top of page


1962 - Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuban Missile Crisis - confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over nuclear-tipped missiles based on Cuba was the moment when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear conflict

After seizing power in the Caribbean island nation of Cuba in 1959, leftist revolutionary leader Fidel Castro aligned himself with the Soviet Union. Under Castro, Cuba grew dependent on the Soviets for military and economic aid. During this time, the U.S. and the Soviets were engaged in the Cold War (1945-91), an ongoing series of largely political and economic clashes.

The two superpowers plunged into one of their biggest Cold War confrontations after the pilot of an American U-2 spy plane making a high-altitude pass over Cuba on October 14, 1962, photographed a Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missile being assembled for installation.

President Kennedy was briefed about the situation on October 16, and he immediately called together a group of advisors and officials known as the executive committee, or ExCom. For nearly the next two weeks, the president and his team wrestled with a diplomatic crisis of epic proportions, as did their counterparts in the Soviet Union.

For the American officials, the urgency of the situation stemmed from the fact that the nuclear-armed Cuban missiles were being installed so close to the U.S. mainland–just 90 miles south of Florida. From that launch point, they were capable of quickly reaching targets in the eastern U.S. If allowed to become operational, the missiles would fundamentally alter the complexion of the nuclear rivalry between the U.S. and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which up to that point had been dominated by the Americans.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had gambled on sending the missiles to Cuba with the specific goal of increasing his nation’s nuclear strike capability. The Soviets had long felt uneasy about the number of nuclear weapons that were targeted at them from sites in Western Europe and Turkey, and they saw the deployment of missiles in Cuba as a way to level the playing field. Another key factor in the Soviet missile scheme was the hostile relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. The Kennedy administration had already launched one attack on the island–the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961–and Castro and Khrushchev saw the missiles as a means of deterring further U.S. aggression.

From the outset of the crisis, Kennedy and ExCom determined that the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba was unacceptable. The challenge facing them was to orchestrate their removal without initiating a wider conflict–and possibly a nuclear war. In deliberations that stretched on for nearly a week, they came up with a variety of options, including a bombing attack on the missile sites and a full-scale invasion of Cuba. But Kennedy ultimately decided on a more measured approach. First, he would employ the U.S. Navy to establish a blockade, or quarantine, of the island to prevent the Soviets from delivering additional missiles and military equipment. Second, he would deliver an ultimatum that the existing missiles be removed.

In a television broadcast on October 22, 1962, the president notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact the blockade and made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to national security. Following this public declaration, people around the globe nervously waited for the Soviet response. Some Americans, fearing their country was on the brink of nuclear war, hoarded food and gas.

A crucial moment in the unfolding crisis arrived on October 24, when Soviet ships bound for Cuba neared the line of U.S. vessels enforcing the blockade. An attempt by the Soviets to breach the blockade would likely have sparked a military confrontation that could have quickly escalated to a nuclear exchange. But the Soviet ships stopped short of the blockade.

Despite the enormous tension, Soviet and American leaders found a way out of the impasse. During the crisis, the Americans and Soviets had exchanged letters and other communications, and on October 26, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy in which he offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba. The following day, the Soviet leader sent a letter proposing that the USSR would dismantle its missiles in Cuba if the Americans removed their missile installations in Turkey.


Further Reading


Atomic Heritage - Nuclear Close Calls: The Cuban Missile Crisis

The Guardian - Cuban Missile Crisis:  How the US Played Russian Roulette with Nuclear War

JFK Library - World on the Brink: 13 Days in Oct 1962

1962 - El Portenazo

Military Revolt in Venezuela - El Porteñazo was a short-lived military rebellion against the government of Rómulo Betancourt

venezuela padre-min.jpg

Venezuela’s constitution was only a year old in 1962, but already there have been two attempts to overthrow the government. The bloody struggle between government forces and guerrilla rebels in the naval base who had the support of the residents of Puerto Cabello was aggressive. The rebellion was crushed by 3 June, leaving more than 400 dead and 700 injured, and by 6 June the rebels’ stronghold of Solano Castle had fallen.

The Pulitizer Prize winning image above shows Navy chaplain Luis Padilla giving last rites to a soldier wounded by sniper fire during the revolt. Braving the streets amid sniper fire, to offer last rites to the dying, the priest encountered a wounded soldier, who pulled himself up by clinging to the priest’s cassock, as bullets chewed up the concrete around them.  Government forces quickly took control of the town and over two days pounded the remaining rebels, that had taken cover in the Solano Castle, into submission. A handful that weren’t captured or killed were able to escape into the jungle

Betancourt was the first civilian president after the  previous years of dictatorship. His government intended, and succeeded, in giving more space to civilians, and leaving the military in the role of defense only. The military did not approve of this change and therefore tried to overthrow the presidency several times.


During Betancourt’s presidency, confrontations with the extreme political right took place, such as that which occurred with the former dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. Trujillo tried to kill Betancourt with the explosion of a car bomb. Another attack occurred years later with support from the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.


Before El Porteñazo two other military insurrections also occurred: El Barcelonazo in June 26th 1961, and El Carupanazo, in May 4th 1962.

El Porteñazo occurred on June 2nd 1962. It was initiated by officers of the National Guard and officers of the Naval Base of Puerto Cabello (Carabobo state), thus the reason it’s also identified as “Insurección de Puerto Cabello”. The officers leading the insurrection were Captain Manuel Ponte Rodríguez, Commander Pedro Silva Medina and Corvette Captain Victor Hugo Morales.


During the days leading up to June 2, 1962, rumors of a possible coup were widespread, so the government was already prepared. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Carlos Andrés Pérez (who was President years later), informed President Betancourt about a possible uprising in Puerto Cabello. Based on this, he had alerted the commander of the Naval Squadron, Captain Jesús Carbonell Izquierdo.

Among the first actions of the rebels’ Head of Land Operations, Captain Medina Silva, was the capture of Radio Puerto Cabello. From there he broadcasted propaganda that invited the civilian population to join the insurrection. The call had a favorable effect for the rebels, as many civilians joined the troops of the Marine Corps and received rifles for combat. It was estimated that the number of troops loyal to the Betancourt government deployed for the operation exceeded two thousand.

On June 3rd, 1962, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Carlos Andrés Pérez announced that the Armed Forces loyal to the Betancourt government had ended the rebellion. The uprising ended with 400 dead and 700 injured. Later investigations pointed out that some of the participants in El Porteñazo were politicians linked to the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV). This led to a process of purging the Armed Forces of officers linked to or suspected of sympathy with the left.


Betancourt imprisoned the leaders of El Porteñazo. He also ordered the arrest of right-wing officers whom he suspected but were not part of the coup. However, these officers were released immediately. The left-wing officers were tried and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.


Further Reading


Rare Historical Photos - The Priest and the Dying Soldier

bottom of page