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A History of an Assignment

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Thanks to recently declassified documents, A History of an Assignment uncovers an unknown episode of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The threat of nuclear conflict was not eliminated by the Khrushchev-Kennedy negotiations. Indeed, Fidel Castro, who was not invited to take part in the talks, learned about them from the press and was greatly hurt to see Cuba become a bargaining chip between the USSR and the USA and his own role reduced to that of an extra. Castro vigorously stepped in and made his move. In a secret message to Khrushchev, Castro declared that he would not allow the removal of Soviet missiles, much less an American inspection, a necessary prerequisite of the Soviet-American agreement; that Cuba, left alone with its enemy, would defend itself and would launch a preventive nuclear strike if necessary.

Khrushchev had no leverage over the obstinate comandante but could not admit it when talking to Kennedy. The only thing he could do was to send a trusted emissary, Anastas Mikoyan. He was accompanied in his mission by Roman Karmen, the legendary cameraman who filmed the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the Nuremberg Trials. Mikoyan talked to Castro and to Che Guevara, listened to their appeals “to die beautifully” and to destroy the enemy with a single blow, and tried to convince Cuba to reach a compromise for peace.

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