Courtesy Reuters

Missiles in Cuba, 1970

Since September of 1970 a renewal of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis has been in prospect. Highly placed White House sources reported that the Soviet Union had begun work on a submarine base on the southern coast of Cuba at Cienfuegos, a base which could repair and refuel missile-firing submarines of the Soviet Navy. Warnings were issued that this would be viewed with the "utmost seriousness" by the United States as a violation of the 1962 agreement by which land-based missiles were withdrawn from Cuba. Cited explicitly were President Kennedy's words that peace would be assured only "if all offensive missiles are removed from Cuba and kept out of the Hemisphere in the future."

Moscow characteristically answered the specific accusation by denying a substantially different charge; it had not been constructing "its own military base" in Cuba. Assuredly the Russians would never stake out a sovereign autonomous base area such as Guantanamo, or the British bases in Cyprus; but a "foreign base" was not at issue in 1962 either. As in other confrontations, a vehement Soviet denial of X can be a signal of a withdrawal of Y, and Pentagon sources by October 13 professed to have seen signs of a halt on the project. While a submarine tender, a large tug and two barges had been sighted in the harbor at Cienfuegos, the tug and the submarine tender had steamed out of the harbor on October 10, as if to return to the Soviet Union. On October 17, however, the two ships turned back to Mariel, a port on the northwest coast of Cuba; on November 10, they returned to Cienfuegos. A few more inconclusive sorties into the Caribbean followed, in what American officials now describe as a "cat and mouse game." Finally, on January 8, 1971, a Pentagon spokesman cautiously reported that the submarine tender had been tracked into the mid-Atlantic, apparently on its way back to the Soviet Union; however, on February 5, another tender was sailing toward Cuba.

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