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Back Channel to Cuba

The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana

William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh

Publication Year: 2014

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, LeoGrande and Kornbluh present a new and increasingly more relevant account. From Kennedy's offering of an olive branch to Castro after the missile crisis, to Kissinger's top secret quest for normalization, to 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.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xii

Authors invariably accumulate many debts as they write a book. We are grateful to everyone who agreed to be interviewed, especially our Cuban colleagues who trusted two North Americans to present their side of the story fairly. We especially appreciate those who participated in this rich history...


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pp. xii-xvi

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Introduction: Rebuilding Bridges

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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...

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1. EISENHOWER: Patience and Forbearance

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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...

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2. KENNEDY: The Secret Search for Accommodation

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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...

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3. JOHNSON: Castro Reaches Out

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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...

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4. NIXON AND FORD: Kissinger’s Caribbean Détente

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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...

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5. CARTER: Close, but No Cigar

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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...

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6. REAGAN AND BUSH: Diplomatic Necessity

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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...

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7. CLINTON: From Calibrated Response to Parallel Positive Steps

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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...

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8. GEORGE W. BUSH: Turning Back the Clock

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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...

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9. OBAMA: A New Beginning?

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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...

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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...


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pp. 419-848


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pp. 485-500


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pp. 501-524

E-ISBN-13: 9781469617657
E-ISBN-10: 146961765X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469617633
Print-ISBN-10: 1469617633

Page Count: 592
Illustrations: 23 halftones
Publication Year: 2014