That Infernal Little Cuban Republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution / Edition 1

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Lars Schoultz offers a comprehensive chronicle of U.S. policy toward the Cuban Revolution. Using a rich array of documents and firsthand interviews with U.S. and Cuban officials, he tells the story of the attempts and failures of ten U.S. administrations to end the Cuban Revolution. He concludes that despite the overwhelming advantage in size and power that the United States enjoys over its neighbor, the Cubans' historical insistence on their right to self-determination has been a constant thorn in the side of American administrations, influenced both U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy on a much larger stage, and resulted in a freeze in diplomatic relations of unprecedented longevity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
An excellent book. . . . Will become a major reference work on US policy toward Cuba.—The Sacramento Book Review

Anyone with an interest in U.S. foreign relations will appreciate Schoultz's careful historical detail, readable narrative and clear analysis.—McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Sets a new standard as the reference for US policy toward a country that US officials have tended to find especially irritating. It is very well written, both clear and meticulous. . . . Highly recommended.—Choice

[An] eminently readable account of Cuban-American relations over the past century. . . . A deeply frustrating tale, chronicled with skill by a fine historian.—Times Literary Supplement

[This] book is delicious to read, and will inform, entertain and challenge a non-specialist public as well as a more scholarly one.—Canadian Journal of History

A monumental study of U.S.-Cuba relations . . . based on an extensive use of primary sources. It will undoubtedly become an indispensable tool for anyone interested in this topic.—The Journal of American History

Illuminates what has been a highly unproductive foreign policy and points to fresh prospects as a new century of U.S.-Cuban relations begins.—McCormick Messenger

Schoultz has an unparalleled grasp of U.S. sources—from government documents to Congressional records, unpublished memoirs and interviews with protagonists American and Cuban. His analysis is lucid and thought-provoking, and he writes exceedingly well. Reading the book is a pleasure. It is, by far, the best book on U.S. relations with Castro's Cuba. . . . A superb book.—American Historical Review

An approachable, deeply satisfying narrative with a clear-eyed and persuasive critique of U.S. policy toward Cuba and, more broadly, of U.S. policy toward any weaker nation that has ever stubbornly asserted its sovereignty. . . . A page turner. . . . A gripping, expertly told story of one of the most complicated foreign policy relationships in the western hemisphere.—Publishers Weekly starred review

Publishers Weekly

In time for the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Schoultz, a University of North Carolina political science professor, offers an exhaustive study of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba in the 20th and early 21st centuries. It would be a shame if the book's heft made it too intimidating for some readers to pick up, because it's an approachable, deeply satisfying narrative with a clear-eyed and persuasive critique of U.S. policy toward Cuba and, more broadly, of U.S. policy toward any weaker nation that has ever stubbornly asserted its sovereignty. Schoultz examines how the benevolent arrogance of U.S. State and Defense department advisers made schemes like the Bay of Pigs possible, and how racism steered American policy in the 20th century. He keeps the story a page-turner by maintaining his focus: analyzing U.S. policy from a U.S. perspective, speculating neither about the quality of Castro's leadership or the quality of life in Cuba. This is a gripping, expertly told story of one of the most complicated foreign policy relationship in the western hemisphere. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The Obama administration would be wise to consider Schoultz's latest book essential reading. In a massive text, Schoultz (political science, Univ. of North Carolina) tracks the failures of ten U.S. Presidents to come to grips with and understand Cuba and Castro's Cuban Revolution, illuminating this grave and persistent flaw in American diplomacy. Schoultz concludes that American attempts to "uplift" Cuba and Cubans reflect arrogance and ultimately cross the line to ignorance, attitudes he terms delusional. One President after another has approached Cuba with the "parking lot mentality," the belief that the United States could decimate and destroy Cuba at any time. Utilizing an impressive variety of primary and secondary sources (with more than 150 pages of notes), he details Cuban-American relations administration by administration, from assassination attempts on Castro's life to messages displayed to the people at large, always returning to America's lack of respect for Cuban sovereignty and right to self-determination. Ultimately, he proffers advice for how U.S. policy should adapt. This impressive new book is highly recommended; after all, neither nation is going to be moving any time soon.
—Boyd Childress

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807871898
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 760
  • Sales rank: 815,826
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lars Schoultz is the William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a past president of the Latin American Studies Association.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Neighbors
1. Heritage
2. Prelude: The Truman Years
3. Arousal: The Eisenhower Years, 1953-1958
4. Watching and Waiting: The Eisenhower Administration, 1959
5. 1960: The Year of Pushing and Shoving
6. The Bay of Pigs
7. State-Sponsored Terrorism
8. He's Going to Be There until He Dies: The Johnson Administration
9. Mutual Hostility as a Fact of Life: The Nixon-Ford Years
10. Reconciliation and Estrangement: The Carter Years
11. Back to Square One: The Reagan Years
12. Unwavering Hostility: The George H. W. Bush Administration
13. Blessings of Liberty: The Clinton Administration
14. More Blessings of Liberty: The George W. Bush Administration
Conclusion: Benevolent Domination

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First Chapter



The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2009 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8078-3260-8



Imagine living in a neighborhood where the family across the street irritates you. It's a wide street, fortunately, so most of the time you can simply ignore them, but every so often they do something annoying—your kids go over to play with theirs and wobble back home with the marijuana giggles, or these neighbors welcome some out-of-town houseguests who are clearly up to no good, placing you nervously on guard until you see them leave. Or what about that morning when you awoke to discover that a few of their many children had pitched a tent in your front yard, complaining they can no longer endure living at home? They apparently intend to stay forever.

Then imagine that you try not to let all this bother you. You understand that these neighbors haven't had your advantages. They come from different stock—a "tropical" people, outwardly cheerful but hopelessly emotional and pathologically frenetic, investing most of their energy in billowy arm-waving and oral pyrotechnics. Style is fairly insignificant, of course, but when combined with the irresponsible behavior, it all adds up, sometimes to the point where you simply cannot take any more. That's when you march across the street to set them straight. Usually, you don't have to do anything more than raise your voice—they know the consequences when you get angry, so they quickly promise to behave better. Yet can they? Probably not without your help, which requires lots of solid advice and sometimes a modest loan but also makes you feel good. After you've set them on the right path, you always return home with a sense of genuine accomplishment.

Then imagine you do this once too often.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT was called the Cuban Revolution. Of course, the revolution involved much more than shooing the Yankees back across the street, but this book focuses on the U.S.-Cuban relationship. It examines how the United States deals with a difficult neighbor. The story focuses on the island's revolutionary generation, which grew to maturity in a country characterized by widespread deprivation, extreme inequality, and extraordinary corruption. And, unfortunately, many Cubans of that generation were convinced that the United States bore much of the responsibility for the problems that faced them. The first chapter of this book explains what the dean of historians of Cuba meant when he wrote that "almost any comprehensive history of Cuba is, of necessity, a discourse on U.S.-Cuban relations."

This initial chapter also introduces Washington's mental image of Cuba, focusing on the widespread expectation that the United States would act as a guardian of the less-developed peoples of the Caribbean but emphasizing that the root of this hegemonic presumption was a benevolent disposition and an unshakable belief that proximity to the United States was the region's singular good fortune. Or, as an assistant secretary of state asserted in 1916, "Nature, in its rough method of uplift, gives sick nations strong neighbors." Three months later the United States sent several hundred soldiers to lift up what was then Cuba's sickest province, Camagüey, where they stayed for five years.

The trouble really began several decades later, in 1959, when a group of rebels ousted a perfectly acceptable dictator and proceeded to cause more trouble than anyone could have imagined. "There was something on Cuba every five minutes," complained an exasperated secretary of state, Christian Herter, and while he and President Dwight D. Eisenhower at first tried to be accommodating, they soon lost patience and began planning the Bay of Pigs invasion. "There is a limit to what the United States in self-respect can endure," Eisenhower said when he announced the closing of the U.S. embassy, and when he handed John F. Kennedy the keys to the White House three weeks later, Eisenhower also passed along an admonition: "We cannot let the present government there go on."

That was in 1961. Twenty years later, Eisenhower and Kennedy were both dead and buried, yet Fidel Castro was boasting that "we will still be here in another 20 years." Not if incoming U.S. president Ronald Reagan and his new secretary of state, Alexander M. Haig Jr., had anything to say about the matter. During the 1980 campaign, Reagan had proposed a blockade of Cuba, and now, at the first meeting of his national security team, Haig proposed going one step further: an invasion. Finding little support for the idea, the secretary pulled his principal deputy aside and gave him his first assignment: "I want to go after Cuba, Bud. I want you to get everyone together and give me a plan for doing it."

That was in 1981. Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan was dying of Alzheimer's disease and Alexander Haig was a semiretired consultant padding around his Northern Virginia office in Hush Puppies, while George W. Bush had slipped on the presidential wingtips and was promising no letup: "I've got a plan to spread freedom," he told a 2004 campaign audience, "not only in the greater Middle East but also in our own hemisphere, in places like Cuba." But the second President Bush, like his nine immediate predecessors, had been obliged to focus on more important problems. He did not even mention the island in a wide-ranging foreign policy speech near the end of his tenure, and in reply to a question from the audience, he indicated that he was leaving the island's fate to divine intervention: "One day the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away."

IMAGINE NOW, on the revolution's golden anniversary, that your grandchildren ask you to explain U.S. policy during the half century after 1959. On a basic level, the answer is easy: We have been attempting to protect our interests. Specifically, Washington's policy has reflected first the economic concerns of U.S. investors, then—and much more important—the security concerns of U.S. defense managers, and finally the electoral concerns of U.S. politicians, who have eagerly sought the support of Cuban Americans, some of whom are wealthy campaign contributors and several hundred thousand of whom vote in the crucial state of Florida. It's that simple—an ever-varying mixture of economic, security, and domestic political interests—and if you think it will be enough of an explanation for your grandchildren, read no further.

But you'll miss what makes this relationship so intriguing: underlying these everyday interests is an ideology, a set of tightly integrated beliefs that controls the way powerful countries like the United States have traditionally thought about smaller neighboring countries like Cuba. At the most rudimentary level, this book is simply a case study in an intellectual tradition stretching back to the fifth century, B.C., when Thucydides, chronicling the conflicts among Greek city-states, captured perfectly the bedrock principle of what we today call realism: the strong will do what they want, and the weak will accept what they must. Realism is a part of our ideology—an important part.

Were Thucydides explaining U.S. policy toward the Cuban Revolution, he would begin with some basic data:

Cuba as % of United States Cuba United States

Area 9,826,630 sq. km. 110,860 sq. km. 1.1 Population 301 million 11 million 3.7 Gross Domestic Product $13,860 billion $51 billion 0.4

Here, Thucydides would emphasize, is a modest island with an economy 1/250th the size of its wealthy, continent-wide neighbor, which has used a substantial portion of its fabulous wealth to create the most powerful military in the history of the human race. And that raw strength has given politicians such as Vice President Richard Nixon the ability to tell voters that "the United States has the power, and Mr. Castro knows this, to throw him out of office," and it has given cabinet members such as Alexander Haig the ability to ask President Reagan for a simple green light: "You just give me the word and I'll turn that f—— island into a parking lot."

What Thucydides would have difficulty explaining—and what makes traditional realism an incomplete theory—is this: When the Cubans refused to accept what they must, their leaders were not thrown out of office and their island was not turned into a parking lot. This gives rise to the question that makes relations with this modest island fascinating for casual observers and especially relevant for theorists: How have Cubans managed to get away with it? For decades, the answer was that Cuba balanced U.S. power by enlisting the support of a rival superpower, but that answer, which was never more than partially correct, takes us only to about 1990, when the Soviet Union withdrew its support. A complete answer has to include the constraints that the modern world now imposes on the exercise of power.

This book accents the most elemental constraint, the need to maintain a sense of proportion, and emphasizes that it is not simply a good idea; it is mandatory. This constraint arose as humans became increasingly aware of the costs attached to every benefit, especially in international relations, where the potential costs have risen in lockstep with technology. For chronic but not acute aggravations such as Cuba, superpowers are now especially wary of the opportunity costs, and a simple list of all the other issues confronting any superpower like the United States is sufficient to explain why Richard Nixon did not employ U.S. power to throw Castro out of office (in fact, Nixon largely ignored Cuba when he finally claimed the presidency), why President Reagan declined to endorse Secretary Haig's parking-lot solution, why President Bush left Cuba to the good Lord, and why presidential adviser Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said this about the one president who seemed to spend more time than any other on Cuba: "Castro was not a major issue for Kennedy, who had much else on his mind." It took JFK's best and brightest only three months—until the Bay of Pigs—to discover that Cubans were going to fight back. We could certainly make them accept what they must, but not with a couple of thousand Cuban exiles; we would have to do it ourselves, with the U.S. Marines, and they might indeed have to turn the island into a parking lot. Victory would be ours, but at an especially exorbitant price in the currency that might matter most, world opinion.

So what was Plan B? After a few years of what we today would call state-sponsored terrorism—of sabotaging power plants, torching sugar fields, and arming assassins—U.S. policymakers slowly reached a consensus that Cuba was not all that important and that the logical course of action was to back off. During the Kennedy era, "I used to get a call from McGeorge Bundy or one of his assistants every day about something," recalled the State Department's principal Cuba officer, but then "under Johnson, the calls dropped down to probably once a week, and then maybe once every two weeks or once a month." Inexperienced in foreign affairs, Lyndon Baines Johnson had waited only a few days after inheriting the White House to seek advice from the widely respected chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, J. William Fulbright, who warned against doing anything dramatic. "I'm not getting into any Bay of Pigs deal," Johnson interrupted to agree. "No, I'm just asking you what we ought to do to pinch their nuts more than we're doing."

Nut-pinching has been U.S. policy ever since.

Why? Because even a superpower's resources are limited, and LBJ, like every one of his successors, had better ways to spend his political capital. Instead of ramping up Operation Mongoose, JFK's effort to overthrow the island's government, President Johnson initially chose to focus on domestic issues—a month after consulting with Fulbright, LBJ went before a joint session of Congress to declare the War on Poverty and to press for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thus distracted, Johnson had little time for Cuba, especially as his administration's foreign policy eyes began to focus on Indochina. National security adviser McGeorge Bundy soon was encouraging everyone to face reality. "The chances are very good that we will still be living with Castro some time from now," he said; "we might just as well get used to the idea." Thucydides never would have said that.

In our time, only an administration misjudging the Cubans as an easy takedown (as JFK's did) or an administration underestimating the costs in political capital (as Jimmy Carter's did) would invest heavily in an island such as Cuba. All the rest have done what they felt they had to do to protect the ever-changing U.S. economic, security and political interests, but all have done so on the cheap, never treating Cuba as a problem requiring decisive action. "Of course the United States could turn the island into a parking lot," they seemed to say, especially after the end of the Cold War, "but it might distract the country from more important problems" such as combating terrorism or resolving the domestic issue du jour. In a world packed to overflowing with threatened interests and an unlimited number of domestic problems, small islands are simply not that important. Realists have to be realistic.

This moderation is a fascinating aspect of modern realism. When your grandchildren ask you to explain it, you can use Cuba. There is no better example of how we are obliged to control ourselves—and, therefore, of how today's foreign-policy-making process actually works.

BUT THERE IS MORE to the "Cuba" ideology than moderated realism. An additional part was largely hidden during the three decades when Washington justified its hostility by pointing to the revolutionary government's alignment with the Soviet Union. But then the Cold War ended, and the geostrategic shell cracked apart to reveal the existential core of the ideology underlying Washington's compulsion to march across the street and set everything straight: the United States simply could not stand aloof while the Cuban government misbehaved. Specifically, for the past two decades, we have been determined to do something to protect Cubans' human rights. Thus, when the Cold War ended and the United States needed new laws about Cuba, we gave them "human rights" titles, beginning with the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act and the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act.

This was nothing new. Cold and hot wars come and go, but what remains constant is the belief that Cubans, like most of the people who live beneath the United States, will benefit from our humanitarian legislation. Cubans are Hispanics and blacks, imperfect leaves on two stunted branches of the human species—not simply underdeveloped, but probably underdevelopable left to their own devices and given their origin. Or, as a U.S. ambassador wrote from Havana in the late 1940s, just as Cuba's revolutionary generation was reaching adulthood, "Many of them possess the superficial charm of clever children, spoiled by nature and geography—but under the surface they combine the worst characteristics of the unfortunate admixture and interpenetration of Spanish and Negro cultures—laziness, cruelty, inconstancy, irresponsibility, and inbred dishonesty."

It is probably a sign of progress that U.S. diplomats no longer write such sentences, but today's political correctness makes it more difficult to identify and examine this aspect of the ideology underlying U.S. policy. Perhaps that explains why it is so common to argue that today's focus on human rights is only a ruse—that human rights offers a convenient rationale for a policy dictated by post–Cold War domestic politics, dictated specifically by the need to curry favor among the Cuban Americans who detest the Cuban Revolution, several hundred thousand of whom live in a state with twenty-seven electoral votes. Don't tell this to your grandchildren—it's wrong. Anyone who watched George W. Bush snatch the White House from Al Gore in 2000 understands how important Florida can be, but elections, like wars, come and go, while Washington's civilizing mission remains a constant. Florida had only five electoral votes and there was no such thing as a Cuban American voter in 1901, when Congress passed the Platt Amendment granting the United States the right to march across the street whenever it wanted "for the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty."


Excerpted from THAT INFERNAL LITTLE CUBAN REPUBLIC by LARS SCHOULTZ Copyright © 2009 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2009

    i like the book and i think is very interesting. However it is need more ilustration i gess in the next edition this could be add it.

    Because is a book about Cuba the writer should has the book translated in spanish. There are so many people who wants to read the book but, they doesn't understand too well the english version.

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