Towards the later half of the Cold War, Cuba played an increasingly larger role in the development of international tensions. It not only served as the backdrop for various events, such as the Cuban revolution, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but also played an active role in Cold War events overseas, such as the Angolan Civil War, clearly playing an important part in the development of the Cold War.
In 1959, Fidel Castro seized control of Cuba after overthrowing and executing the supporters of his opposition, Batista. Although not formally announced as a communist regime until 1961, it was known to the US that Castro was a communist. This communist revolution heavily worried the US for many reasons. Firstly, Cuba was believed to be within the US’s sphere of influence, being just 90 miles off the coast of Florida. As a result, the US wished for countries such as Cuba, to reflect and support US interests. An example of this would be through the results of the Platt Agreement of 1902, which granted the US control of a naval base within Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Additionally, the US had various economic interests in Cuba, with most of the financial, railway, electricity, telegraph and sugar industries being owned and run by US corporations. The communist revolution led by Castro threatened this, and thus heightened worries.
Additionally, after the Cuban revolution, immigration of Cubans to the US increased massively due to fear of the new communist dictatorship. During the early years of the regime, about 215,000 Cubans fled to the US. This stream of refugees demonstrated once more to US residents in places like Florida and the US government the dangers of communism.
Communist Cuba also served as a base of communist influence in other nearby Latin American countries. Havana particularly became a centre of revolutionary activity and was where many activists, who later spread to areas in Latin America and Africa, were educated and trained. For example, beginning in 1967, the Cuban General Intelligence Directorate began to support various Nicaraguan revolutionary movements and later funded and organised the freeing of the jailed Sandinista (The Nicaraguan Communist party) leader Carlos Fonseca. This direct assistance of other communist movements further worried the US and led to more hard-line policies being employed elsewhere in Latin America.
Another key part played by Cuba was as the subject of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. This was a CIA plan to overthrow Castro’s government through the supporting and arming of Cuban refugees. The plan however was a failure as many of the refugees ended up captured by Castro’s forces, an army that had been underestimated by the CIA. The invasion helped fuel the Cold War though as it led to Cuba becoming allied with the Soviet Union to a much larger extent. The repelled invasion made Cuba wary of the US and led to an impetus to increase ties with the US’s opposition, the Soviet Union. Furthermore, it also heavily damaged the prestige of Kennedy’s administration as well as that of the US in general, leading to increased determination against communism, as evidenced by Kennedy’s later firm approach to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was yet another key role that Cuba played in the development of the Cold War. This event began when Khrushchev made the decision to place missiles in Cuba, despite the danger of US reactions. The orthodox view is that the reasoning for this by Khrushchev was so as to gain a propaganda victory after the failure of the Berlin Wall, as well as to rebalance power, as the Soviets felt threatened by US missiles in Turkey. Many revisionist historians however believe that Cuba itself, more importantly the defence of Cuba, was the reason for this. These historians believe that Khrushchev felt that defending his new ally from another Bay of Pigs-like invasion was incredibly important, and the reason for the missiles. The fact that Cuba served as the setting for the most significant event of the Cold War, evidenced by how close the Missile Crisis came to world-wide thermonuclear war, is just another key indication of how important Cuba was in the later half of the Cold War.
Furthermore, Cuba played a significant role in the Angolan Civil War, another proxy war of the Cold War. This began in 1975 after independence, leading to fighting between the communist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the anti-communist National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA was supported by the US and South Africa, while the MPLA received aid from the Soviet Union and Cuba. Both the SU and Cuba supplied soldiers as well, fighting alongside the MPLA. In the years of Cuba’s engagement, around 450,000 soldiers and development workers had been sent to Angola. From this it can be seen Cuba was prominent in fighting a proxy-war directly, playing an outward and key role in the development of the Cold War.
In conclusion, the part played by Cuba in the development of the Cold War was quite a significant one. It served as both an indirect player in events such as the mass immigration of Cuban exiles to the US, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but at other times as quite an engaged part of international events such as the exporting of communism to Latin America and Africa and the Angolan Civil War. All of these events helped contribute to the growing of tensions and in the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, almost brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. As a result, it is impossible to say that the part played by Cuba was nothing short of an incredibly important one.