The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union lasted from the late 1940s until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. During the roughly 40 years of rivalry, the two superpowers never entered into direct military conflict—at least conventionally. Rather, they supported insurgent and government allies in the developing world (commonly referred to as the “Third World”), who often entered into armed conflict. These conflicts could be ideological or communal in nature. Conflicts were often “proxy wars,” wherein the Soviets or Americans sponsored rival insurgent groups (such as in Angola), or “wars of national liberation,” which were nationalistic in nature (such as in Vietnam).

The American influence in Cuba had been very strong since it granted the country independence in 1902 after defeating the Spanish in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The United States supported a succession of corrupt and repressive governments, the last of which was that of Fulgencio Batista. Batista’s government was overthrown in 1959 by a guerrilla army led by Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine trained as a physician. Castro’s insurgency had begun rather unremarkably, with significant defeats at the Moncada barracks in 1953 and a landing on the southeast coast of Cuba from Mexico in 1956 (when only 15 rebels survived to seek refuge in the Sierra Maestra mountains).

It was Batista’s brutal reprisals against urban civilians that eventually drove many Cubans to support Castro’s movement. When Batista’s army was defeated and demoralized in a rural offensive against the rebels, Castro, his brother Raul, Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos launched a multifront campaign that ended in victory when their units converged in the capital of Havana in January 1959. The revolution had not been a Communist revolution, and the new Cuban government was not initially a Communist government. But by early 1960, Cuba began to receive strong economic and military support from the Soviet Union. Castro and his followers soon declared the revolution to be a Communist one, and the Soviet- American Cold War opened a new and volatile front. American attempts to subvert Castro’s regime included the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and several assassination attempts against Castro. The Soviets and Americans came close to war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

The United States used sabotage to destabilize Cuba’s economy and government and plotted to assassinate Fidel Castro. Did the United States engage in state-sponsored terrorism? What’s the difference between this and Soviet support of their allies during the Cold War?

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