Roosevelt served as 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909 and has been immortalised with his face featuring alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. He is considered a national icon and the hero of many US politicians since his death in 1919. However, his actions in Cuba as a military commander may have unwittingly paved the way for the diplomatic situation that ultimately put the world on the brink of nuclear war several decades later.
Roosevelt – who died 100 years ago today – was a key player in the Spanish-American war of 1898, as he set up his very own “Rough Riders” regiment and temporarily abandoned his political career to fight for his country.
Under his leadership, the Rough Riders became famous for the charge up Kettle Hill and were an instrumental force behind the US victory in the conflict – paving the way for the US occupation of Cuba in 1898.
This became a landmark moment in the history of the Caribbean island and established a period of over half a century of political uncertainty.
In the early 20th century, corruption was rife among the Cuban establishment and the political elite was generally considered to be under the control of the US government.
This came to a head in the 1950s, when Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their band of socialist revolutionaries rose up against the regime of US-backed Fulgencio Batista.
After six years of ferocious fighting, the revolutionaries were victorious and Batista fled the island for the nearby Dominican Republic sparking the dawn of over 50 years of Castro rule.
Castro embarked on a range of progressive social reforms during his first decade in power – with new measures introduced on racial equality, rights for women, education and sweeping changes to the health service.
However, it was his relationship with the Soviet Union that was to threaten the future of civilisation as we know it.
Castro famously wooed the Soviets in the early 1960s and, after an official visit to Moscow, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Cuba’s request to place nuclear missiles on the island after the failed US-led Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961.
A US Air Force spy plane produced clear photographic evidence of medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missile facilities on the island in October 1962 and, in response, the US established a naval blockade to prevent further missiles reaching Cuba.
After knife-edge talks between Kennedy and Khrushchev, all-out conflict was averted as the Americans publicly declared an agreement to avoid invading Cuba in future and secretly agreed to dismantling nuclear warheads in Turkey in return for the Soviets dismantling their offensive weapons on the island.
Crucially, without the period of American dominance in the years prior to Castro’s revolution, Cuba may well have taken a completely different course.
Indeed, the island’s hostility towards the US was born out of just that.
As President Kennedy put it in 1962: “I believe that there is no country in the world, including the African regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonisation, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime.
“I believe that we created, built and manufactured the Castro movement out of whole cloth without realising it.
“I believe that the accumulation of these mistakes has jeopardised all of Latin America.”
Going further still, he added: “I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States.
“Now we shall to have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries.”
Source : EXPRESS