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Statement on Cuba by Senator John F. Kennedy

October 20, 1960

Mr. Nixon's new Cuba policy is too little and too late.

After doing nothing for 6 years while the conditions that give rise to communism grew - after ignoring the repeated warning of our Ambassadors that the Communists were about to take over Cuba - after standing helplessly by while the Russians established a new satellite only 90 miles from American shores - Mr. Nixon and the Republicans, after 2 years of inaction since Castro took power, now attempt to make up for this incredible history of blunder, inaction, retreat and failure, by cutting off several million dollars worth of exports in a move which will have virtually no effect by itself in removing Communist rule from Cuba.

In cutting off a carefully limited number of the American goods which can be sent to Cuba Mr. Nixon has made a dramatic but almost empty gesture - a gesture which will have so little impact on Castro as to be almost meaningless. The State Department itself admits that our exports to Cuba have already declined by more than 50 percent since Castro took power. This latest move merely accelerates and aids a long-standing Castro policy - a policy which the State Department itself recognized in its statement this morning - a policy of eliminating all Cuban dependence on American goods, shifting Cuban trade to the Communist bloc.

For example, while in August of 1958 we sent $42 million worth of goods to Cuba - this August we sent only $18 million worth as a result of Castro's deliberate policy of cutting American exports. And, as the New York Times points out this morning, the goods which are now cut off, are the very goods whose export has been declining - while the goods which Cuba can still buy - such as foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals - are the goods whose export has declined relatively little.

In addition, the State Department admits that Castro has refused to pay for about one-quarter of the American goods he has received since coming into power. What we have now done - in the case of a large bulk of our exports - is to prohibit American manufacturers from giving their goods away.

And the slight impact which Mr. Nixon's latest policy will have - is even more diluted by our complete failure to seek the cooperation of our allies - thus making it simple for Mr. Castro to turn to other South American and European nations for those few goods which he can't get from Russia or Red China.

For 6 years before Castro came to power the Republicans did absolutely nothing to stop the rise of communism in Cuba. Our Ambassadors repeatedly warned the Republicans of mounting danger. But the warning was ignored, and communism grows in strength and influence.

In 1955 Mr. Nixon went to Cuba to view conditions for himself. But his only reaction was to praise "the competence and stability" of the Batista dictatorship which was, even then, threatened by Communist activities - and to say that "communism has reached its high-water mark in Latin America" at a time when Communist influence was beginning to rise, and only a few short years before the Communists took over all of Cuba.

Mr. Nixon saw nothing wrong in Cuba - he made no recommendations for action - he did not warn America that danger was growing - and as a result the Communists took over Cuba with virtually no opposition from the United States.

Now the Communists have been in power for 2 years. Yet we have done almost nothing to keep Castro from consolidating his regime and beginning subversive activities throughout Latin America. In fact, our prestige in Latin America has fallen so low that - at the recent Inter-American Foreign Ministers Conference - we were unable to persuade our former good neighbors to pass a resolution even criticizing Cuba by name.

Now, 2 years later, following blunder after blunder, defeat after defeat, the Republicans decide to combat communism by cutting off exports long after the time has passed when such a move might have had a really significant impact - long after our Cuban exports have declined drastically - and long after, as Mr. Nixon must privately recognize, Mr. Castro himself had already embarked on a deliberate program to cut down American exports.

The next administration will have to do much better than Mr. Nixon has done, if it intends to wage a serious offensive against communism on our very doorstep.

First, we will have to work with both the Organization of American States and our European allies in order to promote collective action against communism in the Caribbean. For, unless we secure the cooperation of our allies, Mr. Castro will be able to trade at will with the free world, rendering our own partial embargo completely futile. Despite this pressing need for joint action, the Republicans have completely failed to enlist the cooperation of our allies. And the reason is plain. For under Republican leadership our prestige has fallen so low that our Latin American allies are no longer willing to follow our leadership in the fight against communism in this hemisphere.

Second, we must consider more stringent economic sanctions - such as the seizing of all Cuban assets in this country to be used to pay off some of the vast sums which Cuba still owes us. Of course Cuban assets in this country - which were an estimated $200 million in June - have declined drastically in the last months as the Republicans have let this potential opportunity slip away. We should also consider measures to prevent goods from being shipped to Castro via a third country.

Third, we must attempt to strengthen the non-Batista democratic anti-Castro forces in exile, and in Cuba itself, who offer eventual hope of overthrowing Castro. Thus far these fighters for freedom have had virtually no support from our Government.

Fourth, and most important - we must immediately act to prevent communism from taking over other countries in Latin America - by removing the conditions under which communism thrives. This week I outlined a 12-point program for accomplishing this - but thus far Mr. Nixon has been completely silent.

John F. Kennedy, Statement on Cuba by Senator John F. Kennedy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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