restricted access 4 Watching and Waiting: The Eisenhower Administration, 1959
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Nations stand up and greet one another. “What are we?” is the mutual question, and little by little they furnish answers. —José Martí, Nuestra América, 1891 I hope the boy intends to do what’s right. —Former President Harry Truman, 1959 4 WATCHING AND WAITING THE EISENHOWER ADMINISTRATION, 1959 At dawn on 1 January, Radio Rebelde warned “Santiago de Cuba: You are still not free.” Batista had fled a few hours earlier, the announcer continued, but he had left the government in the hands of military officers who “want to prohibit the entry into Santiago of those who have freed the country. The history of 1895 will not be repeated. This time our rebels will enter Santiago de Cuba.” Within hours, Batista’s military had capitulated, and Fidel Castro told a wildly cheering audience in Santiago’s Parque Céspedes exactly what his radio announcer had meant: “This time, fortunately for Cuba, the revolution will truly achieve power. It won’t be as in 1895, when the Americans came at the last hour and took over the country.”¹ So there it was, in the first speech on the first day: a negative comment about the United States. But few Americans were paying attention; more important was the departure of many Republicans fromWashington.With the U.S. economy in recession, the November 1958 off-year election had been a disaster for the president’s party—not a simple loss but an unvarnished calamity, with the Senate going from a Democratic majority of 2 seats to one of 30 seats, the largest such shift in the Senate’s history, and with the House going from a Democratic advantage of 33 seats to one of a stagger- Watching and Waiting 83 ing 130 seats. With Democrats’ thoughts surging ahead to the 1960 presidential race, the new Congress that assembled in Washington the same week that Batista left Cuba was not going to be docile. The sledding might be especially rough in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where ninety-two-year-old Theodore Francis Green was stepping down as chair in favor of J. William Fulbright, a brilliant, energetic legislator and more than a match for anyone the increasingly lame Eisenhower administration might send his way. Then, just as Fidel Castro was moving into the Havana Hilton and the newly elected Democrats were settling into their seats on Capitol Hill, John Foster Dulles underwent a second operation for stomach cancer; by May he was dead. In April, the foreign policy mantle was formally draped over the shoulders of Deputy Secretary Christian Herter, an experienced politician from the progressive wing of the Republican Party.When compared to Dulles, Assistant Secretary R. Richard Rubottom Jr. found Herter “a softer man, a sweeter man.”² He was also a severe arthritis sufferer who regularly used crutches to ease his constant pain while coping with a variety of exceptionallycomplex problems, most of them in truly important places: the final year of fighting in Cuba had coincided with the U.S. invasion of Lebanon, with the communist Chinese shelling of the Nationalist islands of Matsu and Quemoy, with ominous communist advances in Laos, and now, in early 1959, with renewed Soviet threats to Berlin that so alarmed the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that in January he warned a secret session of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “We must hold Berlin at all costs, even to general war.”³ Obliged to focus on these conflicts, Secretary Herter was in Geneva negotiating with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and the Soviet Union when he was called back to Washington for Dulles’s funeral. Immediately thereafter, President Dwight D. Eisenhower flew off for a hastily scheduled visit to Britain and France, obliged to consult with his two principal NATO allies about Nikita Khrushchev’s upcoming visit to Washington. Not much time remained available for little Cuba. With Western Europe’s security in play and other East-West issues occupying whatever room remained at the top of the foreign policy agenda, Cuba’s significance to Washington rested squarely on one question: Where did it stand on the Cold War? On our side, senior State Department officials told President Eisenhower. The island’s new government “appears free from Communist taint and there are indications that it intends to pursue friendly relations 84 Watching and Waiting with the United States.” CIA director Allen Dulles told a closed-door session of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that Fidel Castro did...


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Cuba.
  • Cuba -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1945-1989.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1989-.
  • Presidents -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cuba -- History -- Revolution, 1959.
  • Cuba -- Politics and government -- 1959-1990.
  • Cuba -- Politics and government -- 1990-.
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