen. What Cuba gets out of the deal is 3,700 jobs for the technicians and laborers who help maintain the base, a payroll of $7,000,000 annually for hard-pressed Oriente.

When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba the 1950s, there was briefly a period during which the fate of Guantanamo seemed in question. As TIME reported in the Sept. 12, 1960, issue, Castro threatened to kick the Navy out if the U.S. continued to interfere with the Cuban economy however, he also said that he knew that, if he did so, the U.S. could take it as a pretext to attack and get rid of him. Castro would continue to bring up his displeasure at the U.S. presence in Cuba &mdash in 1964, he cut off the water supply, to which the Navy responded by building its own water and power plants &mdash but the lease stayed, as did the military families based there.

Guantanamo returned to the news in the 1990s when it got a new set of residents. In 1991, in the wake of a coup d’état in Haiti, thousands of Haitians fled by sea for the United States. In December of that year, Guantanamo Bay became the site of a refugee camp built to house those who sought asylum while the Bush administration figured out what to do with them. Throughout the years that followed, the camp became home to thousands of native Cubans, too, who had also attempted to flee to the U.S. for political asylum. In the summer of 1994 alone, TIME wrote the following May, “more than 20,000 Haitians and 30,000 Cubans were intercepted at sea and delivered to hastily erected camps in Guantanamo.” In 1999, during conflict in the Balkans (and after the Haitian and Cuban refugees had been sent home or on to the States), the U.S. agreed to put up 20,000 new refugees at Guantanamo, but that plan ended up scrapped for being too far from their European homelands.

The decision to house al-Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo was reached shortly after 9/11 &mdash and, nearly as immediately, the world began to wonder just what their status would be.

1906 Cuban Pacification Campaign

The Cuban republic was established after the 1898 Spanish-American War. In 1901 the Platt Amendment, a rider attached to the Army Appropriations Bill of 1901, stipulated the conditions for U.S. intervention in Cuba that virtually made the island an U.S. protectorate. Under the terms of this bill the United States established - and retains to this day - a naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Revolution broke out in Cuba in 1906, and a Marine expeditionary force was sent to the island to establish and maintain law and order. In mid-1906 Cuban internal strife caused the United States to invoke the Platt Amendment and send troops to the island nation in an attempt to restore order. William Howard Taft, now Secretary-of-War, sent his Philippine Insurrection veterans, the experienced 11 Cavalry Regiment under the command of Colonel Earl D. Thomas, 2nd COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT.

As part of this force, the 4th Expeditionary Battalion was formed at League Island, Pennsylvania, on 27 September 1906. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Franklin J. Moses, the battalion sailed for Cuba, arriving at Camp Columbia on 8 October. Here, it was reorganized and redesignated 2d Regiment, 1st Expeditionary Brigade. Order was soon restored, and upon the arrival of United States Army troops as occupation forces, the 2d Regiment was disbanded on 31 October. The major portion of its personnel became part of the newly created 1st Provisional Regiment stationed in Cuba for duty with the Army forces.

Pulled from its annual maneuvers at Fort Riley, Kansas, First Squadron returned to Fort Des Moines while the balance of the regiment left for Cuba by way of Newport News. The regiment arrived in Havana ahead of its horses on 16 October 1906 and set up base camp outside the city. A storm with hurricane force winds struck the next day, destroying the camp and battering the ships still at sea so badly that over 200 mounts were killed. The troopers of the day quickly recovered and assumed control of western Cuba. Regimental Headquarters was established in Pinar del Rio after a 29 hour/110 mile force march by Troop F. The mission of the 11th Cavalry was to 'show the flag' by conducting mounted patrols throughout the countryside between the villages. While in Cuba the regiment was joined by its new commander, Colonel James Parker, 3rd COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT.

"Galloping Jim" (the longest serving Colonel) continued peacekeeping operations during the Regiment's two-year stay, demonstrating to the natives that the US Army's Cavalry was ready for any and all eventualities. Although conflict is at times inevitable, the 11th Cavalry Regiment best serves the country when it commands respect and thereby averts war through a show of strength. This will be repeated time and again throughout the history of the regiment.

US Independence

In the early 19th century three different currents characterizing the political struggles of that century took shape: reformism, annexation and independence. In addition to that there were spontaneous and isolated actions carried out from time to time and growing in organization, adding a current of abolitionism.

Black unrest and British pressure to abolish slavery motivated many Creoles to advocate Cuba's annexation to the United States, where slavery was still legal. Other Cubans supported the idea because they longed for what they considered higher development and democratic freedom. Annexation of Cuba was repeatedly supported by the US. In 1805 President Thomas Jefferson considered possessing Cuba for strategic reasons, sending secret agents to the island to negotiate with Governor Someruelos.

Secretary of State John Quincy Adams

In April 1823 US Secretary of State John Quincy Adams discussed the rules of political gravitation, in a theory often referred to as the "ripe fruit theory".

Adams wrote, “There are laws of political as well as physical gravitation and if an apple severed by its native tree cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union which by the same law of nature, cannot cast her off its bosom.

Adams described Cuba as “incapable” and described its separation from Spain as inevitable. He specified the islands gravitation towards North America rather than Europe. As he explained that, “the transfer of Cuba to Great Britain would be an event unpropitious to the interest of this Union.

Adams voiced concern that a country outside of North America would attempt to occupy Cuba upon its separation from Spain. He wrote, “The question both of our right and our power to prevent it, if necessary, by force, already obtrudes itself upon our councils, and the administration is called upon, in the performance of its duties to the nation, at least to use all the means with the competency to guard against and forefend it.”

On December second of that year US president James Monroe specifically addressed Cuba and other European colonies in his proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine.

US President James Monroe

Cuba located in the Western Hemisphere just 94 miles (151 km) from the US city Key West was of interest to the doctrine’s founders as they warned European forces to leave "America for the Americans".

The most outstanding attempts in support of annexation were made by Spanish Army General Narciso López, who prepared four expeditions to Cuba in the US.

The first two in 1848 and 1849 already failed before departure due to US-opposition. The third one, made up of some 600 men, managed to land on Cuba and take the central city of Cárdenas. Lacking popular support, this expedition failed.

His fourth expedition landed in Pinar del Río province with around 400 men in August 1851 the invaders were defeated by Spanish troops and López was executed.

In the 1860's Cuba had two more liberal minded governors, Serrano and Dulce, who even encouraged the creation of a Reformist Party, despite the fact that political parties were forbidden. But a reactionary governor, Francisco Lersundi, followed, who suppressed all liberties granted by the previous ones and maintaining a pro-slavery regime with all its rigour.

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes made the "Grito de Yara"

On 10 October 1868, landowner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes made the "Grito de Yara", the "Cry of Yara", declaring Cuban independence and freedom for his slaves.

This was the began of the "Ten Years' War" which lasted from 1868 to 1878.

Platt Amendment

Platt Amendment, an appendix to the Cuban constitution that granted the United States extensive influence in the country, essentially establishing it as a U.S. protectorate. At the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the U.S. Army administered Cuba until its adoption of a self-governing constitution. Within the policy parameters that dated to the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the United States desired to keep its influence on the island and secure it from future European advances. Toward that end, Secretary of War Elihu Root persuaded the U.S. Congress to approve a rider, named after the chairman of the Committee on Relations with Cuba, Senator Orville H. Platt, to the army appropriations bill of 1901. Subsequently, the Cubans reluctantly added the Platt Amendment to their constitution formed in that year and incorporated it in the 1903 treaty with the United States. The Platt Amendment secured U.S. interests but limited Cuba's independence. It restricted Cuba's foreign debt to levels acceptable to the United States and limited its ability to make treaties with foreign nations. It permitted the United States to intervene in order to maintain public order and gave that nation rights to naval stations eventually located at Guantánamo Bay. The United States intervened on several occasions after 1903 to supervise elections and provide for peaceful transfer of presidential administrations. The amendment was abrogated by treaty in 1934.

Congo Crisis [ edit | edit source ]

Area of Che Guevara's activity in Congo

The Congo Crisis was a period of turmoil in the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu. During the Congo Crisis, Cuban Expedition led by Che Guevara trained Marxist Rebels to fight against the weak central government of Joseph Kasa-Vubu along with the forces of Mobutu Sese Seko. This would be the Cuba's first military action overseas and in Africa.

This Is How The US Military Would Have Invaded Cuba In 1962

Attention, people of Cuba: Obey the orders of the U.S. Army, or suffer the consequences.

This is what the Cubans would have been told, had the United States invaded the island during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

“Resistance to the United States armed forces will be forcefully stamped out. Serious offenders will be dealt with severely,” read a draft proclamation that would have been broadcast to the Cuban people, according to declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive group.

Proclamation No. 1 of the U.S. military occupation would have read:

“Whereas the aggressive and illegal acts of the Castro regime against humanity have violated international law and the fundamental principles of freedom and independence of nations: and whereas the United States of America, in order to honor its obligations and to secure itself and the other free nations of the world against the threats generated by these aggressive actions of the Castro regime, has been required to enter into armed conflict with the forces of the Castro regime and whereas the people of the United States have never during the Castro dictatorship lost their feeling of warm friendship for the people of Cuba and whereas the armed forces of the United States will protect the people of Cuba in the peaceful exercise of their legitimate pursuits insofar as exigencies of war will permit. . . .”

Beneath the velvet we-come-in-peace language was the iron words of a no-nonsense military occupation. Cubans would have been told to obey all orders of U.S. troops, or be hauled before a military court. “Resistance to the United States armed forces will be forcefully stamped out,” the proclamation warned. “Serious offenders will be dealt with severely.”

Cuban schools and courts would be closed until further notice. However, Cuban government officials would remain at their posts.

“When the aggressive Castro regime has been completely destroyed, and arrangements made to provide a democratic government responsive to the desires and needs of the people of Cuba, United States armed forces will depart and the traditional friendship of the United States and the government of Cuba will be assured,” the proclamation concluded with a flourish.

Words like “friendship” and “democratic” might have sounded hollow to Cubans emerging from the rubble of their homes, especially since Cuba had technically not committed an act of war against the United States in 1962 (if anything, the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 could be construed as an act of war by the United States against Cuba).

On the other hand, the U.S. proclamation was refreshingly direct, if harsh. No pretentious talk of nation building. The message was clear: the U.S. military controls Cuba. Obey or face the consequences. One wonders whether such an approach in Iraq in 2003 might have avoided some of the chaos and bloodshed.

Of course, before an invading army can issue an occupation proclamation, it actually needs to conquer the territory in question. Operation Ortsac, the planned invasion of Cuba, called for amphibious and airborne landings by the First and Second Marine and the Eighty-Second and 101st Airborne divisions.

As it turns out, the U.S. badly underestimated the difficulty of invading Cuba. The Americans estimated there were ten thousand Soviet troops in Cuba. Theactual number was forty-three thousand, in addition to 270,000 Cuban regular troops and militia.

More ominously, it wasn’t until 1992 that the United States learned what else awaited an invasion force. “Soviet officials also disclosed that they had sent Havana short-range nuclear weapons and that Soviet commanders there were authorized to use them in the event of an American invasion,” according to the New York Times. There were nine short-range tactical missiles with small six- to twelve-ton nuclear warheads. The missiles didn’t have the range to reach the U.S. mainland, but they could have devastated an assault force.

Just as ominously, Soviet officials later admitted that they had not considered just how the United States, which felt provoked by nuclear-tipped missiles deployed ninety miles from Florida, might have responded to atomic weapons being dropped on its invasion force.

There is no doubt that the United States could have conquered Cuba in 1962. Whether there would have been anything left of Cuba—or America, or Russia—other than radioactive rubble is another matter.

The Battle


On October 23, 1962, the U.S. Navy began enacting a "naval quarantine" of the island of Cuba after discovering Soviet nuclear weapons stored on the island. Having failed diplomatically in tense negotiation with the Soviets, President John F. Kennedy gave the go ahead signal to invade the island on October 24, 1962.


Simultaneously, U.S. Marines mounted an amphibious invasion of Cuba, followed by airstrikes from the Air Force and bombardment by the U.S. Navy. After the initial Marine invasion, the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne were deployed, joining up with the rest of the invasion force. This caused the treaty of 1902 to become void as both Cuba and the United States were now at war. Meanwhile, in Guantanamo Bay, U.S. Naval Forces came under relentless attacks by Cuban Revolutionary Forces but were able to successfully defend the base, due to its impregnable defenses. The invasion was quick and swift as the superior U.S. military was easily able to defeat the Cubans. Santiago fell just to the Americans just the following day of invasion. However, all American progress was quickly halted outside of Santiago as Cuban forces launch a campaign of guerrilla warfare.

Map showing the US naval blockade of the island.

Soviet Intervention

However, the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro requested help from the USSR. Unexpectedly, on October 27, the Soviets responded by attacking the U.S. Naval Blockade, resulting in the loss of several ships. The USSR lost five bombers while attacking American ships at sea. This was not the end however, the Soviet Air Force would conduct carpet bombing operations on American troops on Cuba itself as the naval blockade finally broke as Soviet carriers and submarines entered the Caribbean Sea. Casualties mounted from the carpet bombings. U.S. Air Force jets would engage the Soviet bombers as it seemed the World War III was finally on the horizon. At home, Americans began evacuating the major cities and headed into fallout shelters. B-52 bombers, nuclear submarines, and Minuteman silos were placed on high alert for a fear of a Soviet strike. The world's worst fear of a global thermonuclear war was finally confirmed hours after the American-Soviet clashes in Cuba. While this happened, U.S. troops suddenly withdrew from Santiago and Guantanamo Bay, regrouping at the Bay of Pigs

War Becomes Nuclear

The same day, a small U.S Air Force Base in Damascus, Arkansas is vaporized by a thermonuclear blast after a B-52 crashed on take off resulting in the detonation of its nuclear payload. Strategic Air Command mistaken this as a genuine Soviet attack on American soil and ordered all nuclear-armed units to empty their payloads to targets in USSR, the Warsaw Pact, and China. The Great Nuclear War begins. Major cities in the Soviet Union, as well as major military installations became targets for American nuclear missiles. The Soviet Union's response was harsh, retaliating with their missiles and bombers against both the United States, United Kingdom, and NATO, Meanwhile ordering all ground units armed with tactical nuclear weapons against large NATO Troop formations in West Germany, Vietnam, And Cuba. Also all Submarines armed with nuclear payloads were ordered to unleash their "Special Weapons" against NATO fleets, more specifically against American Aircraft Carriers and their Task Force.

In Europe, most NATO missiles stationed in West Germany, Italy, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (with the UK firing theirs as well) are aimed at the Warsaw Pact, though in a surprise move, the French refused to fire their missiles and as a result the Soviets aborted their launches against France redirecting the ICBMs at the United States and United Kingdoms. While it is unknown why they did this, it can be assumed that the French had a No First Use of Nuclear Weapons policy and that they had a hunch that the Soviets would spare them if they didn't attack.

At the end of the day, majority of the North America, Europe, the USSR, the Middle East, and Asia remained irradiated. Some areas attacked such Japan, the Philippines, and parts of Oceania fared better than Northern Hemisphere, but nonetheless faced a challenge on how to move on from WWIII. Millions died in the the resulting war with many more dying from the resulting fallout, prevailing diseases, infighting, and starvation. It was start of a new dark age in which mankind needed to survive and cooperate for the future generations.


CINCLANT, message to Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Military Government Proclamation No. 1,” 20 October 1962, Top Secret

Source: MDR release from U.S. Navy “Blue Flag Messages,” U.S. Navy Heritage and History Command Archives

As the U.S. military prepared to invade Cuba, officials at the Atlantic Command drafted a proclamation of military occupation for the Cuban people. It falsely accused Cuba of “violating international law and the freedom and independence of nations,” and claimed the United States had been “required to enter into armed conflict with the [Cuban] forces.” The proclamation vested “all powers of government, executive, legislative, and judicial and all jurisdiction in the occupied territory and over its inhabitants” in the hands of a U.S. military governor it directed that “all persons in the occupied territory will obey immediately and without question all enactments and orders of the military government.” Once the “aggressive Castro regime has been completely destroyed” and arrangements for a democratic successor made, the proclamation concluded, “United States armed forces will depart and the traditional friendship of the United States and the government of Cuba will once more be assured.”

CINCLANT Message to Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Proposed Leaflet,” 20 October 1962, Top Secret.

Source: MDR release from U.S. Navy “Blue Flag Messages,” U.S. Navy Heritage and History Command Archives

If the U.S. invaded Cuba, the Joint Chiefs planned to airdrop thousands of leaflets across the island warning citizens that Cuba would be a free fire zone. The proposed language warned Cubans to “stay at home,” because “everything that moves is a target.” The leaflet would advise them that “within the next few days U.S. armed forces will take temporary charge of your country.”

CINCLANT Message, “Leaflet Target List,” 20 October 1962, Top Secret.

Source: MDR release from U.S. Navy “Blue Flag Messages,” U.S. Navy Heritage and History Command Archives

The U.S. military planned an initial leaflet drop in urban and metropolitan areas, as well as the countryside across the nation, including Havana, Santa Clara, Matanzas, and the northern half of the Isle of Pines. The drop plan called for “max leaflet bomb load per aircraft, and an “altitude of burst which will insure wide dissemination of leaflets.” One type of leaflet would accompany a ground invasion another would be used “in conjunction with air operations.”

CIA Inspector General, “Handling of Intelligence Information During the Cuban Arms Build-up,” 12 November 1962, Top Secret, with comments by Director of Central Intelligence John McCone, excised copy

Source: CIA MDR release, under appeal

After the missile crisis, the CIA quickly conducted two major post-mortems on its intelligence gathering and distribution. This Inspector General’s report focused on constraints on the circulation of agent and refugee reports about missile deployments during September and early October 1962. A publication “ban” tightly limited circulation of such reporting. No intelligence reports about offensive missile deployments could be published without photographic corroboration. That kept information on the missile deployments from reaching the Central Intelligence Bulletin, much less the President’s Intelligence Checklist. According to the IG, “at least eight widely disseminated reports in September and early October . might have found their way into publications had it not been for the ban.” Intelligence also failed to reach higher levels because of skepticism among intelligence analysts about “refugee and agent reporting.” Moreover, “extreme caution” at top levels limited the scope of U-2 flights over Cuba.

CIA, Richard Lehman to Director of Central Intelligence, “CIA Handling of the Soviet Build-up in Cuba, 1 July - 16 October 1962,” 14 November 1962, Top Secret, Excised copy, with cover memoranda attached