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How did one man inspire a generation of Communist revolutionaries? This podcast tells the story of Fidel Castro.

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Following our podcast on Brezhnev, we shall be looking at one of the most famous Communist leaders of all time, and almost certainly the most well-known Cuban in the world. He was also one of the longest serving leaders of the 20th Century, and somebody who inspires both fierce praise and fierce criticism, as well as somebody who was at the center of the most dangerous event of the Cold War.

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George Levrier-Jones

PS – the new series will be on the American Revolution. Make sure you’re connected with us for updates on when the series will be out.

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The Cuban Missile Crisis, episode 4 of itshistorypodcasts.com's series on the Cold War is available now for your listening pleasure.

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With hindsight, many historians see this crisis as the time that the world flirted most closely with nuclear destruction. By the time of the crisis, 1962, we shall see how both the USA’s and USSR’s nuclear weapons had become terribly powerful, but this was in a world where the rules of the game for nuclear war were still being made..

We're glad that you've decided to come and join the past.. Happy listening!

George Levrier-Jones

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Chinese ruler Chairman Mao Zedong was one of the most important leaders of the 20th century. He was one of two communists titan who defined the age. But there is one unknown aspect of his life – he had a lifelong friendship with somebody who was born in the USA, China’s capitalist enemy.

The new issue of History is Now magazine is out now. And our main article tells the story of this lifelong friendship that would go on to influence the Cold War.

To find out more, take up a free trial of the magazine for up to 2 months and download your free copy of our interactive digital magazine for the iPad and iPhone today!

Click here for more information!

Plus, the new issue is available in a text version – perfect for smaller devices.

And coming very soon – History is Now Magazine for Android.

 

And here is what our editor has to say about the new issue…

This month’s issue starts with a fascinating article on Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s American friend, Edgar Snow. Snow was a young American journalist living in China in the 1930s when he was selected to meet Mao and his rebel forces. This extraordinary article goes on to chart their relationship not only during the time when Mao was a revolutionary seeking power, but also when Mao assumed power in all of China. Our second article is another piece of fascinating writing. It charts the story of Lionel Wigram, a man who developed revolutionary military training in the British Army and went on to lead a very unique Anglo-Italian fighting force in World War II. And then we’re back to the Cold War in the article after that. In it, we consider the case of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov. Markov became an exile from his Communist homeland and dared to continue to criticize Bulgaria’s leader when he was in the West. Despite Markov being based in London, there were a number of attempts on his life

Next up is an article on an idyllic English village that was evacuated during World War II. However, the village was evacuated for reasons that you may not expect. Rather than German airplanes driving people from their homes, it was the British Army. Following that, we continue our look at the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The invasion by a group of Cuban rebels based in the US sought to topple Communist Fidel Castro from his position as leader of Cuba. In this article, we look at how the battle progressed and how the rebels fought off repeated waves of attacks from Communist forces before the assault ended.

Finally, as we all know, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, and with that in mind, we will have a number of World War I articles this year. First up is an interactive essay on a largely unknown aspect of the Eastern Front. The Battle of Lake Naroch was a major battle with disastrous consequences for one of the sides involved. By the way, an ‘interactive essay’ features text accompanied by many images as well as videos.

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With all that and more, come and join us inside for a free trial of up to 2 months…

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George Levrier-Jones

 

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The story of how a JFK-backed, CIA-led operation to topple Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro unfolded. And how a decision by JFK changed everything.

The new issue of History is Now magazine is out now. And the cover story is a daring tale of intrigue in a country that had just been rocked by a revolution.

To find out more, take up a free trial of the magazine for up to 2 months and download your free copy of our interactive digital magazine for the iPad and iPhone today!

Click here for more information!

And here is what our editor has to say about the new issue…

Issue four of History is Now magazine has arrived. Since we left you in January, we have continued to refine the layout of the magazine, as well as writing some great history articles!

This month we have two pieces on how Cuba and America dramatically fell out following the Cuban Revolution. Firstly, we look at the fascinating real story of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. This invasion took place in 1961 and sought to topple Cuban Communist dictator Fidel Castro from power. But with US President John F. Kennedy wavering in his support for the Cuban dissidents, this task became much harder. Our second article considers Castro’s rise to power and argues that Castro was not a committed Communist when he visited Eisenhower’s America in 1959. Even so, the US would go on to try and assassinate Castro a number of times. These articles are complemented by our podcast on the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that very nearly destroyed our world.

Then there is the story of David Porter and the USS Essex during the War of 1812, a tale of adventure, some success against the British, and much more. An equally intriguing article looks at the life of Sidney Reilly. Reilly was a Russian-born British spy who successfully changed the course of oil exploration in the Middle East in the early 20th century, and more significantly, almost changed the course of Russian and world history. Following, we finish our story of the Imjin War and look at Yi Sun-shin’s epic victories when faced against a Japanese fleet of epic proportions. This is a true story of success and tragedy – like many of the most captivating events in history are. Our final article takes a light-hearted look at food in the 19th century. What food did the average person normally eat? How did the upper-class dine? And what constituted good manners for a lady? You’re about to find out!

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With all that and more, come and join us inside for a free trial of up to 2 months…

Just click here for more information! Alternatively search for History is Now on the app store.

George Levrier-Jones

This is the third in a series of articles that explores the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the US presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning and The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door are the preceding posts. 

JFK delivering a speech

JFK delivering a speech

A very tired John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was sworn into office on a clear, windy, brutally cold January 20, 1961.(1) It wasn’t an easy day. Eight inches of snow had fallen the night before, causing a monumental traffic jam. The streets were littered with abandoned vehicles.  Former President Herbert Hoover missed the entire inauguration event because Washington National Airport was closed due to the weather.  An inauguration is an important national symbol that characterizes the Republic and the all-night effort to clear Pennsylvania Avenue greeted the sun with space to accommodate the large crowd that would gather to witness the duly elected president assume the helm of the ship-of-state.  

The snowfall of the previous night and the windy, frigid temperatures of inauguration day are also apt codes for the sea change that had already gathered momentum around the relationship between the new president and his intelligence agency, the CIA.  The CIA, as authorized by The National Security Act of 1947, was still fairly young, but Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was an old hand and seemingly enjoyed the game.  By 1961, the CIA, in its short life, had tripped the light fantastic around the globe; Col. Lansdale was merrily fighting rebels in The Philippines following which he ported his obsession with asymmetric guerilla warfare to Vietnam where he spent two-years as a houseguest and confidant of President Diem. Other CIA operatives overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, and raised general hell with Cuba and Chile. 

During the latter Truman and the Eisenhower administrations there was a trend to combine the Cold War objective of fighting the creep of Communism with business interests. Iran, for example, nationalized British oil interests and Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh refused to budge in spite of punishing sanctions. According to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, “Eisenhower worried about Mossadegh's willingness to cooperate with Iranian Communists; he also feared that Mossadegh would eventually undermine the power of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a staunch anti-Communist partner. In August 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Mossadegh's government and restored the Shah's power. In the aftermath of this covert action, new arrangements gave U.S. corporations an equal share with the British in the Iranian oil industry.”(2)

In Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman initiated land reforms that seriously impacted the holdings of the anti-Communist, New Orleans-based United Fruit Company who controlled over forty percent of Guatemala’s arable land.  The Truman administration came to the support of American business interests by arming the anti-Arbenz rebels.  Under Eisenhower, the CIA finished the job by overthrowing the Arbenz regime and installing Carlos Castillo Armas.  Codenamed PBSUCCESS, the coup d'état was the first-ever clandestine military action in Latin America but it was certainly not the last.(3)

 

Kennedy and the CIA

After fifty years the controversy surrounding Kennedy and the CIA obscures the landscape like the white-out conditions in a blizzard.   At one end of the opinion spectrum, Marquette University’s John McAdams’ The Kennedy Assassination site concludes that Kennedy and the CIA had some rough spots but got through them. (4) At the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Jerome R. Corsi, who maintains that Kennedy and the CIA locked horns and never retreated. (5) Excellent research and the documented citations for both perspectives leave the reader with many questions.  One corner of this argument does not appear to be disputed; Kennedy consistently refused to use the U.S. military to support private sector interests.  In this matter, President Kennedy was a traditionalist. The military, in his opinion, was to be used only in defense of national security interests.  If we can escape the white-out conditions of the never-ending controversy, the political landscape, once again, becomes hard and navigable.  

As Kennedy came to office, covert CIA actions initiated by the Eisenhower administration were in play in both hemispheres.  Two noteworthy examples are the storm clouds that were gathering around the Diem brothers in South Vietnam and the vexing problem of Fidel Castro in Cuba.  For discussion purposes I have separated these two significant events, but during the early days of the Kennedy administration they were unfolding concurrently linked through the CIA node.

President Kennedy and DCI Allen Dulles

President Kennedy and DCI Allen Dulles

South Vietnam

South Vietnam was a U.S. government construct, a nation-building exercise illuminated by the Pentagon Papers.

“The United States moved quickly to prevent the unification and to establish South Vietnam as an American sphere. It set up in Saigon as head of the government a former Vietnamese official named Ngo Dinh Diem, who had recently been living in New Jersey, and encouraged him not to hold the scheduled elections for unification. A memo in early 1954 of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that intelligence estimates showed "a settlement based on free elections would be attended by almost certain loss of the Associated States [Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam-the three parts of Indochina created by the Geneva Conference] to Communist control." Diem again and again blocked the elections requested by the Vietminh, and with American money and arms his government became more and more firmly established. As the Pentagon Papers put it: "South Viet Nam was essentially the creation of the United States."(6)

By 1961, Southeast Asia was rapidly becoming a tinder box.  During a discussion of an Edward Lansdale report on Vietnam with Walt Whitman Rostow, the National Security advisor, Kennedy lamented, “'This is the worst one we've got. You know, Eisenhower never mentioned it. He talked at length about Laos, but never uttered the word Vietnam.”  Lansdale’s report brought the deterioration of South Vietnam’s political stability into focus for Kennedy as he remarked to Rostow that the “Lansdale's narrative was 'an extremely vivid and well-written account of a place that was going to hell in a hack.'…” (7)

Diem and his brother persisted in implementing domestic policies based on impressing the Catholic religion and requiring personal loyalties that accelerated the destabilization of the country.  The prevailing religion in Vietnam was Buddhism at the time and the Diems were persecuting Buddhists terribly.  Making matters worse were two notable supporters of the Diem’s, neither of whom had a clue about the national culture of Vietnam.  Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, a Montana Democrat, lectured in Far Eastern and Latin American history in his previous life. Mansfield was also a practicing Catholic.  While Mansfield openly admitted he knew nothing about Vietnam, he very much liked Diem and he was generally considered to be Congress’ resident Vietnam expert.  The second big player who knew nothing about Vietnam was Col. Edward Lansdale, a CIA asset who befriended and used the Diems but was only committed to his concept of counterinsurgency warfare.  The Pentagon Papers revealed that, based on Lansdale’s advice, Kennedy approved secret operations to "dispatch of agents to North Vietnam" to engage in "sabotage and light harassment”.

 

Growing involvement

The Diem brothers’ refusal to cease and desist acting on their paranoia, resulted in thousands of Buddhists and dissenters being imprisoned, tortured, and murdered.  The Geneva Accords permitted the U.S. to have 685 military advisers in South Vietnam. Eisenhower sent several thousand and, under Kennedy, the figure rose to sixteen thousand with some of them taking part in combat operations. Diem was losing. Most of the South Vietnam countryside was now controlled by local villagers organized by the NLF.(See Footnote 6)  It became clear that a new government was necessary if the U.S. was to be effective in keeping Vietnam out of Communist hands.  Kennedy authorized the overthrow with the provision that the Diem brothers would be extracted to live in exile. 

Henry Cabot Lodge, Ambassador to South Vietnam, received a cable (Cable 243) outlining the issues and actions that were the next steps in changing regimes or bringing the Diem regime into line with American interests, following the midnight raids on the Buddhist Pagodas on August 21, 1963.(8)  The Diem brothers would not or could not change direction and South Vietnam’s Diem government was overthrown in a military coup d'état according to play book.  What did not go ‘according to plan’ was the murder of the Diem brothers whose desperate calls for rescue went unheeded by the U.S. government that had put them in power.  The brutal assassinations of the Diems on November 2, 1963 haunted Kennedy.  By November 22, 1963, less than three weeks later, Kennedy himself would die from an assassin’s bullet(s).

“Kennedy learned of the deaths on the following morning when National Security Council staffer Michael Forrestal rushed into the cabinet room with a telegram reporting the Ngô brothers' alleged suicides. According to General Maxwell Taylor, "Kennedy leaped to his feet and rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face which I had never seen before." Kennedy had planned that Ngô Đình Diệm would be safely exiled and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. recalled that the U.S. president was "somber and shaken". Kennedy later penned a memo, lamenting that the assassination was "particularly abhorrent" and blaming himself for approving Cable 243, which had authorised Lodge to explore coup options in the wake of Nhu's attacks on the Buddhist pagodas.  Forrestal said that "It shook him personally ... bothered him as a moral and religious matter. It shook his confidence, I think, in the kind of advice he was getting about South Vietnam."   When Kennedy was consoled by a friend who told him he need not feel sorry for the Ngô brothers on the grounds of despotism, Kennedy replied "No. They were in a difficult position. They did the best they could for their country." 

 

Cuba

While the South Vietnam pot was coming to a boil in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Cuban kettle had boiled dry with the Bay of Pigs and was heating up a second time with Operation Mongoose in the Western Hemisphere.  Without getting into the ‘why’ of it, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy left the door open to depose Cuba’s new dictator Fidel Castro during the fourth presidential debate.(9)  The New York Times the next day ran the story as the lead item on the front page with the headline: "Kennedy Asks Aid for Cuban Rebels to Defeat Castro, Urges Support of Exiles and Fighters for Freedom." James Reston wrote in the Times that "Senator Kennedy (has) made what is probably his worst blunder of the campaign.”(10)  After Kennedy was inaugurated, DCI Allen Dulles came calling to cash the Bay of Pigs check and Kennedy approved the invasion as had been planned under the Eisenhower administration except that he refused to commit the U.S. military support. 

George Washington University’s National Security Archives Bay of Pigs Chronology provides a wonderfully detailed account of the invasion and reads like a spy thriller.  Prior to the invasion factories and cane fields were fire bombed using white phosphorus and other incendiaries, E. Howard Hunt and others made covert trips into Cuba to check the lay of the land, small aircraft overflew Cuba taking pictures and reporting back to the CIA (at least one was shot down by Castro’s forces), communication stations on remote islands were constructed in preparation for command and control of the prospective invasion, and exiled Cubans were trained.  The exiles wanted to return home to the country they remembered and American business interests wanted the island playground back in their domain.

The pressure was on to execute the invasion and, in April, about three months after Kennedy’s inauguration the green light was given. “On April 15, 1961, C.I.A. pilots knocked out part of Castro's air force, and were set to finish the job. At the last minute, on April 16, President Kennedy called off the air strikes, but the message did not reach the 1,511 commandos headed for the Bay of Pigs. Three days of fighting destroyed the invading force. A brigade commander sent his final messages: ''We are out of ammo and fighting on the beach. Please send help,'' and: ''In water. Out of ammo. Enemy closing in. Help must arrive in next hour.''(11) The help never came and 1500 Cuban exiles fighters did not come back.

To his credit, President Kennedy assumed full public responsibility for the debacle although he allowed the blame to spread through leaks and rumors.  Kennedy fired Allen Dulles and threatened to break the CIA apart.  The fiasco that was the Bay of Pigs, however, did not deter the effort to rid the Western Hemisphere of Castro.  In November 1961, Operation Mongoose was born with a primary objective to identify mechanisms to get rid of the Cuban leader and the CIA was not the lead player.  Robert Kennedy and General Maxwell Taylor were the operation’s overseers.  Col. Edward Lansdale was recruited to coordinate activities between the CIA, Defense Department, and State Department. 

Operation Mongoose employed intelligence collection, sabotage operations, and identifying and recruiting leaders within Cuba who could overthrow Castro. But there were other methods used. With Lansdale’s obsession on asymmetrical warfare, a subset operation known as the Northwoods operation was developed. This considered using faked and real terrorist activities which could be blamed on Castro and used as a provocation for invasion.  It has never been decisively determined whether or not assassination plots were a component of Operation Mongoose.(12)  The Church Committee did, however, uncover a 1962 memo from Lansdale to Robert Kennedy claiming that "we might uncork the touchdown play independently of the institutional program we are spurring."  Operation Mongoose was ‘officially’ ended in October 1962 with the advent of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The ‘official’ efforts to ‘get Castro’ fade from the presidential office in October 1962 and go deep underground.  The next blip on the ‘get Castro’ radar appears in New Orleans in the rabid anti-Communist, anti-Castro corporate culture at the United Fruit Company upon whose trustee board the fired DCI Allen Dulles sat.  The United Fruit Company story must be told at another time, however.

 

The CIA and Kennedy in perspective

President Kennedy’s fractured relationship with the CIA meant, for his term in office, a reduced CIA influence on foreign policy and affairs.  Kennedy, however, did recognize the usefulness of covert operators and plausible deniability’s lack of presidential fingerprints.  Publicly Kennedy was shamed twice by CIA failures and fired the powerful Allen Dulles.  Did Kennedy really forget and forgive as some analysts portray or would his ego have driven him to keep his promise to break up the CIA?  Certainly, Kennedy attempted to dilute the CIA influence during Operation Mongoose.  Kennedy’s assassination ended all of the speculation of the CIA’s relative political standing as the status quo quickly returned under the Johnson administration.

The Kennedy administration lasted just 1036 stormy days. His last day, like his first, was preceded by a storm in Dallas, Texas.  As on Kennedy’s inauguration day, the storm cleared and Kennedy elected to have his convertible open to the people; the better to relate to the people.  That, of course, worked well for the assassin(s).  I find it interesting where the ubiquitous Allen Dulles shows up; on the United Fruit Company Board of Trustees and on the Warren Commission investigating the death of the man who fired him.  The Diem brothers may have been assassinated but Fidel Castro, the object of so much time and effort, outlived them all.

 

By Barbara Johnson

Barbara is the owner of www.coldwarwarrior.com, a site about the men and women from all the cold wars who worked so hard for something they believed in and played so hard they forgot the pain.

This article has been published as we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy. We shall be posting about JFK on Twitter and Facebook this week.

To find out more about John F Kennedy’s life, listen to our podcast on him. Click here.

References

1.       NOAA’s National Weather Service Forecast Office; Presidential Inaugural Weather; http://www.erh.noaa.gov/lwx/Historic_Events/Inauguration/Inauguration.html

2.       University of Virginia; Miller Center; American President: Eisenhower Foreign Policy A Reference Resource; http://millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/essays/biography/5

3.       The Cold War Museum; Guatemala 1954; Article 1 of 2; http://www.coldwar.org/articles/50s/guatemala.asp

4.       Marquette University; Craig Frizzell and Magen Knuth; Mortal Enemies? Did President Kennedy Plan on Splintering the CIA?; http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/jfk_cia.htm

5.       Dr. Jerome R. Corsi; Who Really Killed Kennedy?: 50 Years Later: Stunning New Revelations About the JFK Assassination; http://www.amazon.com/Really-Killed-Kennedy-Assassination-ebook/dp/B00EMFH0M0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379766666&sr=8-1&keywords=who+killed+president+kennedy+corsi 

6.       A People's History Of The United States; Howard Zinn; Chapter 18: The Impossible Victory: Vietnam; http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnimvivi18.html

7.       George Washington University National Security Archives; The Wall; Episode 9; INTERVIEW WITH WALT ROSTOW; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/interviews/episode-9/rostow1.html

8.       George Washington University National Security Archives; Cable 243; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB101/vn02.pdf

9.       Commission on Presidential Debates; October 21, 1960 Debate Transcript; The Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate; October 21, 1960; http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=october-21-1960-debate-transcript

10.   George Washington University National Security Archives; Chapter 3; Into Politics With Kennedy and Johnson; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB116/cia/Chapter%203%20--%20Into%20Politics%20With%20Kennedy%20and%20Johnson.htm   

11.   New York Times; TIM WEINER; February 22, 1998; C.I.A. Bares Its Bungling in Report on Bay of Pigs Invasion; http://www.nytimes.com/1998/02/22/world/cia-bares-its-bungling-in-report-on-bay-of-pigs-invasion.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

12.   George Washington University National Security Archives; July 25, 1962; Brig. Gen. Lansdale; Review of Operation Mongoose; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/620725%20Review%20of%20Op.%20Mongoose.pdf  

20130801 Cold War Cuba staghound_tank0001_resized.jpg

The American made “staghound” tank occupies a place of honor on the campus of the University of Havana. Local yore says this tank was a Christmas gift from Eisenhower to Batista in 1957. The armored vehicle is one of the few remaining artifacts of the military relationship which the Cuban government had with the United States during the Cold War period.

Unlike Cuba’s later relationship with the Soviet Union, American security assistance did not transform Cuba’s capital city into a militaristic enclave. Instead, during the early period of the Cold War conflict, when the Americans provided military assistance and arms transfers to the Cuban government, the urban form and organization of Havana were transformed through the clash of two domestic forces, the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and the paramilitary urban underground opposing his regime.

During the early Cold War period, Havana’s loyalty to the US was taken for granted and the government was considered a staunch ally in the fight against communism.

Cuba’s trade relationship with the United States dominated the country’s economic system so much so that in 1959 almost 80 percent of the country’s commercial transactions were with the US. The capital city, Havana, was dominant, handling a majority of the country’s imports, with between 60 and 80 percent of the country’s incoming cargo passing through the port of Old Havana.

Still, it is important to note that while it may be argued that Cuba was a client of the United States, the country’s political system was not penetrated in the strict sense of the term.

In other words, while more than half of Cuba’s foreign trade was with the United States, military and aid receipts from the Americans were not more than half its budget. Actually, in some years, US military assistance was quite negligible.

Only after 1972, when Cuba joined the economic arm of the Soviet bloc, COMECON, was the country penetrated both economically and politically by a Cold War superpower.

So, although allied with the US in the 1950s and shaped by the Soviets in the 1960s, it was not until the 1970s — the mid years of the Cold War — that Havana could be called a Cold War City.

By then, Fidel Castro’s rise to power and the American response  had cemented a mutual enmity.

 

By Lisa Reynolds Wolfe. This article originally appeared on www.coldwarstudies.com, a site about Cold War politics and history that has a particular focus on Cuba.

Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe 

This article is the first in a regular series of syndicated articles from some of the most interesting history blogs that will appear on the site. 

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All trips are fully licensed. 

For an itinerary and info, just send an e-mail to lisa@coldwarstudies.com. I’ll be happy to answer your questions and provide more information. 

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones