NEW YORK – U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ordered contingency plans drawn up nearly 40 years ago to attack Cuba, incensed over the small island's deployment of troops to Angola, according to declassified government documents posted online Wednesday.
In several White House meetings, Kissinger advocated for strong action to stop Castro, fearful that his incursion in Africa was making the U.S. look weak. He argued that Cuba's actions were driving fears around the world of a wider race war that could spill over into Latin America and even destabilize the Middle East. In a series of contingency plans that followed, options ranged from a military blockade to airstrikes and mining of Cuban ports. But the documents also warned of heavy risks, including a wider conflict with the Soviet Union and a ground war to defend the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
"I think we are going to have to smash Castro. I don't think we can do it before the election," Kissinger told President Gerald R. Ford, according to a transcript of a Feb. 25, 1976 meeting in the Oval Office. Ford replied, "I agree."
Jimmy Carter ultimately won the 1976 presidential election.
Kissinger, who had returned from a trip to Latin America, and told Ford that leaders in the region "are scared to death about Cuba. They are afraid of a race war."
The documents were declassified by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library at the request of the National Security Archive, which published them online Wednesday. An account of the episode is being published in a new book, "Back Channel to Cuba," written by William M. LeoGrande, a professor at American University, and Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuban Documentation Project at the National Security Archive.
At another Oval Office meeting on March 15, 1976, Kissinger said "even the Iranians are worried about the Cubans getting into the Middle East countries. I think we have to humiliate them. If they move into Namibia or Rhodesia, I would be in favor of clobbering them."
Nine days later, Kissinger chaired a high-level "Special Actions Group Meeting" at the White House Situation Room to discuss options.
"If there is a perception overseas that we are so weakened by our internal debate so that it looks like we can't do anything about a country of 8 million people, then in three or four years we are going to have a real crisis," Kissinger said.
The contingency plans outlined military options from blocking outgoing Cuban ships carrying troops and war material to airstrikes against Cuban bases and airfields. The documents discussed risks, including the possibility that the Soviet Union would thwart a blockade by seizing or sinking ships. "Escalation to general war could result," one document said.
The contingency plans sounded a cautious note about what sort of Cuban provocation would trigger a U.S. military response. They stated that while the "threshold" should be low if Cuba moves against U.S. territories, it should be "highest" for Africa.