By Daniel Garcia Marco (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Early on January 3, 1961 a telegram signed by the Foreign Minister of Cuba began a frantic day of meetings and consultations which led to the US decision to break off relations with the island.
On Monday, more than 54 years later, the respective embassies in the capitals of both countries reopen and diplomatic relations formally resume after a negotiation process that has been gradually easing the level of confrontation.
“It was a very emotional day. We went on a bus and were driven to the ferry (to Florida),” recalled Wayne Smith, a US diplomat to Havana who had to leave hastily when the sun fell that January 3rd.
The departure of Smith and many others was the culmination of an intense day of cross telegrams and decisions that marked the tense history between the two neighbors.
At 1:20 a.m., Cuban foreign minister Carlos Olivares sent a telegram to Daniel M. Braddock, interim charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Havana, warning that staff in the mission “should be limited to 11 persons,” according to the text, declassified by the US government. The deadline for departure was 48 hours.
Braddock sent the content of the telegram to Washington as well as the words spoken the previous day by Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Revolution that triumphed in 1959. Castro said that if all remaining US officials decide to leave Cuba, “everything would be perfectly fine by us.”
“Anyways, 90 percent are spies,” said Castro, according to Braddock, who, faced with an inability to perform consular duties with so few employees, proposed to break off relations with the communist government of the island.
At 9:00 in the morning, president Dwight Eisenhower, who was a few days before handing over the reins of the country to president elect John Fitzgerald Kennedy, held a meeting with his cabinet at the White House.
After being assured that the break would not signify losing the Guantanamo naval base, his main concern, Eisenhower directed Secretary of State Christian Herter to break relations “as quickly as possible.”
“Everything was headed to some sort of confrontation,” Smith recalled the tense weeks leading up to the rupture.
On January 4, Cuba argued at the United Nations that the United States was preparing some kind of military intervention against the sovereignty of the island. Although Washington denied it, the plan was underway, according to declassified documents. Just three months later, in April 1961, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion took place with Kennedy in the White House.
Following legal consultations and communications with the incoming Kennedy executive, at 20:30, Herter sent a telegram to the head of the Cuban mission in Washington. “The US government formally notified the government of Cuba termination of relations,” wrote the secretary of state, who also asked for Cuban officials to leave Washington within 48 hours.
At the same time, the White House issued a statement from President Eisenhower, who branded the letter received earlier in the day by the Cuban government as “the latest in a long series of harassments, baseless accusations and contempt” against the United States.
The president stressed that the decision would not affect the “friendship and concern” for the Cuban people, “who are suffering under the yoke of a dictator.”
By that time, Smith and other diplomats were exiting Havana, leaving behind the building next to the Malecon seawall that will once again, 54 years later, be called an embassy as of Monday.