John F. Kennedy Versus Fidel Castro in the Early 1960s

Fidel Castro (left) and John F. Kennedy (right)

Kennedy vs. Castro

A Research Guide by Manny Paula


The scenario involving Cuba in the early 1960s presented a unique point in the Cold War. Cuba, the small island only 90 miles off the coast of the United States, was led by a dictator named Fidel Castro. It was President John F. Kennedy that stood against him in order to keep the United States safe. The importance and position of Cuba in the Cold War is debatable. Was Cuba just a pawn for the Soviet Union? Was Castro ever really a threat? According to the policies and actions of Kennedy it is apparent that he believed Castro’s regime was a very important player in this war. Throughout the early 1960s major events put attention on the Castro regime in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion were the two major events that attained global attention.  However, looking in depth into the Kennedy foreign policy towards Cuba demonstrates the amount of importance he placed on Castro. This research guide attempts to clear up the misconceptions and conspiracies and focus attention on the actual policies and the public opinion of Kennedy’s actions toward Castro.

When discussing John F. Kennedy it is difficult not to fall into some conspiracy. His life and death have been the topic of several books, movies, and documentaries and many times the facts are skewed. This preliminary research guide primarily focuses on the declassified documents that were released from the CIA in the late 1990s. Using various archives and libraries it becomes simpler to avoid the conspiracies and formulate an opinion based on the hard evidence. The focus is to go through the facts and decide why Kennedy was so preoccupied by Castro. Several of the released documents focus on the attempted assassination plots, secret operations to overthrow the regime, and the more famous Bay of Pigs invasion. A portion of the historiography that is sometimes ignored for this time period is the public opinion on the matter. The public opinion of Kennedy’s actions can be seen in the primary source documents from various popular newspapers at the time. Why would Kennedy waste his time focusing on the tiny island of Cuba? How would the world perceive the United States when they feared a dictator? The people were curious as to why it seemed Kennedy was obsessed with Castro. The books included in the general overview section provide insight into the policies, events, and background knowledge to the long history of US and Cuban relations. This background information may help clarify why Kennedy put such an emphasis on Castro’s regime. Was it because they were so close to US soil? Or was removing Castro a way to show the USSR that he was in control? This research guide provides the sources to try and answer these several questions as well as decipher fact from friction.

The importance of the policies and actions taken by President Kennedy created some of the most memorable and crucial events of the Cold War. These policies happened to be towards Fidel Castro and his Cuban regime and that is why Kennedy’s actions against Castro are very important.

Picture depicting possible range of missiles in Cuba

General Overview

1. Husain, Aiyaz. “Covert Action and US Cold War Strategy in Cuba, 1961-62.” Cold War History 5, no. 1 (February 2005): 23-53

This source sheds light on the declassified documents that were released in 1997 that covered the Kennedy administration’s role in Cuban from 1961 to 1962. Examining the declassified documents allow for further knowledge of the policy towards Cuba during these crucial years of the Cold War. Furthermore, major questions can be raised from this source including whether a second Bay of Pig project would have been attempted. Also, Operation Mongoose and other covert actions are highlighted which would provide abundant background information on the Kennedy policy towards Castro and Cuba.

2. Suchlicki, Jaime. Cuba: from Columbus to Castro and Beyond. Washington: Brassey’s, 1997: 137-195.

When trying to understand the policies under John F. Kennedy it is vital to comprehend the relationship between Cuba and the United States beforehand. Suchlicki’s work provides good background knowledge crucial in making sense of the various policies. More specifically it includes background knowledge about Castro’s revolution and the American involvement throughout the rise of the Castro regime.

3. Kennedy, Robert F. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1971.

Robert Kennedy’s memoir on the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis gives an insightful look into the actions and views of his brother John F. Kennedy. This will provide more firsthand accounts behind the relationship between Castro and Kennedy during one the most important events of their relationship.

4. Rasenberger, Jim. The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, New York: Scribner. 2011.

The history presented here by Rasenberger draws important connections to the importance of the public during the crucial years of the 1960s. Rasenberger uses the declassified documents and focuses his attention on Kennedy, Castro, and some of the other major figures during this time. Furthermore he draws upon the two most famous previous books about the Bay of Pigs. Most importantly, this source raises an important issue about whether ideology and morality should play a role in government decision making. Moreover, this source from a contemporary journalist ties in well with the article from the Chicago Tribune in the 1960s.

5. Barrass, Gordon. The Great Cold War: A Journey Through the Hall of Mirrors, California : Stanford University Press. 2009.

The work done by Barrass in this book provides several insights into the Cold War. This source is not specifically focused on US and Cuba relations; however, Barrass does talk about the subject significantly because of its tremendous importance. Furthermore, Barrass worked for the British intelligence during some of the most crucial years of the Cold War so this book provides an insider’s perspective. Lastly, the focus throughout the book is placed on the key policy makers and strategists of the Cold War.

Electronic Resources

1. CIA Declassified Documents

This collection of declassified documents provides ample amounts of primary documents from the Kennedy administration and the CIA. Moreover, the site allows for plenty of research and insight into the major moments of the Castro and Kennedy relationship including the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis.

Two Examples from the site

This link leads to  a this large document of close to 400 pages focuses on the American foreign policy with Cuba released in 1998.

This source leads to a report that documents the CIA’s internal probe of the Bay of Pigs Affair. This source provides insight behind how the Kennedy administration operated before, during, and after the Bay of Pigs failure.

Primary Sources

Public protest over Cuba situation

1. McGovern, George. “Is Castro an Obsession With Us?: A Senator says emphatically yes–and claims it does scant justice to our dignity as a world leader and masks the real causes of the Latin-American crisis. Is Castro an Obsession?” The New York Times, May 19, 1963.

This primary newspaper source provides a more personal account of how the country was feeling about Cuba at the time. The article at some points attacks Kennedy and states that he obsessed with Castro. Moreover, the article goes as far as to say that Kennedy’s obsession is actually making the country appear weaker to the rest of the world and even to Americans.

2. “U. S. Urged: Help Unseat Fidel: State Dept. Aid Says It’s Up to Cubans.” Chicago Tribune, September 9, 1963.

This article in the Chicago Tribune highlights another area of public opinion. The focus for this article was to show that the American policy was to help the Cubans overthrow Fidel Castro. The urgency came from Latin American officials and a Cuban exile. Also, these officials mention the moral duty of Americans as a great people to help the Cuban exiles regain their country. These two newspaper articles vary the point of view and provide for an argument about how the Cuban situation was viewed by the general public.

3. Healy, Robert. “The Political Circuit: Cuba Critics Losing Steam.” Boston Globe, April 19th, 1963.

This newspaper article includes the ideas and thoughts of senators around the US about what Kennedy was doing with Cuba. The most important part of the article was Senator Keating criticizing Kennedy about his failure to communicate his policy on Cuba to the public. This provides the amount of confusion the public felt about what was going on with President Kennedy and his policies.

4. Farris, Fred. “Kennedy Won’t Dicker on Inspection: Tells Soviet Castro Must Agree–Soon, or Face Tougher Measures.” Boston Globe, November 5th, 1962.

This article can be valuable because it was written shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis. While the crisis was over this article still shows the tension between all the parties involved. Moreover, the article demonstrates that the public was still seeing a dangerous scenario unfold. This source provides a look into how Kennedy was perceived by the journalists and public shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis had ended.

Archives and Libraries

1. The National Security Archive: The George Washington University

The archive at GWU provides various declassified documents as well as electronic briefing books. The subsections offered by the site include Latin America and US Intelligence Community which provides the sources needed for research on the topic. The organization from the archive allows for plenty of information to be found in a timely manner.


1. Memorandum- November 12, 1963

2.Memorandum April 11, 1963

3.Memorandum March 4, 1963

These various examples from the GWU archive demonstrate the other possibility for the Kennedy administration which was to bring Castro to the American side. This topic is less known than the major moments of the Cold War, for example the Bay of Pigs, but it does provide a look into the secretive and ever- changing approach Kennedy took to Castro. Moreover, this type of paper would benefit from various different parts of the foreign policy. Solely focusing on the major events and policy would not do justice for all the Kennedy administration had planned concerning Cuba.

4. Audio Clips from the Kennedy White House

This source provides several audio clips and the manuscripts for some of conversations about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The clips include candid conversations between John Kennedy and his brother Robert as well as conversations between Kennedy and several officials.

Example: Tuesday, October 16th, 12:45 P.M.

This audio clip demonstrates the severity of the events in Cuba. The conversation between JFK and his brother Robert about a full invasion of Cuba shows how serious the foreign policy options were getting. The two understood that if an invasion of Cuba were to occur that the Soviet Union would respond and a war would have been brought to American shores.

2. The Library at the University of Texas

The online library collection given by the University of Texas has several declassified documents on the major moments of the relationship between Kennedy and Castro. The difference with this source is that it provides an updated look at the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War events for the 50th anniversary of the crisis. This allows for a more modern look at the moments that could have changed the world.

3. National Archive

This press release from the National Archive and JFK library explains the new exhibit that commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This source is important because of the video that includes brief audio tapes from the president.

4. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The digital archive of the JFK Library gives several primary sources from the President himself. The searches with the digital archive include several papers written by the President and audio and visual tapes.

5. Wilson Center Digital Archive

While the previous sources all dealt with the American foreign policy towards Cuba during the early 1960s, this source from the Wilson Center actually provides some insight into what Castro was thinking in Cuba. This source contains a collection of primary sources “mainly from Cuban archives and in Spanish” from the years 1961 to 1979. The documents deal with the secret agreements made between the USSR and Cuba as well as some of the Cuban foreign policy at that time. Moreover, the source includes letters, resolutions, memorandums, and even minutes of conversations.


This printed version of the conversation between Mikoyan and Castro shows how Castro was disappointed about the removal of missiles from Cuba without his participation in the discussion. Castro puts much of the focus on how the crisis affected his people and how the Cuban people became very confused. This draws a parallel between Castro’s relationship with his people and Kennedy’s relationship with Americans (the newspaper sources). This source was from the Russian Foreign Ministry archives. Because Cuba is still a Communist nation getting primary sources from them is very difficult so most of the sources from this archive come from Russia.

This source is actually written in Spanish so it is more important as a source because it was not translated (translation of a text usually involves some interpretation even if not intended). This source presents the discussion between Castro and USSR officials in Cuba after the crisis. The conversation ranges from several different topics including Cuba and its importance to Marxism to the possibility of economic sanctions placed against Cuba by the United States. Moreover, it shows how Castro emphatically placed central importance on protecting the Cuban people.