The presence of 2,000 to 3,000 Soviet combat troops in Cuba was unacceptable to many Washington leaders, both Republican and Democrat.
In the fall of 1979, a furor erupted in the United States over the discovery of Soviet combat troops in Cuba. Scarcely remembered today, it was an episode of the Cold War that seemed like a very big deal at the time, so much so that it prompted U.S. president Jimmy Carter to address the American people on nationwide television.
Ultimately, it was an uproar over practically nothing, but it helped derail a major nuclear arms agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union and signaled that the era of détente between the two countries was coming to an end.
Cuba had been a bugaboo of U.S. policymakers since the communist revolution that put Fidel Castro in power in 1959. The widespread American fear that the USSR would use the island nation as a foothold from which to threaten the United States in its own hemisphere reached its high point in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it didn’t end there.
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On Sept. 16, 1970, an American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft detected evidence that the Soviet Union was constructing a long-term naval facility at the Cuban port of Cienfuegos, one which could serve as a permanent base for Soviet ballistic missile submarines. U.S. officials in the Nixon administration raised objections with Moscow, stating that such a move would contravene the USSR’s commitment following the Cuban Missile Crisis to refrain from introducing offensive military forces into the Western Hemisphere.
The Soviets, who denied that they were building such a base, ultimately withdrew the submarine tender and two support barges it had sent to Cienfuegos and for the most part the matter died down.