Äldre bil, glansigt brun, parkerad på en gata i Kuba med färgglada hus i grönt och gult.
The book studies how Gerald R. Ford’s administration broke with the previous Nixon strategy in the 1970s and tried to find a way to normalise relations with Cuba through secret negotiations.
Photo: Pixabay

Secret negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba at a hotel in the 1970s


Professor Håkan Karlsson has spent 15 years studying relations between the U.S. and Cuba. His latest book is on the 1970s and the secret discussions held at Hotel Pierre in New York.
He feels it is not completely correct to draw parallels between the current situation and 1962, when nuclear war between the superpowers was a very real threat.

The book is the fifth in the series on Cuba and has the title: “The Policy of the Ford Administration Toward Cuba: Carrot and Stick”. 
Why this title?

Håkan Karlsson, professor i arkeologi, forskar kring USAs politik mot Kuba efter revolutionen 1959. Men ur Kubas perspektiv

“In the 1970s, relations between the United States, the Soviet Union and China were marked by relaxing tensions politically. This actualised the United State’s relation to Cuba. Congress proposed several openings of the economic blockade of Cuba, which the U.S. had had in place for about 15 years. Gerald Ford’s administration, and not least Henry Kissinger, approached the Cuban government and proposed a mutual interest in normalising relations between the countries. Secret talks between U.S. and Cuban delegations had concrete discussions on how this normalisation would be done. Cuba’s military involvement in Angolan civil war, however, led to the ending of the talks and Ford’s administration returned to a confrontational policy that had marked relations since the Cuban revolution in 1959.”

In October 1962, the world’s two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, were on the edge of nuclear war. Many people are now drawing parallels with the current situation when Russia is being isolated both economically and diplomatically.
What can you tell us about this?

“There are similarities but also crucial differences. The 1962 crisis was primarily a geopolitical game between the superpowers, about the struggle between different political and economic systems, and about the United State’s fear of the Cuban socialist example spreading to other countries in Latin America. The crisis in Ukraine is marked by completely different political and economic conditions where, not least, the United States’ leading economic position on the global arena has changed radically since 1962.

If there is something we can learn from history, it is that diplomatic and economic isolation of a state rarely has the desired effects since the measures do not impact the individuals or institutions you want to target. The price is instead often paid by regular people on the street.”

What is the most exciting insight you have had?

“This book is unique in that, as with the previous books in the series, sources from both the United States and Cuba have allowed us to present a Cuban view of relations between the countries. This approach has long been lacking in research, so the books enrich and complement the research on the subject.”

You are an archaeologist, what does this have to do with archaeology? Have you been digging in archives or have you found information that the book is based on?

“This project does not have much to do with archaeology. It is a purely historical project that I have been conducting together with the Instituto de Historia de Cuba and my colleague, historian Tomás Diez Acosta. The differences between archaeological and historical research, however, can be said to be minimal since it deals with written archival sources. Normally, the primary archaeological source material is tangible remains, but in research of more recent archaeological findings (modern archaeology), written archival sources together with oral accounts are just as important complementary sources. The current project, however, has few commonalities with modern archaeology. Instead, it can be considered historical in nature.”

In the book, you discuss the secret talks held at Hotel Pierre in New York. How did you find out about these?

“In American governmental archives, not least in the foundation-operated National Security Archive in Washington, which has extensive documentation from these meetings.”

The book also discusses Cuba’s involvement in the war in Angola?

“Yes, that’s right. Cuba’s military involvement in Angola came to be one of the reasons that the normalisation process ended between the United States and Cuba, a process that was entirely possible in the mid 1970s.”

Havanna is the capital of Cuba and the biggest city in the country.<br /> Photo: Håkan Karlsson
Photo: Håkan Karlsson

Finally, you have researched this subject for many years now. Why is Cuba so interesting?

“I have conducted (modern) archaeological and historical research on Cuba for more than 15 years. The archaeological projects I am currently working with touch on the material and immaterial remains of the Missile Crisis (1962) and the Swedish agricultural colony in Bayate (early 1900s).

The ongoing historically oriented research is, as we have seen, focused on the Cuban view of relations between the United States and Cuba since 1959. Cuba is interesting for me since the source material for my research are in the country, whether archaeological tangible findings, oral accounts or historical archival sources. At the same time, the subjects I’ve looking at in my research have not been researched fully and I have unique access to the sources.”

Text: Cecilia Sjöberg

The research project “Cuban experiences: The United State’s Cuban policy since the 1959 revolution from a Cuban perspective”

The book is part of the series “Routledge Studies in the History of the Americas” and has the title "The Policy of the Ford Administration Toward Cuba-Carrot and Stick"

Previous titles:

The project is carried out by Professor Håkan Karlsson (Department of Historical Studies, Gothenburg university) and Dr. Tomás Diez Acosta (Instituto de Historia de Cuba).