In John Kerry's statement on President Obama's Cuba policy changes, the secretary of state doesn't simply suggest the policies in place for five and a half decades are outdated. He seems to be suggesting they were a failure from the start. And in doing so, he apparently misstates his own age at the time President Kennedy made one of the most well known presidential addresses in our nation's history, and certainly the most notable regarding Cuba.
Kerry's remarks, released by the State Department on Wednesday, begin as follows:
I was a seventeen year old kid watching on a black and white television set when I first heard an American President talk of Cuba as an "imprisoned island.”
For five and a half decades since, our policy toward Cuba has remained virtually frozen, and done little to promote a prosperous, democratic and stable Cuba. Not only has this policy failed to advance America's goals, it has actually isolated the United States instead of isolating Cuba.
Originally, a limited embargo against Cuba was instituted toward the end of the Eisenhower administration. However, John F. Kennedy broke off diplomatic relations with the island nation in 1961; then he issued Proclamation 3447 in February 1962 (authorized by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961), which extended the embargo to all trade with Cuba. However, with minor adjustments now and then, both Republican and Democratic presidents in the interim have kept the embargo in place and have declined to renew diplomatic relations.
Rather than paint Cuba policy and the embargo as having outlived their usefulness, however, Kerry says that the policy "has remained virtually frozen" for "five and a half decades" and has "failed to advance America's goals." He even goes so far as to say that the policy worked in reverse and "actually isolated the United States instead of isolating Cuba." Kerry's remarks closely mirror those of President Obama, who lays out his new approach by making the case that the last half century has witnessed a "Failed Approach," because "today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party."
In recalling the early days of U.S. policy toward Castro's Cuba, however, Kerry seems to confuse the timing of events surrounding the formation of that policy. When Kerry says he "heard an American President talk of Cuba as an 'imprisoned island,'" he's referring to President Kennedy's speech on October 22, 1962 revealing what would come to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the televised address, Kennedy said [emphasis added]:
This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.
Kerry says he was a "seventeen year old kid watching on a black and white television set" as Kennedy addressed the nation. Kerry, however, was born on December 11, 1943, which would have made him eighteen, less than two months shy of his nineteenth birthday. The State Department did not respond to a request for clarification on Kerry's recollection, and as of this writing, the statement on the website remains unchanged.