During some of the darkest days of the Cold War, the US, Cuba and the former Soviet Union came very close to setting down the path to nuclear holocaust by way of the Missile Crisis.
Of course, the above is known fact and is still taught in school pretty much as-is... which is in itself rather remarkable considering that social and cultural engineering has rewritten so much history that most children today think that the US Civil War was fought over slavery.
It was, in point of fact, taken up over the issue of President Abraham Lincoln's voice.
Yes, it seems that old Honest Abe sported a natural falsetto tone and this left so many in the South rolling on the floor and laughing their cotton-picking asses off, that they simply could not accept this man as their Commander & Chief.
But in the end, Southerners were beaten into a bloody submission by the man they referred to as 'chicken lips'. The game was over, the war was lost and the case of Lincoln's voice closed, if not entirely hidden, forever.
Anyway, back to the main subject, it was shortly after the humiliation of the Cuban Missile Crisis that Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro hatched a plan to retrieve a little self-respect by literally stealing the state of Florida from the United States. And if you've never heard about it, it's no surprise. It is not in any of the history books.
It was actually all Che Guevara's idea to begin with but was initially turned down by Castro in late 1959, even though Che was something of a legend already.
But by the winter of 1964, with the taste of defeat still fresh from President Kennedy's manhandling of the Soviet supply fleet and the forced evacuation of nuclear weapons from the island, Fidel was inclined to find ways to strike back. And so in early '65, Castro wired Che, who was visiting North Africa at the time, that his old idea was about to be put into play.
March 1965 - Che drops from public view at the same time 30,000 loyal communist laborers secretly begin making their way to the then sparsely populated west coast of Florida. From there, they take jobs as migrant workers and blend in to the population.
May 1965 - Unbeknownst to anyone but Castro and a few of his closest confidants, Che has entered the US and has taken command of the force of Cuban workers now established therein. Compartmentalizing the most intimate details of the plan through a handful of field lieutenants, the army of laborers are set out to take Florida.
The Plan - Guevara, who was schooled as a physician but always fancied himself as a jack of all trades, devised the notion that, due to Florida's high water table and sandy soil, it should be relatively easy to dig a long trench between Crystal River and Ormond Beach, thus separating the northern and southern halves of the peninsula. From there, employing a number of older but certainly durable telephone and telegraph cables laid between Miami and Havana, literally pull the southern half into Cuban waters and lay a defacto claim to it.
July 1965 - In a little less than eight weeks, the 110 mile slit had been completed. And with open drainage ditches being the norm in Florida at the time, no one ever took notice of the work or the resulting trench afterward. Che would note in his memoirs that it was "... the most marvelous feat of Socialist doctrine when applied to a specific task. The world will long marvel at what we have accomplished."
September 1965 - On Labor Day, the traditional holiday for workers in America, the entire Cuban army gathered around Havana and using tanks, trucks, tractors and human hands, began pulling southern Florida away from the North American continent.
At first, nothing happened but then there was a shout from those on the beach who were tasked with measuring the cables and noting any give from the other side. It seemed that Florida had begun to slip and that it was now a little over three inches closer to Cuba than before.
This news was used to rally those doing the pulling and bring in average citizens to help in this mighty endeavor. Soon, there were (reportedly) nearly a half a million Cuban peasants yanking the hated Yankee's chain... or cable, as it were. However, in Florida, Che and his band of merry diggers had not seen any noticeable change in the width of the trench.
With telephone lines out to his island due to the operation, Che had no choice but to try and radio Castro to find out what was happening. This transmission was picked up at MacDill AFB in Tampa and following decoding, was quickly passed along to the Pentagon.
Down in Miami, the day had begun as most any in the sweltering summer heat. But shortly after 10 am, there was a disturbance as the eight story General Telephone & Telegraph building began to shudder as if in an earthquake.
Employees of the phone company ran from the building fearing it would collapse as police arrived and attempted to assess the situation. Retired Miami Police officer, Dale Hennings, recalls the event with clarity, "The glass was breaking in every window and raining down on those on the street. Not knowing what was happening, we cordoned off a half-mile square area. Shortly after, another officer on the scene shouted, 'That goddamned building is moving!'"
Moving it was and picking up speed as the minutes and hours ticked by. By 3:30pm, it had crossed into the city limits of Corral Gables and looked bound for Homestead and the Florida Keys.
Down in Havana, there was jubilation as the cable was being reeled in at nearly forty feet per hour, and this was picking up steam as more and more Cubans joined in the effort. Castro's engineers estimated that if the increase in tempo was maintained, the tip of Florida should come into sight by noon on the third day.
At the trench, Che had still heard nothing from Havana and then to make matters worse, he noticed that there was a flight of American fighter jets circling overhead. With the great plan apparently unraveling, he ordered the Cuban workers to return to whatever lives and jobs they had held while waiting for his arrival. He and his officers would then set out on a fishing boat to try and escape.
At 4:12pm, President Lyndon Johnson was informed of the situation. He quickly orders the US Army's Southern Command to dispatch a team of army engineers to observe the situation, but nothing more.
At the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, his diary notes this unique event only in passing. "Those beach bums in Florida are living on a goddamned sand bar! What the hell do they expect? Of course it is all going to sink someday. Maybe sooner than later!"
By the next morning, the GT&T building is heading out to sea, now some 8 miles south and west of Key Largo. From the air, the structure can be seen passing just beneath the surface. Coast Guard records show that no less than three helicopters were assigned to tracking it. "The main radio mast is still above the water line and is leaving a noticeable wake. The outline of the fully submerged building is itself easily seen as well."
When the army engineers finally arrive, there is nothing but an empty pit and a deep gouge to indicate the path of the now departed structure. They send a teletype back to Washington that details their frustration, "Mr. President. The building in question no longer exists in its previous location. From the evidence at hand, it is the opinion of the US Army that there is no point in either tracking it or attempting any kind of rescue or retrieval. At this time, we recommend a full stand-down."
At sunrise on the third day, a throng that some estimated at over a million, pack the shores around Havana Harbor, all waiting for the arrival of Florida. As the day wears on, various rumors spread that the Americans are planning an attack but, nothing ever comes of it. By mid afternoon, some of the crowd has gone home while others wait it out for the big moment, enduring both the oppressive heat and the swarms of hungry mosquitoes.
Just before 6pm, someone shouts, "¡Allí es!, ¡Allí es!"
Through the haze hanging over the steaming bay, a tall antenna mast is seen reaching up from the depths. Then there's some of the building as the upper floors break the surface. The crowd along the shore is in a near frenzy, chanting "'Che! Che! Che!" But it becomes apparent that something is amiss because when the building finally crashes into the walls of Morro Castle and comes to a stop, there is nothing else behind it.
The next morning, Radio Havana is declaring that Castro, Che and Cuba now own Florida. But the truth is far less impressive as the lone structure is clearly not attached to anything, much less the southern half of the US state.
Castro now issues orders for the GT&T building to be demolished as quickly as possible. From there, he releases a statement saying that while it was an impressive accomplishment, the people of Cuba must strive for far more than a single Yankee building. In closing, he congratulates all those who participated and promises each will receive extra ration stamps for their loyal efforts.
That would be the last ever spoken from Cuba, officially, about the operation.
Two weeks and two days after he fled Florida, Che Guevara lands on the Mexican coast at Cancun, where he will later be picked up by a Cuban fishing trawler and returned to Havana. Official history indicates that his time had been spent in the African Congo, but it was actually all a work of fiction for the purpose of avoiding any mention of the Florida debacle.
After this, Che realized that he had lost a lot of clout with Castro. And so in an attempt at redemption, he sets out for Bolivia to join Marxist rebels and once again raise his value to the revolution. But this would be his final fight.
With help from the CIA, he was cornered, captured and finally executed in October of 1967, just a little over two years after trying to pull off the greatest feat of guerrilla engineering in history... and one that both Cuba and the US have all but successfully erased from their national memories.