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50 years of intrigue in US-Cuba ties

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Dec 28, 2008
The Bay of Pigs, the threat of nuclear Armageddon, outlandish assassination plots -- US-Cuba relations since the island's revolution 50 years ago have thrown up drama worthy of any spy novel.

Today, US president-elect Barack Obama is offering direct talks with foreign foes, including the communist Caribbean thorn in the superpower's side.

But a long history of mutual mistrust will have to be overcome if any such negotiations with the government of Raul Castro, the brother of Cuba's revolutionary supremo Fidel Castro, are to bear fruit.

"Cuba seems to have the same effect on American administrations as the full moon has on werewolves," Wayne Smith, a foreign policy analyst and former diplomat who used to head up US interests in Havana, has said.

However, Fidel Castro was not always such a bete noir for Washington.

President Dwight Eisenhower's administration was quick to recognize Cuba's new government a week after Castro overthrew the pro-US regime of General Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959.

In April that year, Castro visited Washington for talks with Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon, but his plans for a leftist economic policy accompanied by nationalization of US-owned interests got short shrift.

The United States began to turn the screw with the beginnings of a trade embargo, and after John F. Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower, US efforts to overthrow Castro took on a deadly earnestness.

In April 1961, a 1,400-strong force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles invaded Cuba's Bay of Pigs -- a botched venture fatally compromised by leaky intelligence and poor execution.

After the invasion's failure, US efforts to undermine Castro took on a more furtive air, including the first of allegedly hundreds of CIA plots to assassinate the Cuban leader.

Those schemes, recounted by Castro's former security chief Fabian Escalante in his book "Executive Action: 634 Ways to Kill Fidel Castro," ran the gamut of an exploding cigar through poison pills to a diving suit laced with poison.

Castro's longevity has been a lasting embarrassment to US administrations, even if his Soviet backers are no more and today it is his younger brother Raul who wields formal power after Fidel's resignation from the presidency in February 2008.

It was the Soviet connection that brought the most serious flashpoint in US-Cuba relations since the revolution -- and brought the world to the brink of annihilation.

In October 1962, a US spy plane spotted an installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, which the Kennedy administration saw as a dagger pointed at the US mainland.

For one week a petrified world wondered which side would blink first as Kennedy enforced a naval blockade of Cuba to press his demand for Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev to withdraw the missiles.

After Kennedy publicly promised not to invade Cuba, and privately agreed to pull US missiles out of Turkey, Kruschev backed down -- and a telephone hotline was then installed between Washington and Moscow to defuse future tensions.

An angry Castro, who was not consulted by Kruschev over the deal, demanded the United States abandon its Guantanamo Bay naval base on the southeastern tip of Cuba.

But the base, a legacy of the 1898 Spanish-American war, remains in US hands -- although the days of its notorious "war on terror" detention camp may be numbered under Obama's incoming administration.

Obama has pledged to allow unlimited family travel and financial remittances from the United States to Cuba, although he would maintain the decades-old economic embargo.

His stance was backed by most Cuban-American voters, as both nations grope for a new direction after 50 years of intrigue.

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US confirms 'bilateral charter' with Georgia being negotiated
Washington (AFP) Dec 23, 2008
The United States confirmed Tuesday it was negotiating a "bilateral charter" with Georgia similar to the one it recently concluded with Ukraine, a move that risked more Russian ire.

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