In October 1962, America and the Soviet Union brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Cuba was the bone of contention. The small island nation is just 180 kilometers from the US state of Florida. At the time of the crisis, Cuba controlled the Gulf of Mexico. Cuba came under American influence after the US freed it from Spanish rule in 1898. With help from the US, Fulgencio Batista dominated Cuba from 1933 to 1958. Government corruption and ongoing use of violence provoked an uprising in 1958. Young lawyer Fidel Castro led the revolt. Cuba had sent him into exile for threatening to overthrow the government. Castro snuck back into Cuba with his friend and cohort Che Guevara. The pair led a series of guerrilla attacks that forced Batista to flee the country. On January 8, 1959, Castro entered in triumph. The new Cuban leader put most of the country’s industry under government control and strengthened ties with the Soviet Union. Alarmed at having a Communist-led country at short range, in 1961, US President John F. Kennedy backed a plan for Cuban exiles to invade the island. They landed in the Bay of Pigs, a cove on Cuba’s southwestern coast. The Cuban army easily defeated the anti-Castro invaders.
Openly threatened by the US, Castro asked the Soviets to provide Cuba with nuclear missiles. American spy planes saw the weapons en route to Cuba on October 14, 1962. Eight days later, Kennedy ordered US forces to blockade their neighbor, preventing delivery of the weapons. Over the next few days, the navies of the two superpowers came close to entering combat. Tensions were high. The possibility of nuclear warfare loomed. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev finally proposed a compromise to end the crisis. Kennedy accepted the deal on October 28. Soviet ships went home without delivering the weapons. America promised not to invade Cuba and dismantled missile bases in Turkey. After the crisis, the two nuclear powers worked on easing tensions between them. The process culminated in the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed August 5, 1963. From then on nuclear weapons were tested underground, reducing risks to civilians.