Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cuba still hides sites of when armageddon loomed

Cuba still hides sites of when armageddon loomed
Local 10 News visits ruins of Soviet tactical nuclear weapons site in
Villa Clara
Author: Hatzel Vela, Reporter, hvela@Local10.com
Andrea Torres, Local10.com Reporter, atorres@local10.com
Published On: Nov 02 2015 09:07:53 PM EST Updated On: Nov 23 2015
10:45:29 PM EST
In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and with the U.S. and Russia
potentially joining a coalition against the Islamic State, it is
difficult to recall the frightening looming armageddon of 1962.

The Soviet flag was flying over Kremlin, when the U.S. had missiles in
Turkey. The Soviets had missiles in Cuba. And the world was at the brink
of nuclear war for about two weeks. Had the conflict exploded, the lives
of about 200 million people would have been lost.

About a three hour drive east of Havana in the province of Villa Clara,
there are remnants of The Cuban Missile Crisis. A historic site hides at
the outskirts of the city of Sagua La Grande, where former Republican
U.S. Senator Mel Martinez was born.

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"Every now and then people come here," a farmer who did not want to be
named said in Spanish.

Getting to the once-secret nuclear warhead bunker, required a drive near
the tiny town of Mariana Grajales, a Cuban icon of the women's struggle
for independence. And a two-mile hike through a rocky road.

After crossing an abandoned field of wilderness, invasive species
covered the ruins of a warehouse formerly part of a medium range
ballistic missile site. A local commander could have launched the
tactical nuclear weapon that could have started World War III from Sagua
de la Grande.

"Everyone calls it the Russian spaceship," the man said about the
perception that locals have of the alien looking structure.

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reported that election-year politics
and diplomatic sensitivities influenced the handling of early
intelligence about stepped-up Soviet military activities in Cuba.

"It would have taken only the time to fuel them, about six hours, to
have them ready to fire," according to Dino A. Brugioni, a top CIA photo
analyst who worked during the crisis.

The crisis reached a head on Oct. 27, 1962 -- known by Kennedy's aids as
"Black Saturday" -- when a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile shot down
an American U-2 conducting a reconnaissance flight over Cuba.

The pilot U.S. Air Force Maj. Rudolf Anderson, Jr., was killed and on
the brink of war, the Soviet and American governments made a then-secret
deal to end the near flashpoint.

"We are not going to get these weapons out of Cuba, probably, anyway ...
by negotiation," Kennedy said. " We are going to have to take our
weapons out of Turkey."

Kennedy's aides misled the public into believing that no deal had been
made to take the U.S. missiles out of Turkey, a falsehood that was
promoted for many years, Pincus reported. Over the years, records and
secrets revealed have uncovered that there were many close calls.

Earlier this year, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a journal for
leaders and policy makers, published a story with the account of the
then-Air Force airman John Borde. He served during the Cuban Missile
Crisis on the Japanese island of Okinawa, which could reach Soviet
military facilities at Vladivostok.

Borde told The Bulletin that he and others were ordered to launch 32
missiles, each carrying a large nuclear warhead. But he said personnel
prevented the launches. The National Security Archives was working on
getting the records to verify the incident.

At the former missile-ready warehouse in Sagua de La Grande, the only
dangers now were the bats and the bees. Some Cubans believe there are
many Soviet secret bunkers and underground tunnels on the island that
were built during the Cold War, but have yet to be discovered.

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