Today the “Maximum Leader” of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, begins his 47th year in power. Beginning with President Eisenhower, Mr. Castro has outlasted 10 U.S. presidents.
Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida. Since the Cold War ended, Mr. Castro has been the most outspoken enemy of the United States (the only remaining superpower). It seems hardly a day passes that he doesn’t insult the president of the United States — while always taking care to emphasize his love of the American people. An obvious question: How is it that 47 years later this brutal tyrant is still around to continue his mischief? This leads to another question: Who lost Cuba?
From the very beginning, Mr. Castro offered the United States many opportunities to get rid of him, but not one of the 10 presidents he has survived found the magic formula.
Most exile political leaders I have interviewed agree the Cuban people in 1959 and early 1960 were enthusiastic for Mr. Castro and his Revolution. Mr. Castro’s movement, the 26 of July, was based on democratic principles, aimed at restoring the 1940 Constitution set aside when former President Fulgencio Batista overthrew the freely elected regime of President Carlos Prio Socarras on March 10, 1952. Thus the Cuban people are partly responsible for Mr. Castro consolidating power in 1959-1960.
However, the Soviet Union entered the picture in early 1960, sending weapons and “technical advisers” to Cuba. Once the Soviet Union showed up, it was a new ballgame. It was up to Cuba’s big brother, and longtime friend and neighbor, the United States to protect the Cuban people from communism.
President Eisenhower watched Soviet ships unload the weapons. The CIA knew that from early 1959 Mr. Castro had set up centers all over the island to train Latin American and Palestinian terrorists to return to their countries to overthrow democratically elected governments, like Venezuela.
In January to August 1959, Castro’s forces invaded the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama. All these expeditions were captured. Mr. Castro’s actions were clear violations of at least four articles of the Organization of American States’ Charter, including the 1947 Rio de Janeiro Reciprocal Assistance Treaty.
Eisenhower could have invoked the Monroe Doctrine when the Soviet Union entered the picture. All he had to do was convoke the OAS foreign ministers and present evidence of Cuba’s interference in the internal affairs of OAS countries. All the treaties allowed “use of arms.” Instead, Eisenhower ordered the CIA to get rid of the Castro regime.
Mr. Castro has admitted he took (stole) $1 billion of American-owned properties in 1960. According to U.S. Commerce Department figures, there were 252 U.S. companies and subsidiaries in Cuba on Jan. 1, 1959. What did President Eisenhower do about the stolen American properties? Nada. What would Teddy Roosevelt, or Harry Truman have done? Cuba was lost on President Eisenhower’s watch.
I have often been asked: Why don’t the Cuban people rise against Mr. Castro? I reply: You can’t fight Soviet machine guns with homemade slingshots.
President Kennedy could have rescued Cuba and spared Cubans 46 years of communist hell. But he failed them at the Bay of Pigs and 18 months later in the October 1962 Missile Crisis.
At the Bay of Pigs, Cuban freedom fighters of the 2506 Brigade were defeated by Castro forces only when, after three days of courageous fighting, the Brigade ran out of ammunition. One of Mr. Castro’s jet trainers sank an invasion ship carrying ammunition and rifles and machine guns to arm the 1,400 Brigade soldiers for 30 days, plus arms for 10,000 who were expected to join the invaders.
Kennedy signed off on a plan that allowed qualified U.S.-trained Cuban exile pilots to bomb Fidel Castro’s meager air force (16 planes) at three major airports, three days before the invasion, April 17. Marine Col. Jack Hawkins, special adviser to Kennedy for the invasion, warned in writing that unless Mr. Castro’s air force was eliminated, the invasion should be called off.
Without informing the chiefs of staff, Kennedy called off the second and third bombings, leaving half of Castro’s air force free to pick off the invasion ships and the brigade on shore, According Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson complained to the president he was not informed of the first bombing and could no longer defend Kennedy’s position. (After the first bombing, Mr. Castro’s U.N. ambassador called for an emergency meeting and denounced the invasion).
According to Mr. Sorensen, Kennedy called Stevenson a “national treasure” and said “we cannot afford to lose him” (but it was all right to abandon without ammunition 1,400 U.S.-trained and -equipped freedom fighters to the mercy of the Soviet-equipped Cuban militia.).
In their books following President Kennedy’s assassination, his aides Mr. Sorensen, Pierre Salinger and Arthur Schlessinger Jr. deliberately omitted the three bombings Kennedy approved by arguing he never promised the exiles U.S. air support and the exiles knew there would be no U.S. air support.
But the competent, experienced Cuban exile pilots knew they could eliminate Mr. Castro’s air force. Sorensen and company don’t mention their boss called off the vital bombings.
(Anyone who wants to know the truth about the Bay of Pigs disaster should read “Decision for Disaster — Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs,” by Grayston L. Lynch, CIA case officer on the Brigade command ship, who led the first combat team ashore and broke silence after 35 years because he wanted to set the record straight. In a review, Seymour M. Hersh wrote: “This is not a book for those who love Camelot.”)
Eighteen months later during the October 1962 Missile Crisis, when the Soviets were caught preparing to activate missiles they secretly introduced into Cuba, the United States should have acted like a superpower. The chiefs of staff and important senators like William Fulbright of Arkansas and George Smathers of Florida recommended a surgical strike to knock out the missiles, followed by an invasion.
Instead, Kennedy listened to brother Bobby who said bombing the Soviet missiles would be equivalent to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “My brother is no Tojo,” Bobby said.
President Kennedy made a secret agreement with the Soviets whereby the Soviets promised to remove the missiles and the U.S. promised not to invade Cuba, thus condemning 8 million (12 million today) Cubans to 46 years of communist oppression. This was considered an enormous victory by the Camelot lovers. But was it?
At the time of the missile crisis, the United States had an overwhelming advantage over the Soviets in intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Atlas in Wyoming could hit any block in Moscow. More than 200 B-52’s with atomic bombs were continually in the air headed straight for the Soviet Union, turning around and coming back. Are we to believe Soviet generals and admirals would risk their country’s total destruction to save a bearded maniac called Fidel Castro from a justified U.S. invasion?
Probably Mr. Castro’s “cruelest cut of all” was, starting in 1962, pushing tons of drugs into the United States. He is still doing this, according to recent defectors from his regime.
How many thousands of American youth are basket cases because of Mr. Castro’s drugs? About three years ago, Bobby Kennedy’s oldest son David was reported dead from a drug overdose in a West Palm Beach Hotel. Could they have been Mr. Castro’s drugs? History has its own form of revenge.
Mr. Castro’s drug pushing drugs into the United States was reason enough for any of 10 presidents of the world’s only superpower to wipe out the Castro-communist regime that has made an art form of torturing political prisoners.
Jack Skelly retired to South Florida in 1991 after 40 years in Washington. He worked 30 years in journalism, (on Latin American and Hispanic-American affairs) and 10 years in public relations and lobbying. He lived in Cuba 30 years.