Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

Back Channel to Cuba

Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and HavanaFidel Castro in New York City

Back Channel to Cuba, Bill LeoGrande book cover

Q & A with Professor Bill LeoGrande

By Gregg Sangillo

The acrimonious relationship between the United States and Cuba has a strange undercurrent.  Amidst legendary tales of assassination plots and paramilitary operations, it turns out that the two enemy nations never really stopped talking to each other. The negotiations were mostly secret—until now. American University School of Public Affairs Professor William LeoGrande and National Security Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh reveal the extensive diplomacy in their new book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. LeoGrande is a former SPA dean and an expert on U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America. In an edited interview, he spoke about Cuba, Cold War politics, and cigar diplomacy.

GS: Why did you want to write a book about U.S.-Cuba relations?

LeoGrande: "Cuba and the United States have been in confrontation with one another for more than 50 years. And that's a fairly well-known story, from the Bay of Pigs to the Missile Crisis and other events. What's not well-known is that Cuba and the United States have been talking to one another and engaging diplomatically throughout that entire period. It's a part of the story that gets ignored because the hostility has been so visceral and so public, whereas the diplomatic dimension has been much more behind the scenes and secret. Particularly on the U.S. side, talking to Cuba has always been a political hot potato. Presidents have wanted to do it very quietly, very discreetly. But there's a long record of it. From President Dwight Eisenhower to the present, every president has found some reason to negotiate with Cuba. We felt like this was a story that needed to be told."

GS: How did the negotiations remain secret? Even close followers of U.S. foreign policy don't necessarily know this story.

LeoGrande: "In most cases, knowledge of these negotiations was restricted to literally four or five people. So, for example, when Richard Goodwin, John F. Kennedy's special assistant, was talking to Che Guevara at the Alliance for Progress founding conference in Uruguay, the only people who knew about it were Goodwin and Kennedy. Years later, Henry Kissinger held things very close. Only his deputy, Lawrence Eagleburger, and one or two other people knew the details. Kissinger didn't even fully brief the president, because he wanted to keep it secret until he could see whether it would pay off."

Read More »

Panel at Brookings

View more details on

Professor LeoGrande on NewsmaxTV

Charlie Rose

Smithsonian's "Newsflash"

Past Events

Sunday, November 23 at 4:00PM

Miami Book Fair International
300 NE Second Ave., Miami, FL 33132
Room 8503 (Building 8, 5th Floor)

Tuesday, November 18

National Press Club Book Fair
529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor
Washington, DC 20045

Tuesday, November 4 at 3:00 pm

Discussion with fellow author Peter Kornbluh
Butler Board Room
American University
Washington, DC 20016

Monday, October 6 at 9:00 am

Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036

Wednesday, October 1 at 7:30pm

Center for Cuban Studies
231 West 29th Street, 4th floor
New York, NY


In the Media

William LeoGrande, professor of government, released a new book on September 30 entitled Back Channel to Cuba. Following the publication, he was featured in a New York Times and an AP News article, each on Henry Kissinger's erstwhile attack plans against Cuba; wrote an analysis with co-author Peter Kornbluh for The Nation; and spoke in an interview for NPR's review of the book.

William LeoGrande, professor of government, told MSN News that potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush's hardline stance on the Cuban embargo may not fall in line with voters the same way it did only a few years ago.

William LeoGrande, professor of government, discussed lost opportunities for improved relations between the United States and Cuba on the December 7 edition of the "Charlie Rose Show." Bloomberg News also ran the interview.

William LeoGrande, professor of government, appeared on MSNBC live from Havana, Cuba to discuss President Obama’s executive authority, the Helms-Burton Act and the reaction in Cuba. He also spoke to CNN, USA Today, CBS News, NewsmaxTV, the Sun Sentinel, and International Business Times.

William LeoGrande, professor of government, discussed the life and work of Robert E. White for a Washington Post obituary for the former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador who was removed from his position for his outspoken criticism of U.S. policy.