The Third World War reached its apogee on D+24. Yet as the hours went by and appeared to be pushing the world towards an imminent nuclear war, in Central America and the Caribbean, the mood and actions were guided by a fatalistic attitude on the part of national leaders and populations alike. In places such as Cuba and Nicaragua, it was widely accepted that whatever was destined to happen would happen. Managua and Havana had no control over events in Europe. The United States and Soviet Union were locked on their courses of action and all the lesser allies of each superpower could do was to prepare for the worst. Around the region civil defense measures were initiated in many cities and nations. Civil defense programs were nowhere near as structured or efficient as they were in North America or Europe but the effort was made nevertheless. Some civil defense measures were as unorthodox as they were effective. Mexico, for instance, closed off its southern border and placed troops there to contain a surge of potentially contaminated refugees if the worst happened.
Combat around the region had already diminished significantly by D+24. Daniel Ortega had seen the writing on the wall and was moving to reach accommodation with the US. Fighting between US and Nicaraguan forces around the Honduran border had ceased two days earlier and the skies above Managua were now void of US fighter bombers once darkness fell. In Panama, US Southern Command was making preparations for possible nuclear conflict. SOUTHCOM had no nuclear warheads on the ground in Central America, but a stockpile of B-61s and artillery shells had been moved to Puerto Rico if needed. The B-61s were loaded onto F-111s which were standing Victor Alert on D+24 at Rafael Hernández International Airport, former site of Ramey AFB. The emphasis of the previous 2-3 days for SOUTHCOM had been to ready for a military operation aimed at removing Manuel Noriega from power in Panama. After a long reluctance, the Pentagon had given the green light to CINC-South General Fred Woerner and elements of the 101st Airborne Division had been airlifted to Howard AFB. The start of chemical and nuclear weapon use in Europe, however, placed these preparations on hold. Instead, US troops in Central America and the Caribbean were readying themselves and their units to face the prospect of nuclear weapons being used in the region.
In Managua, Nicaraguan strongman Daniel Ortega’s position had been weakened by days of American military strikes. His defiant stance was gone, replaced by a willingness to reach accommodation with Washington. As D+24 progressed the prospect of Armageddon rose and eventually faded. The destruction of Moscow (according to the earliest reports) marked the end of nuclear weapon usage. Ortega realized this meant a Soviet defeat and his position was even more precarious, to say the least. If he were to remain in power Ortega would need to come to terms with the fact his benefactors in Moscow were now gone while the US remained intact.
Fidel Castro breathed a sigh of relief with the news of a ceasefire taking hold after the Pershing II strike on the Kremlin and KGB headquarters in Moscow. Had the nuclear exchanges escalated to the next level, cities and military bases in Cuba would’ve certainly been targeted by US nuclear missiles and bombs. For the near future, Castro planned to adopt a policy of peaceful coexistence with his powerful neighbor to the north. With Romanov and his government out of commission, the future of the Soviet-Cuba relationship was up in the air. But Fidel Castro was a survivor, if nothing else. In the weeks following the end of hostilities, he reached out to the People’s Republic of China in an effort to replace Moscow’s patronage with Beijing’s.
As for Manuel Noriega, his days were numbered, and he was well aware of it. Washington would remove him from power at a time of its choosing.