Wayne S. Smith

Wayne S. Smith

Wayne S. Smith was born in Texas in 1932. He obtained degrees from the La Universidad de las Americas (BA), Columbia University (MA) and the George Washington University (PhD).

Smith served in the United States Marine Corps from 1949 to 1953 and saw combat during the the Korean War. He joined the Department of State in 1957, and saw service in the Soviet Union, Argentina and Cuba. In 1961 he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to serve as the Executive Secretary of his Latin American Task Force.

Smith served as Chief of the U.S. Interest Section in Cuba from 1979 to 1982 but left the Foreign Service in 1982 because of fundamental disagreements with the foreign policy of President Ronald Reagan.

In 1982 Smith was appointed as Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. In 1985 he became Adjunct Professor of Latin American studies at the Johns Hopkins University and since 1992 a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington.

Wayne S. Smith is the author of several books including Castro's Cuba: Soviet Partner or Nonaligned? (1985), The Closest of Enemies: Personal and Diplomatic Account of United States-Cuban Relations Since 1957 (1988),Subject to Solution: Problems in Cuban-U.S.Relations (1988), Portrait of Cuba (1991) and The Russians Aren't Coming: New Soviet Policy in Latin America (1992).

In March, 2001, Smith was a member of a United States delegation that visited the scene of the Bay of Pigs battle. The party included Arthur Schlesinger (historian), Robert Reynolds (the CIA station chief in Miami during the invasion), Jean Kennedy Smith (sister of John F. Kennedy), Alfredo Duran (Bay of Pigs veteran) and Richard Goodwin (Kennedy political adviser and speech writer).

Wayne S. Smith is currently a Center for International Policy Senior Fellow and director of the Cuba Program.

Primary Sources

(1) Wayne S. Smith, Afro-Cubans in Cuban Society (1999)

The Cuban Revolution, which triumphed on January 1, 1959, promised to end discrimination and provide equal opportunities for blacks. Without question, tremendous strides were made. Blacks were indeed given equal access to education through the postgraduate level. Discrimination in the workplace was greatly reduced. However, as Tato Qui ones pointed out, official policy was one thing, what happened was another. Some managers and officials simply didn't agree that blacks should be treated equally and their personal prejudices led them to give preference to whites.

Nor were blacks proportionately represented in the government. They still are not. At first this could be explained as a matter of cultural or educational lag. Forty years after the triumph of the revolution, however, that explanation has worn thin.

Still, by the end of the eighties blacks had made significant gains. An increasing percentage had become professionals, rising to the top in the military and winning great prestige in sports, the arts, music, dance, the cinema, and poetry. Santeria, while at first treated as a folkloric expression by the Cuban government, had come to be fully accepted as a religion. The way seemed open for new gains in the years that were to follow. Though underrepresented in the senior organs of the party-state-government triad, blacks had grounds for optimism that progress could be made there as well.

(2) BBC report, Cold War foes revisit battle scene (21st March, 2001)

Former enemies who fought each other 40 years ago have together revisited the site of one of the key battles of the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba.

The visit was the culmination of a three-day conference designed to investigate the causes of the conflict, what went so badly wrong for the US-backed forces and the lessons to be learnt from it.

Among those taking part were historians from both Cuba and the United States, Arthur Schlesinger and Richard Goodwin - both former advisers to the then US president, John Kennedy - soldiers from both sides and President Fidel Castro himself.

During the first two days in Havana previously classified documents were exchanged.

In the Cuban papers were transcripts of the telephone communications between President Castro and his military commanders during the battle.

They showed how closely involved he was, the tension of the moment and the joy when, after more than 60 hours of fighting, it became obvious that the invasion had been defeated.

The US documents chart in detail the humiliation felt at the nature of the defeat and the embarrassment caused to President Kennedy.

One State Department paper puts the blame for the debacle squarely on the CIA, which trained the invasion force.

It said: "The fundamental cause of the disaster was the Agency's failure to give the project, notwithstanding its importance and its immense potentiality for damage to the United States, the top-flight handling which it required."

It added: "There was failure at high levels to concentrate informed, unwavering scrutiny on the project."

In the aftermath of the failed mission, another US paper lays out the early plans to destabilise the Cuban government - a plan which became known as Operation Mongoose.

This included a number of bizarre schemes, including one to put powder in Fidel Castro's shoes to make his beard fall out and another which included exploding cigars.

The document suggested that the most effective commander of such an operation would be the then attorney general, the president's brother, Robert Kennedy.

Among those searching for answers in Cuba was the Kennedy's sister, Jean Kennedy Smith.

Walking the beaches of the Bay of Pigs, she said the conference had been a big boost in helping to bring peace between Cuba and the United States.

Another of the US delegates was Alfredo Duran, one of the invading force 40 years ago.

He faced the man he tried to overthrow, Fidel Castro, as well as other Cuban defenders.

As he stood on the beach he said: "This has been a very emotional time, especially discussing with the colonel in charge of the operation the very intense fighting that took place in this spot."

The beaches along the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba are now littered with sunbeds and overlooked by luxury hotels.

But there is plenty to remind the visitor that this was the scene of an important battle... as the Cubans see it the victory of a small country against an imperialist oppressor.

For the Americans it was a humiliating defeat that helped to shape its Cold War strategy for the next generation and its policy towards Cuba until now...

There was much talk at the conference of how President Kennedy was reluctant to back the invasion.

One of his former advisers who came to Havana, Arthur Schlesinger, said the president felt obliged to go ahead since he had inherited the plan from the previous Eisenhower administration.

"I advised against it," said Mr Schlesinger, "But my advice was not heeded."

In the aftermath of the failed invasion, any hopes of reconciliation with the United States died and President Castro moved closer into the Soviet camp.

The tension increased, culminating the following year in the Cuban missile crisis when the Soviet Union tried to station nuclear missiles in Cuba, pointing at the United States.

(3) Anita Snow, Cold War Adversaries Gather in Cuba (23rd March, 2001)

President Fidel Castro sat alongside ex-CIA operatives, advisers to President Kennedy and members of the exile team that attacked his country four decades ago as former adversaries met Thursday to examine the disastrous Bay of Pigs landing.

Dressed in his traditional olive green uniform, Castro read with amusement from old U.S. documents surrounding the 1961 invasion of Cuba by CIA-trained exiles, which helped shaped four decades of U.S.-Cuba politics. Some of the documents were analyses of a young, charismatic Castro.

Castro arrived in the morning as protagonists sat down to start a three-day conference on the invasion. Participants at the meeting - which was closed the media - said he was still there in the evening.

The Cuban president personally greeted former Kennedy aide and American historian Arthur Schlesinger, but made no public statement.

Participants later said that at one point, Castro read aloud from a once secret memorandum to Kennedy about his own visit to the United States as Cuba's new leader in 1959.

"`It would be a serious mistake to underestimate this man,''' Castro read with a smile, said Thomas Blanton of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

"With all his appearance of naivete, unsophistication and ignorance on many matters, he is clearly a strong personality and a born leader of great personal courage and conviction,''' Castro read, according to Blanton. "While we certainly know him better than before Castro remains an enigma.''

Blanton said Castro told the group he believed the actual aim of the invasion was not to provoke an uprising against his government but to set the stage for a U.S. intervention in Cuba. Blanton said a member of the former exile team, Alfredo Duran, agreed.

Among the newly declassified documents about the April 17-19, 1961, event was the first known written statement by the Central Intelligence Agency calling for the assassination of Castro.

In one document released Thursday in connection with the conference, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev warned Kennedy in a letter sent the day after the invasion began that the "little war'' in Cuba" could touch off a chain reaction in all parts of the globe.''

Khrushchev issued an "urgent call'' to Kennedy to end "the aggression'' against Cuba and said his country was prepared to provide Cuba with "all necessary help'' to repel the attack.

Trained by the CIA in Guatemala, the 2506 Brigade was comprised of about 1,500 exiles determined to overthrow Castro's government, which had seized power 28 months before.

The three-day invasion failed. Without U.S. air support and running short of ammunition, more than 1,000 invaders were captured. Another 100 invaders and 151 defenders died.

Blanton called the conference "a victory over a bitter history.''

Other key American figures attending were Robert Reynolds, the CIA station chief in Miami during the invasion; Wayne Smith, then a U.S. diplomat stationed in Havana; and Richard Goodwin, another Kennedy assistant, who with Schlesinger considered the invasion ill-advised.

On the Cuban government's side were Vice President Jose Ramon Fernandez, a retired general who led defending troops on the beach known here as Playa Giron, and many other retired military men.

(4) Wayne S. Smith, Crackdown in Cuba, The Nation (24th April, 2003)

The arrest and long-term imprisonment of dozens of dissidents in Cuba and the rapid execution of three men who had attempted to hijack a boat were deplorable. Over the past few years, there had been an encouraging trend toward greater tolerance of dissent in Cuba. Former President Jimmy Carter met with dissidents during his trip to Cuba a year ago. Other international leaders and many visiting Americans have also met with them. Some of the better-known dissidents were allowed to travel abroad. The government didn't like the Varela Project, which calls for a referendum on greater political liberties and economic reforms, but it had not imprisoned those who put it forward.

Why then this sudden reversal? Why the crackdown? In part, it was in reaction to growing provocations on the part of the Bush Administration, which had ordered the new chief of the US Interests Section, James Cason, to hold a series of high-profile meetings with dissidents, even including seminars in his own residence in Havana. Given that Cason's announced purpose was to promote "transition to a participatory form of government," the Cubans came to see the meetings as subversive in nature and as highly provocative. And, in fairness, let us imagine the reaction of the Attorney General and the Director of Homeland Security if the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington was holding meetings with disgruntled Americans and announcing that the purpose was to bring about a new form of government - a socialist government - in the United States. He would have been asked to leave the country faster than Tom Ridge could say "duct tape."

An even more crucial element in the crackdown than Cason's meetings with dissidents was the announcement of the US policy of "pre-emptive" strikes and the beginning of the war in Iraq. It looked to the Cubans as though the United States had clearly decided on a policy of military action against any so-called rogue state it deemed a possible threat--and to ignore international organizations and international law in the process. It was time, the Cubans concluded, to batten down the hatches. "Who knows?" one Cuban put it to me, "We may be next."

They noted that Cuba had sometimes been mentioned as part of the "axis of evil." And they remembered that last year State Department officials had tried to claim (without producing evidence) that Cuba was involved in the production of biological weapons and was a potential threat to the United States. That just might now be enough to prompt a pre-emptive strike, and if so, they reasoned, they could no longer afford to have dissidents, possibly directed by the United States, roaming free.

(5) Wayne S. Smith, The Guardian (1st November, 2006)

The annual vote in the UN general assembly on the US embargo against Cuba is back this month. Last year's result saw 182 member states oppose the blockade, with only four - the US, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau - voting in favour. The embargo, and indeed overall US policy towards the island, have virtually no international support. No wonder: it is a failed approach.

The essential elements of the embargo have been in place since 1960. As recently declassified documents confirm, the objective of the policy since the beginning has been to bring about the downfall of the Castro regime, an ambition pursued in vain for 46 years.

Early on, there may have been some logic to US efforts to isolate Cuba and bring down its government - at a time, that is, when Fidel Castro was trying to overthrow the leaders of various other Latin American states and moving into a relationship with the Soviet Union, one that led to the missile crisis in 1962. But all that is now ancient history. Castro has built normal, peaceful diplomatic relations in the region, while any threat posed by the so-called Cuban-Soviet alliance ended with the demise of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago.

And yet the Bush administration's policy towards Cuba is more hostile than ever. This despite the fact that, immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, Cuba expressed its solidarity with the American people. It subsequently called for dialogue on joint efforts against terrorism. It also signed all 12 UN resolutions against terrorism.

Surely these overtures were worth exploring. But, no, the Bush administration rejected them out of hand and instead began calling for the downfall of the Castro government. As Roger Noriega, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, put it in October 2003: "The president is determined to see the end of the Castro regime, and the dismantling of the apparatus that has kept it in power."

To bring that about, the administration appointed a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which, in May 2004, produced a 500-page action plan for the removal of the Castro government and for what sounded worryingly like the US occupation of Cuba: how to make their trains run on time, how to reorganise their schools, and so on. Shortly thereafter, it even appointed a US "transition coordinator". As Jose Miguel Insulza, the Chilean secretary general of the Organisation of American States remarked, "But there is no transition - and it isn't your country."

The underlying premise of the document was that the regime was on the verge of collapse. Just a few more sanctions and it would all crumble.

That proved wildly optimistic. Two years on, the Cuban economy has a growth rate of at least 8%. New, crucial economic relationships have been forged with Venezuela and China, the price of nickel (now Cuba's major export) is at record highs, and there are strong signs of the development of a major new oilfield off the north coast.

The Bush administration simply ignored this reality. In a new document issued on July 10 this year, it suggested that its "plan" was working and had produced a "new stage" in Cuba's transformation. It also put a new objective: to prevent the "succession strategy", in which Fidel Castro is succeeded by his brother, Raul. This was "totally unacceptable", according to the Bush administration, which hinted that the Cuban people would not allow it.

But on July 31, it happened. Fidel announced that because of an intestinal operation, he was signing power over to his brother, who would be acting president. In Miami, there were celebrations in the streets, with shouted assurances that this meant the end of the Cuban Revolution. As one celebrant put it: "We'll all be home within a month. The Cuban people will never accept Raul!"

But accept him they did. The Cuban people took Raul's promotion in their stride, with calm maturity. They had always expected that if Fidel were for any reason incapacitated, Raul would take over. Now he had. He does not have his brother's charisma, but is known to be an excellent administrator. The armed forces, which he commands, are without doubt the most efficient and respected institution in the country. Three months on, Raul is running the government effectively.

Seeming to follow Miami's lead, however, the Bush administration has refused to accept the transition. It refuses to deal with Raul, as it had earlier refused to deal with Fidel. This is especially unfortunate for there is considerable evidence that Raul is more pragmatic than his brother and might be open to some degree of accommodation with Washington. That was something at least worth exploring, but following its usual pattern, the Bush administration simply closed the door.

Bush's is not only a failed policy, it is one which does considerable harm. The US should want to see Cuba move towards a more open society, yes, with greater respect for the civil rights of its citizens. But given that the US has since 1898 been the principal threat to Cuban sovereignty and independence, any time it is threatening and pressuring the island, the Cuban government will react defensively, urging discipline and unity - which doesn't encourage internal relaxation and liberalisation.

US policy, then, is actually an impediment to precisely the kind of liberalising changes the US - and its European allies - should wish to see in Cuba. And given the counterproductive nature of US policy, any country that supports that policy in effect works against positive change in Cuba.