The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• John F. Kennedy
Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, Johnstown, PA
October 15, 1960

Only if we are strong as a nation - strong economically, strong militarily, strong educationally, strong in heart and purpose - can we assure our peace and security in an age where our enemies are overtaking us in missile power, are far surpassing us in broadcasts abroad, have penetrated for the first time into the Middle East and Africa, have outshone our efforts in science and space, and have rolled the Iron Curtain to 90 miles from our shores onto the once friendly island of Cuba.

Mr. Nixon hasn't mentioned Cuba very prominently in this campaign. He talks about standing firm in Berlin, standing firm in the Far East, standing up to Khrushchev, but he never mentions standing firm in Cuba - and if you can't stand up to Castro, how can you be expected to stand up to Khrushchev?

Earlier this month, I reviewed the sorry story of how under our very noses, and in part as the result of our own policies - Cuba had moved from a position of good neighbor to a position of bitter enemy. We had been warned that anti-American feeling was rising, that the Communists were taking over the revolution - and that our security would be endangered by a Castro regime.

Mr. Nixon had been to Cuba on one of his famous trips. But Mr. Mikoyan has also been to Cuba. And while Mr. Nixon impressed the Cuban dictator, Batista, who has since been deposed Mr. Mikoyan impressed Castro and others now in control of the Cuban Government. Mr. Nixon calls his trip experience. But the American people cannot afford many more such experiences.

For the transformation of Cuba into a Communist base of operations a few minutes from our coast - by jet plane, missile, or submarine - is an incredibly dangerous development to have been permitted by our Republican policymakers. Havana - once a city bursting with admiration for Franklin Roosevelt, the good neighbor - is now a center of Communist press, propaganda, and broadcasts spreading anti-Yankee sentiment throughout Latin America. New groups of revolutionaries are being trained for undercover activities in other countries and the whole Western Hemisphere security system is drastically threatened.

This wouldn't have happened under Franklin Roosevelt, who warned the Nazis in 1940 to stay out of our hemisphere; this wouldn't have happened under Harry Truman who warned the Communists in 1947 to stay out of Greece and Turkey. And this would not have happened in Cuba if the Republican leadership Mr. Nixon represents every step which foresight and experience should have directed them to take - in order to prevent a Communist victory only 90 miles from our shores.

I do not know how Mr. Nixon can talk of firmness in view of his party's record in Cuba. I do not know how he can talk of experience in view of his party's experience in Cuba. I do not know how he can seek the Presidency and avoid explaining what happened in this major foreign policy disaster.

But it did happen - and the question now is, What do we do about Cuba and Castro now? What can a new administration do to end this drift?

1. The first thing we have to do is let the Cuban people know our determination that they will someday again be free. We did not make clear to the Cubans our devotion to freedom during the brutal reign of the Batista dictatorship - and we are not making our position any clearer under the Castro dictatorship. We have no Cuban Voice of America broadcasts in Spanish at all, and only 1 hour a day in Spanish beamed in general to all Latin America. We must promptly initiate a major broadcast program for Cuba in particular, and more for the Americas in general.

2. Secondly, we must end the harrassment, which this Government has carried on, of liberty-loving anti-Castro forces in Cuba and in other lands. While we cannot violate international law, we must recognize that these exiles and rebels represent the real voice of Cuba, and should not be constantly handicapped by our Immigration and Justice Department authorities.

3. Third; we must let Mr. Castro know that we do not intend to be pushed around any longer and in particular do not intend to be pushed out of our naval base at Guantanamo, or denied fair compensation for American property he has seized.

4. Fourth, we must let Mr. Khrushchev know that we are permitting no expansion of his foothold in our hemisphere - and that the Organization of American States will be given real strength and stature to resist any further Communist penetration by whatever means are necessary.

5. Fifth and finally, we must strengthen the cause of freedom throughout all Latin America creating an atmosphere where liberty will flourish, and where Cuban communism will be resisted, isolated, and left to die on the vine

One road to Havana ultimately lies through Rio and Buenos Aires and Mexico City. If the rest of Latin America is unsure of our stand on native dictators as well as Communist dictators; if they feel we are concerned only with our Soviet enemies and not their enemies of poverty, hunger, and disease - if they feel we respond not to their requests but only to Mr. Castro's threats, then the same policies of drift and neglect that preceded Castro's rise to power will continue to weaken our influence and prestige.

We cannot write the Cuban people off as lost. Neither should we drive them inextricably into Soviet hands. But let us make the American Revolution the chief import of Latin America, not the Cuban Revolution. And if we do so then some day on the island of Cuba itself, there will be a government constituted to secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, Johnstown, PA", October 15, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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