Kennedy Vs Papa Doc, Castro and Trujillo

Introduction
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963), the 35th president of the United States, was an influential figure during the Cold War. Prior to his political career, he joined the US Navy in 1941 during World War II. This experience nearly became a tragedy when the Japanese attacked the PT boat he was commanding in the South-Pacific. The boat was destroyed, but Kennedy swam intermittently for 11 hours with a wounded soldier on his back to reach a nearby island[1]. What was about to become a tragedy turned out to be an epic struggle for survival which led Kennedy to win the award of “US Navy and Marine Corps Medal” for heroism. Subsequently, he left the US Navy to become a congressman in 1946; he served three terms consecutively in the House of Representatives. After that, Kennedy left the Congress to run for the Senate in 1952; he won against the incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge. As his popularity continued to grow, he decided to run for president in January 1960. He defeated the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, and began his term in January 1961 in a very fragile context: Communism was already established in Cuba and the fear of its spread was at its climax. Kennedy then pledged to stop this pervasive system at any cost during his inauguration[2].

JFK_Castro_DUvalier_Trujillo

After the establishment of Communism in Cuba, Latin America was among the most vulnerable regions threatened by it. Kennedy’s approach was then to overthrow Fidel Castro by covert operations, and to provide support to the other countries so that they become less vulnerable to communism. What might seem to be a straightforward approach turned out to be very challenging to Kennedy. The Caribbean Basin constituted a particular hardship to Kennedy due to its 3 different predispositions: Cuba was communist, Haiti and the Dominican Republic were in a middle course, and the other countries were staunch allies of the US[3]. Nevertheless, during his short presidency, Kennedy played a significant role in preventing the communism spread by making concessions in his policies.

Alliance for Progress
The economy of Latin America was generally weak, which made it vulnerable to foreign interference. In response to that, Kennedy proposed in 1961 the Agency for International Development and the Alliance for Progress, which was also called: “Marshall Plan for Latin America”. It aimed to modernize Latin American countries while promoting social justice, and democracy by providing a $20 billion loan in a period of 10 years[4]. More than $ 1 billion was already spent during the first year of the program[5]; schools, airports, and hospitals were built in many countries[6].

However, the Alliance was generally considered as a failure. The economic growth of Latin American countries did not exceed 2%[7]; many countries remained authoritarian, and repression continued; the number of unemployed people increased from 18 million to 25 million[8]. Furthermore, the population growth in Latin America increased steeply in the 1960s. In Brazil, the population increased by 25 million people, in Columbia by more than 15.6 million people, in the continent generally by an annual growth of 2.9% [9]. The Alliance was a failure to Kennedy, and it was ultimately abandoned in 1973.

Even though the Alliance for Progress failed its main missions, it helped in preventing the spread of Communism in Latin America, which was one Kennedy’s interests. Without this program, many countries in Latin American would have solicited the support of the Soviet Union which could in turn lead the Communism establishment there. From this perspective, the Alliance for Progress could be seen as a success for Kennedy.

Kennedy Vs Castro
After the Cuban Revolution, the relationship between Cuba and the US deteriorated. In 1961, Eisenhower ended the US diplomatic relationship with Cuba. He then started a plan to overthrow Castro: the “Bay of Pigs” invasion, which Kennedy inherited, and authorized when he came in power. 1400 Cuban exiles were sent to  the Bay of Pigs to overthrow Castro and to dismantle the established Communism there. However, this mission did not take long to turn into a fiasco. Only 4 days after the invasion started, on April 19th, 1961, the invaders were defeated by the Cuban army; 1100 men among them were captured and imprisoned[10]; they spent 20 months in captivity. Finally, they were released when the US agreed to provide food and medical support worth $53 million as compensation to Cuba.

After the Bay of Pigs disaster, Castro wanted to strengthen his ties with the Soviet Union[11]. Nevertheless, Kennedy was not deterred from plotting other coups against him. In November 1961, Kennedy approved Operation Mongoose, a covert operation consisting of multiple plots to undermine Castro. Among those plots were industrial sabotage, crops burning, worsening Cubans’ condition of living[12]. Unfortunately, none of these plots succeeded; Mongoose was a failure which harmed the reputation of the CIA[13]. Eventually, after the Cuban Missile crisis, Kennedy abandoned the Operation Mongoose.

On October 16th in 1962, Kennedy was informed of the presence of ballistic missiles in Cuba placed by the Soviet Union. This constituted a massive threat to the US, but Kennedy handled it successfully. The first strategy Kennedy adopted was to put Cuba in quarantine[14] by encircling it with American ships. This was to prevent the transportation of other missiles from the Soviet Union. Subsequently, Kennedy negotiated with the Soviet Union to remove its missiles in exchange to not invade Cuba, and to remove the American Missiles in Turkey[15]. As a result, the crisis was solved.

In sum, Kennedy failed his mission to dismantle communism in Cuba, and to oust Castro. The Bay of Pigs invasion turned into a fiasco, and the Operation Mongoose failed too. However, the concession he made in his policies helped in avoiding a war with Cuba. First, by agreeing to provide food and medicine $53 million worth in exchange for the prisoners from the Bay of Pigs tragedy, he reduced the tension between the US and Cuba. Second, by accepting to remove American missiles in Turkey in exchange for Soviet Union to remove its missiles in Cuba, he calmed the situation down with the Soviet Union, which helped avoiding a third World War.

Kennedy Vs Trujillo
Kennedy, in addition to the Bays of Pigs invasion to Cuba, inherited from Eisenhower the covert operation to oust the ruthless dictator Raphael Trujillo of Dominican Republic. Eisenhower approved the plot after Trujillo attempted to kill the Venezuelan president Betancourt in 1960. Shortly after, during Kennedy’s presidency, the CIA helped in executing the plan. Between March 31st, and April 19th in 1961, several M3 machine guns were sent to the dissidents of Trujillo[16]. However, Kennedy did not agree to kill Trujillo; he sent a cable to Henry Dearborn, a diplomat official, where he mentioned that the US will not endorse Trujillo’s death. Nevertheless, Trujillo was cut down in cold blood in May 1961 while he was heading to his mistress house[17].

Even though Kennedy opposed the assassination of Trujillo, he did not cancel the covert operation aiming to overthrow him because Trujillo was considered like a threat. After Eisenhower cut the diplomatic tie with Trujillo in 1961, Trujillo might have sought for the Soviet Union to support his regime. That’s why the fall of Trujillo, which sparked the democratization of this country, was a success for Kennedy. Trujillo’s survival might have led to the establishment of communism in the Dominican Republic.

Kennedy Vs Papa Doc
Unlike Trujillo’s case, Kennedy did not inherit any plot From Eisenhower to overthrow Francois Duvalier, the tyrant of Haiti. However, he strove to undermine his power. Under Eisenhower, Haiti was spoiled by US’s aid because Duvalier pretended to be a staunch anti-communist. However, Kennedy, unwilling to support dictatorships, reduced the aid given to Haiti (from $7 million to $2.4 million yearly) in October 1961[18]. It was a strategy that could potentially lead to Duvalier’s fall. But, because Papa Doc needed the aid to strengthen his power, he was about to do anything to get the US’s aid back.

During the conference in Uruguay “la Punta Del Este”, Duvalier retaliated. Twenty-one countries participated in the conference which aimed to take some sanctions against Cuba. The US needed 14 out of 21 votes to expel Cuba from the Organization of American State (OAS); 7 of them were not expected to vote against Cuba. Duvalier realized that his vote was decisive; he then negotiated it with the US. As part of the negotiation, the US’s aid was resumed[19]. However, Kennedy did not stop perturbing Duvalier. Since Cuba was put in quarantine, and Trujillo dead, Kennedy started to see Duvalier as a threat to the Caribbean; thus, he wanted to oust him.

 At the end of 1962, Kennedy decided that the USAID will manage the aid from the US instead of the Haitian government[20]. This was detrimental to Duvalier as he needed money to distribute rents to his corrupted “Tonton Macoute”. Furthermore, Kennedy reduced the aid given to Haiti again, and promised to resume it only if Papa Doc dissolved his militia[21]. But Duvalier was very resistant; he came up with new taxes and reduced salaries of the military and government officials to find money to support his regime. Eventually, when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963,  the pressure was taken off Papa Doc; he proclaimed himself president for life the following year.

Thus, Kennedy failed his mission to overthrow Papa Doc. However, he succeeded in preventing communism in Haiti. Even though Kennedy wanted to undermine Duvalier, he did not entirely cut the aid given to Haiti. Cutting the aid completely may have provoked a turnaround from Duvalier which could result to the establishment of Communism in Haiti. Moreover, negotiating with Haiti to vote against Cuba at La Punta Del Este conference was necessary to expel Cuba from the OAS, which in turn deter other countries from embracing Communism. This was a clever decision of Kennedy in preventing the Communism spread.

Kennedy’s assassination
On November 22nd, 1963, while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Kennedy was hit by 2 bullets: one in the neck, the other in the head[22]. He was rushed to the Parkland Memorial Hospital, but he was pronounced dead shortly after. There are two main theories about Kennedy’s assassination. The first is that Lee Harvey Oswald, an American communist who had lived in Moscow for a while, was accused of being the assassin with no accomplice. The other theory links the death of Kennedy to a conspiracy involving the Soviet Union and Cuba[23]. In sum, both theories link the assassination as the consequence of fight between communism and anti-communism. This proved that Kennedy was an obstacle for the communists willing to spread their ideology.

Conclusion
Kennedy was an influential figure during the Cold War who played a significant role in fighting Communism in the Caribbean. His missions were to dismantle Communism in Cuba by overthrowing Castro, and to prevent its spread in other countries by strengthening their economies with US aid. Kennedy failed his mission to overthrow Castro. The Bay of Pigs invasion which aimed to invade Cuba by 1400 Cuban exiles turned into a disaster; Operation Mongoose aiming to plan multiple covert operations to undermine Castro’s regime failed too. However, Kennedy made a lot of compromises which help preventing a war with the communists. In fact, during the Cuban missiles crisis, he accepted to remove American missiles, and to not invade Cuba in exchange for the Soviet Union to disarm Cuba. Furthermore, Kennedy failed his mission about the Alliance for Progress which aim to modernize Latin America. Although some infrastructures were built in the region, the overall economic growth of 2% was unimpressive. However, Kennedy succeeded his mission to overthrow Trujillo, the dictator of Dominican Republic. This was a great achievement because Trujillo could have become another Castro, and his fall sparked the democratization of the country. About Haiti, Kennedy failed to overthrow Duvalier, but succeeded in keeping it anti-communist. Even though he was trying to undermine Papa Doc by reducing his foreign aid, he never cancels it completely. Doing so could result in a turnaround of Duvalier which could lead to the communism establishment in this island nation. In sum, Kennedy failed his mission to democratize all the countries in the Caribbean, but he succeeded in preventing the spread of Communism there because of all the concessions he made. Making concession was the best approach to manage the situation, and to avoid a war. An intransigent president might have provoked Cuba and the Soviet Union which could lead to a nuclear war. That’s why Kennedy’s presidency was beneficial to the world.

 Work cited

  • Alliance for Progress, Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Alliance for Progress, John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library.
  • Alliance for Progress, Latin American History, Oxford Research Encyclopedias.
  • Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • “Bay of Pigs Invasion”, Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis, Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library.
  • John F. Kennedy, Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • The Assassination of Rafael Trujillo, Warfare History Network, 2016
  • The Brilliant Disaster, Jim Rasenberger, (chapter 25)
  • “The Challenge of Democratizing the Caribbean during the Cold War: Kennedy Facing Duvalier Dilemma”, Wien Weibert Arthus, Journal Article: Diplomatic History. February 27, 2014
  • The Cold War, John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library

 

[1] JFK and the unspeakable, James W. Douglas (p. 3)

[2] The Cold War, John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library

[3] The Challenge of Democratizing the Caribbean during the Cold War (p.1)

[4] Alliance for Progress, Encyclopedia Britannica

[5] Alliance for Progress, John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library

[6] Alliance for Progress, John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library

[7] Alliance for Progress, Latin American History, Oxford Research Encyclopedias

[8] Alliance for Progress, Latin American History, Oxford Research Encyclopedias

 [9] Alliance for Progress, Latin American History, Oxford Research Encyclopedias

[10] Bay of Pigs Invasion, Encyclopedia Britannica.

[11] The Bay of Pigs Invasion and its aftermath, Office of the historian, Department of state.

[12] The brilliant disaster, Jim Rasenberger (chapter 25)

[13] The brilliant disaster, Jim Rasenberger (chapter 25)

[14] Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library

[15] Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library

[16] The Assassination of Rafael Trujillo, Warfare History Network

[17] The Assassination of Rafael Trujillo, Warfare History Network

[18] The Challenge of Democratizing the Caribbean during the Cold War (p. 522)

[19] The Challenge of Democratizing the Caribbean during the Cold War (p. 511)

[20] The Challenge of Democratizing the Caribbean during the Cold War (p. 517)

[21] The Challenge of Democratizing the Caribbean during the Cold War (p. 518)

[22] John F. Kennedy, Encyclopedia Britannica

[23] Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Encyclopedia Britannica

Author: marclaguerreblog

PhD Student in Civil Engineering at Rice University

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: