Friday, May 8, 2009

Cuban Crisis News Blockade

Cuban Missile Crisis
At Left: Fidel Castro meets
Nikita Kruschev, 1960.

The Cuban Crisis, or Cuban Missile Crisis, as it was known in the United States, is arguably the biggest story of our times—both in terms of its long-playing nature and the unique manner it was released (or not) by U.S. press sources.

The story of the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba did not begin with the 1962 “October Crisis,” as it was known in Cuba. The 1962 military standoff over Cuba was really between the U.S. and the USSR, and began months—if not years—before, as evidenced by a Washington Post release from November of 1961 which promotes the idea of a trade embargo against Cuba. The brief two paragraphs sum up the point of the conflict—private property expropriated by Castro’s communist regime…(Reuters, 1961).

From the journalistic point of view, the most noteworthy part of this political spectacle was the U.S. government-mandated news blackout in the months prior to, during, and after the actual "missile crisis" of October 1962. This blackout is evidenced in the Washington Post’s archives, where no Cuba-related news appears between March, 1962 and August, 1963. Then-press secretary to the White House Pierre Salinger recalls that the missile-sightings were only reported in Britain (293) and that this highly controlled release of the news was necessary for the interests of the United States.

The blight of the trade embargo has cast its shadow over generations of Cubans and U.S. citizens in the years since the crisis. A scenario in which human lives are subjugated to the interests of would-be traders in sugar, rum and cigars hardly seems laughable, yet it seems absurd to many that the embargo still lumbers on long after it may (or not) have had any substantial effect on the Cuban economy.

The foreshadowing of the 1961 pro-embargo Post releases, along with the fact that the story and photos of the Soviet “weaponry” were only released in Britain leave the question of the extent to which elements of this historic narrative may be fabrications… Stories that are selectively disseminated in this way lose their credibility and take on aspects of propaganda.

Maybe the New Yorker summed the situation up best in publishing an embargo-related story called Mutually Assured Stupidity (1994) and, as one independent blogger suggested, the blockade stays in effect mainly because “we have hated them so long, we have forgotten the reasons,” (Leler, 2009) and are afraid to lower the guard for fear of the unknown…

Or, in light of the government-mandated news blocks on the story, there could be reasons that no one mentions. In all the reading and searching I did for this topic, no one suggested that Cubans may be better off without the U.S. presence there. By many accounts, pre-Castro Havana was, to many visitors, little more than one big brothel. In view of accounts like those, perhaps the trade embargo and travel restrictions were the best things that ever happened to Cuba…


Briton Suggests Cuba Embargo. (1961, November 9). The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973),p. A18. Retrieved May 8, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Washington Post (1877 - 1992) database. (Document ID: 161674762).

164 Violations Of Cuba Embargo. (1963, August 30). The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973),p. A1. Retrieved May 8, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Washington Post (1877 - 1992) database. (Document ID: 163709452).

Leler, William. End the Embargo of Cuba. Accessed May 8, 2009.

Salinger, Pierre. With Kennedy. New York: Doubleday, 1966.


  1. You did an excellent job on this blog entry. Your analysis provides great historical perspective. I admire that you looked at what newspapers had been reporting (or not reporting) before your topic occurred. Your analysis makes total sense too. We may not ever be able to decipher the extent of the embargo's effects if the reportage has been blocked.

  2. You may not be able to judge the effects, it's true, but the duration and breadth of the continuing coverage is evidence of some truly heinous cause at the root of the whole drama. Thanks for your reply. I picked this topic as a whim, because it took place the year I was born, but had no idea what a complicated event it was in terms of the journalistic happenings back in the day... The research took weeks.