Politicizing Hunger: Roots of the Cuban Embargo

By March 1960, just barely over a year after the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. decided that it was time to punish the Cuban people for allowing Castro to take power in Cuba.

As explained in the Memorandum of Discussion at the 436th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, March 10, 1960:

Mr. Dillon [Under Secretary of State] reported that up to the present time he had felt we should be careful not to take actions which would have a serious effect on the Cuban people, but now he believed we need not be so careful about actions of this kind, since the Cuban people were responsible for the [Castro] regime. If Castro continued his present activities, the results would be catastrophic throughout the hemisphere, whereas a set-back to the Cuban economy as a result of Castro’s actions might be a desirable development, since it would show that Communist-type activity does not pay.

Two things here:

  1. It was now permissible to punish the innocent residents of Cuba.
  2. The U.S. wants to show the world why a Communist government cannot work by directly sabotaging the Communist government. This is like me telling you that your tree won’t grow as I inject poison to its roots. Makes perfect sense 🙂

In July of the same year, the Assistant Secretary of State, Roy Rubottom, was convinced that the people of Cuba are completely at fault for allowing the Castro regime to happen.

Memorandum for the Files by the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom), July 6, 1960

We have gone as far as we can in trying to distinguish between the Cuban people and their present government, much as we sympathize with the plight of what we believe to be the great majority of Cubans. The recent series of articles by Thomas Wolf in the Washington Post clearly shows the extent to which the Cuban “people” have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked and out-maneuvered, assuming that some of them have been alert, by the communists.

The pairing of sanctions with sabotage by the U.S. was designed to foster economic disarray, disrupt production systems, and increase domestic distress through shortages and scarcities as a way to generate popular discontent with Fidel Castro and thereby impair his ability to govern and undermine his capacity to manage the economy.

The intent was to politicise hunger as a means of promoting popular disaffection, in the hope that driven by want and motivated by despair Cubans would rise up and oust Fidel Castro.

President Eisenhower approved economic sanctions in the hopes of starving the population.

Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, January 25, 1960, 11:15–11:55 a.m.

The President said that, if it comes to such conditions, we could quarantine Cuba. If they (the Cuban people) are hungry, they will throw Castro out.

Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mallory) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom):

The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship….it follows that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba…to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.

Eisenhower wrote the British Prime Minister and expressed his objectives.

Letter From President Eisenhower to British Prime Minister Macmillan, July 11, 1960

Our primary objective is to establish conditions which will bring home to the Cuban people the cost of Castro’s policies and of his Soviet orientation

I anticipate that, as the situation unfolds, we shall be obliged to take further economic measures which will have the effect of impressing on the Cuban people the cost of this Communist orientation.

Fun fact, the British Prime Minister responds in a July 22 letter to to the President in full support of the U.S.’s position on Castro. Macmillan wrote:

Let me first tell you how deeply interested I was by your long letter about Cuba and Castro. I am sending you a separate detailed answer. Castro is really the very Devil.

John F. Kennedy would continue the legacy of starving the Cuban people.

Theodore Sorensen, presidential adviser and speechwriter for Kennedy, wrote in Kennedy, (1965), Chapter 25:

Castro was hurt, though not mortally, by a lack of trade with the free world, a lack of spare parts and consumer goods, plummeting popularity throughout the hemisphere and rising discomfort among hungry Cubans.

In 1962, brother Robert Kennedy would wish for more than just a few hungry Cubans. Dissatisfied with the secret operation Mongoose to overthrow Castro, Arthur Schlesinger recounted in his biography Robert Kennedy and His Times:

The Attorney General was always dissatisfied with Mongoose. He wanted it to do more, the terrors of the earth, but what they were he know not.

There you have it. Starving innocent people is official U.S. policy. Even the beloved Kennedy’s took part.

Thanks for reading,


Academic analysis of this subject can be found the Journal of Latin American Studies, Volume 34, Issue 2, May 2002, pp 227-254. Fear and Loathing of Fidel Castro: Sources of US Policy Toward Cuba by Louis Perez: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-latin-american-studies/article/fear-and-loathing-of-fidel-castro-sources-of-us-policy-toward-cuba/740F31B8E206F66131A04F26EEC6818A

One response to “Politicizing Hunger: Roots of the Cuban Embargo”

  1. […] to hardship as a way to erode popular support of the Castro government. The intent was to politicise hunger as a means of promoting popular disaffection, in the hope that driven by want and motivated by […]

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