So it came as a surprise to hear Chris Matthews, author of the latest JFK biography, Jack Kennedy — An Elusive Hero, focusing on the Cuban Missile Crisis, utter this stunningly hyperbolic statement about Castro: "If the communists had won, that guy (Castro) would've been standing in Central Park watching the executions of anybody with any political talent in this country." With all due respect, Chris, I can't think of a Tom Clancy plot that could realistically accommodate your virulent Cold War fantasy. Maybe Red Dawn. But that's beneath Clancy's penchant for verisimilitude. In fact, it got me wondering whether your JFK book was ghost-written and conceived by someone else. Just saying."It is no exaggeration to suggest that U.S. policy towards Cuba since the revolution has largely been formulated in accordance with the wishes of the Cuban-American voting bloc. This has led to fifty years of confrontational policy vis-à-vis Cuba, ranging from an unsuccessful military invasion to over five decades of rigid economic embargo. These policies reflect the hard-line, anti-Castro sentiment that has been at the heart Cuban-American political culture. [...]
In recent years, however, as the community has evolved politically, traditional generalizations are no longer applicable. Demographic and generational shifts have diluted the hard-line voice in Miami, creating a community that is possibly more open to a change in policy direction towards Cuba than at any time in the past. On the streets of the Cuban-American neighborhood of Little Havana in Miami, debate now rages as to the value of the embargo and the future direction of U.S. policy. An acceptance of differences of opinion now exists, in contrast to the hard-line hegemony of earlier decades that left little room for alternative views to be aired. Today, “attitudes among the Cuban-American voters in Miami-Dade County have become increasingly complex,” and while hard-line views still exist, they do so alongside other political standpoints."
For starters, Chris, if the "communists had won" as you put it, there would most likely not be a Central Park for Castro to carry out his executions. You and Mr. Castro — most of humanity — would be irradiated carbon dust that might, perhaps today, become fertilizer for incipient plant life. If any humans survived the nuclear holocaust, they would try organizing for survival as self-sustaining communities. Nation-states would have disappeared — the USSR, USA, Europe, others, and of course, the tiny island-state with a big, fat TARGET on its back named Havana. If he was lucky, Fidel might have escaped with family, friends and Che, of course, aboard his yatch Granma to parts unknown. Destination: USA — not likely.
But seriously, Chris, in the course of your research for the book, surely you must have come across intriguing documents suggesting Kennedy sought a dialogue with Cuba, an initiative which was aborted by the assassination, according to declassified documents. A National Security archive audio tape between Kennedy and his national security advisor McGeorge Bundy, "discussing the possibility of a secret meeting in Havana with Castro," was dated only seventeen days before the assassination. The history of this secret rapprochement is well documented in the link (above) to the respected George Washington University "National Security Archive" project.
What Ozzie Guillen said was insensitive to Fidel Castro's victims, yes, but still it holds special resonance for the other Latinos, who are not spoken for. They are the tens of thousands of tortured, disappeared, and assassinated victims of the U.S.-sanctioned fascist military dictatorships in Latin and South America. Those who recall the film Missing by the great director Costa-Gravas, with Jack Lemmon as an American businessman frantically searching for his disappeared son in the days following Henry Kissinger's Chilean coup, glimpsed the outlines of those days of horror. CIA horror. The CIA that, as you well know Chris, hatched countless plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. The survivors of Kissinger's atrocities, like Michele Bachelet, former president of Chile, and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, who was an urban guerrilla fighter in her previous life, only grew stronger through their ordeal.
Some have argued that Fidel may have been involved in the Kennedy assassination. Which is ridiculous. Love him or hate him, one thing's for sure: Fidel is a survivor; the only retired communist dictator. And he's no fool. He knew full well that were he to be blamed for killing Kennedy, the psychotic Curtis LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff who clashed with President Kennedy over military action during the Cuban Missile Crisis, was just itching for a pretext to bomb Cuba "back to the Stone Age." Fidel's defiant stand against American plots to assassinate him, and 50 years of crippling economic sanctions, have earned him the well deserved admiration of Latinos from one end of America to the other. But unless one grasped how intimately the CIA was known to those who called the agency La Cia (pronounced see-ya), their admiration for Castro might be hard to understand.
Among those who believe that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy, Fidel Castro is much lower on the list of prime suspects than the rabid right wing anti-Castro groups that were operating in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana at the time. Lee Harvey Oswald was well known in those circles. Only a true ingenue like Chris could actually believe that Oswald's "Fair Play For Cuba Committee" was a pro-Castro group, as splashily advertised, rather than a Guy Bannister front for attracting pro-Castro sympathizers from whom Oswald was tasked with gathering information and spying on them at Bannister's behest. Bannister and the so-called 'Committee' shared offices in the same building and everything. A right wing fanatic with violent tendencies and a lefty pamphleteering group. Right.
But that's a whole different story. Back in my college days, the local Cuban-American student group sponsored a talk by a member of a rabid right wing anti-Castro group. I covered it for the college paper. The dude's basic premise was that we, the United States, should take unilateral, unprovoked military action against Cuba, a sovereign state, depose Castro, and "free" Cuba for the Cuban exiles in the U.S. A rerun of the Bay of Pigs, this time with direct U.S. military involvement. I went back and wrote that if they wanted their country back, they should follow Castro's example. Gather their forces, land in Cuba surreptitiously, and head for the Sierra Maestra mountains to start their counter-revolution. But don't expect America to carry any water for them or to risk American lives in their "war of liberation." Needless to say, I got some nasty mail from the same bullying types who today demand Ozzie's head for expressing a favorable view of Castro.
Fidel Castro didn't "steal" their country away, Chris. From whom? Colonel Fulgencio Batista — one in a long, unbroken string of utterly corrupt U.S. puppets soaking the taxpayers dry in a black hole of lavish palaces, weapons, and overseas accounts? Today's Batista is our mental case/crutch in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Batista just happened to be our sonofabitch in 1959 — and the mob's — turning Havana into a playground for rich playboys, mobsters, drug runners, and prostitution. The country was ripe for revolution.
And to get Chris riled up: The old dictator visiting with Pope Benedict, once Hitler Youth. Perfect together. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are reviled for conducting executions. Yet when our robotic drones shred innocent men, women, and children thousands of miles away, it's just so much "collateral damage." What's worse: Looking the executed in the eye, or killing by drone? Out of sight, out of mind. American exceptionalism.
These scenes of Che's birthday at a clinic for lepers on the banks of one of the Amazon's tributaries are my favorites. Especially the scene in which Che impulsively decides to swim across the river, to celebrate his birthday in the leper colony on the island the lepers are kept in isolation. It was a metaphor of his life: personal struggle, determination, and selfless communion with the least among us — society's lepers. A beautiful film. Highly recommended.