Wednesday, December 9, 2009

1958: Castro Rebels take US Hostages

Cuba History Timeline Events
June 26, 1958
In June Soviet advisor Nikolai Leonov counseled that Raúl Castro’s new front in the Sierra Cristal begin kidnapping American servicemen and civilians working in Cuba to drive the United States to withdraw from the Cuban conflict. On 22 June Raúl Castro issued Military Order #30 directing the kidnapping of American Citizens.

Ushering in the era of kidnapping as a tool for political terrorism, on 26 June Raúl Castro’s rebels kidnapped ten Americans and two Canadians from the property of Moa Bay Mining Company (an American company) on the north coast of Oriente Province. The next day rebels took hostage 24 US servicemen on leave from the United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay. This incident brought total kidnapped hostages to 50 (47 US and 3 Canadian citizens).

US Ambassador Smith and his staff determined the kidnappings had the following objectives:
  1. Obtain worldwide publicity
  2. Regain M-26-7 prestige lost by general strike call failure
  3. Force Batista's Air Force to stop bombing rebel holds
  4. Gain public recognition from the US
Two tactical objectives the kidnapping achieved for Castro forces can be discerned from contemporaneous reporting in Time: Batista declaring a ceasefire for negotiations, forcing a reduction in Operation Verano air raids; the rebels used the lulls to regroup and fly in arms.

The hostage taking caused significant US backlash, including unfavorable public reaction, and US consideration to re-establishing military support to Batista and deploying US forces to free the hostages. Ultimately, the hostages were released without any US concessions. They were released in very small groups, extracting the maximum press attention.

US Hostage negotiations, Cuba 7/58Raul Castro US Hostages July 1958
US Hostage negotiations, Sierra Cristal, Cuba July 1958. (L to R) Park Wollam (back to camera) US Consul Santiago, 'Deborah' (Vilma Espin), Raul Castro (standing), Castro aide, US vice-consul Robert Wiecha. (photo: George Skadding/LIFE)US Hostages captured by Raul Castro in June 1958. (L to R) Edwin H Cordes, Moa Bay Co. geologist; Roman Cecilia, Frederick Snare construction firm engineer; AF Smith, JG Ford, United Fruit Co; Eugene Pfleider, Moa Bay Co; HF Sparks, United Fruit; Harold Kristjanson (Canadian), assistant construction boss for Moa Bay Mining; John H Schissler, Moa Bay construction superintendent. (photo: George Skadding/LIFE)

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

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