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

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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 »

Professor LeoGrande on NewsmaxTV



Charlie Rose



Smithsonian's "Newsflash"



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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, provided commentary and analysis on the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba for media outlets including the Huffington Post, Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times.

William LeoGrande, professor of government, provided commentary and analysis on the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba for media outlets including the Huffington Post, Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times.

William LeoGrande, professor of government, provided commentary and analysis on the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba for media outlets including the Huffington Post, Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times.

William LeoGrande, professor of government, provided commentary and analysis on the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba for media outlets including the Huffington Post, Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times.

William LeoGrande, professor of government, provided commentary and analysis on the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba for media outlets including the Huffington Post, Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times.