Have you ever wondered how Fidel Castro has stayed in power for so long?
No one, other than the King of Jordan, has been in the top spot for a greater period of time. The man has outlasted eight U.S. presidents, ten Olympic Games, and the return of Halley's Comet. And no matter what the United States government does to try to dethrone him, he's got more lives than Cher has comebacks.
It's not that our American leaders haven't given it their best effort. Ever since Castro liberated his country from the corrupt U.S.- and Mafia backed Batista regime, Washington has tried a variety of methods to unseat him. These have included taxpayer-funded assassination attempts, invasions, blockades, embargoes, threats of nuclear annihilation, internal disruption, and biological warfare (the CIA dropped a bunch of African Swine Fever germs over the country in 1971, forcing the Cubans to destroy 500,000 pigs).
And, something that has always seemed strange to me, there is an actual US naval base on the island of Cuba! Imagine if we after defeating the British in our Revolution, we then let them keep a few thousand troops and a bunch of battleships in New York Harbor. Weird.
President Kennedy, who followed through with President Eisenhower's plan to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, ordered the CIA to kill Castro, trying everything from a pen filled with poison ink to an exploding cigar. (No I do not get my information from Maxwell Smart; it's all in the Church committee report from the U.S. congress, 1975.)
Of course nothing worked. Castro became stronger and the U.S. continued to go nuts. Cuba was seen as "the one that got away." It became an embarrassment to us. Here we had every nation in this hemisphere in our back pocket - except those damn Cubans. It looked bad. Like when the whole family goes out to dinner and the one bad seed, little Billy, just won't sit still and do what he is told. Everyone in the place is looking at the parents and wondering just what kind of job they're doing. The appearance that they have no discipline or control is the worst humiliation. So they start whacking little Billy, but forget about it - he ain't ever going to finish his peas.
That's how silly we look to the rest of the world. Like we've been driven insane over this little island ninety miles from our shores. We don't feel that way about a real threat to humanity, like the one posed by the Chinese government. Talk about a bunch of thugs! Yet we can't move fast enough to hop in bed with them. Washington spent twenty-three years getting us all worked up against the Chinese - and then, suddenly, one day they're our friends. It turned out that the Republicans and their corporate buddies weren't really against communist dictators - just those who wouldn't let them come in and make a buck.
And that, of course, has been Castro's fatal mistake. Once he took over and nationalized all the American businesses and booted the Mob out of Havana, he might as well have taken a seat on the San Andreas fault, because the wrath of Uncle Sam came down on him hard, and it hasn't let up for over thirty-seven years. Yet Castro has survived. For that accomplishment alone, despite all his flaws (political repression, four hour speeches, and a literacy rate of 100 percent), you gotta admire the guy.
So why do we continue to fight this leftover turkey leg from the Cold War? The answer can be found by looking no further than a town called Miami. It is there that a nutty bunch of Cuban exiles have controlled U.S. foreign policy regarding this insignificant island nation. These Cubans, many of whom were Batista supporters and lived high on the hog while that crook ran the country, seem not to have slept a wink since they grabbed their assets and headed to Florida.
And since 1960, they have insisted on pulling us into their madness. Why is it that every incident of national torment that has deflated our country for the past three decades-the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Iran-Contra, our drug abuse epidemic-the list goes on and on-we find that the Cuban exiles are always present and involved? First it was Lee Harvey Oswald's connection to the Cubans in New Orleans. (Or was it the Cuban exiles acting alone to kill Kennedy, or Castro ordering the assassination 'cause he just got bored with Kennedy trying to bump him off? Whichever theory you subscribe to, the Cubans are lurking in the neighborhood.)
Then on the night of June 17, 1972, three Cubans - Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, and Virgilio Gonzalez (plus Americans Frank Sturgis and James McCord Jr.) - were caught breaking into the Watergate offices of the chairman of the Democratic Party. This covert operation eventually brought down Richard Nixon, so I guess there is a silver lining to that particular Cuban-exile operation.
Today, Barker and Gonzalez are considered heroes in Miami's Cuban community. Martinez, later pardoned by Ronald Reagan, is the only one who feels bad. "I did not want myself to be involved in the downfall of the President of the United States." Oh, well, how nice of you!
When Ollie North needed a cover group to run arms into Nicaragua to help overthrow the government, who else could he turn to but the Miami Cubans? Bay of Pigs veterans Ramon Medina and Rafael Quintero were key managers of the air-transport company that supplied weapons to the Contras. The U.S. backed Contra War was responsible for the deaths of thirty thousand Nicarguans.
One of the big bonuses to come out of our funding of these Cuban exiles was the help they gave us in bringing illegal drugs into the States, destroying families and whole sections of our cities. Beginning in the early sixties, a number of Cubans (who also participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion) began running major narcotics rings in this country. The DEA found little support within the federal government to go after these Cuban exiles, because they had organized themselves under the phony banner of "freedom groups." In fact, most were nothing more than fronts for massive drug-smuggling operations. These same drug runners later helped to run arms to the Contras.
U.S. based Cuban terrorist organizations have been responsible for more than two hundred bombings and at least a hundred murders since Castro's revolution. They have got everyone so afraid to stand up to them that I probably shouldn't even be writing this chapter. I am, after all, one of the few unarmed Americans.
So why am I not worried? Because these Cuban exiles, for all their chest thumping and terrorism, are really a bunch of wimps. That's right. Wimps.
Need proof? For starters, when you don't like the oppressor in your country, you stay there and try to overthrow him. This can be done by force (American Revolution, French Revolution) or through peaceful means (Gandhi in India or Mandela in South Africa). But you don't just turn tail and run like these Cubans.
Imagine if all the American colonists had all run to Canada - and then insisted the Canadians had a responsibility to overthrow the British down in the States. The Sandanistas never would have freed their country from Somoza if they had all been sitting on the beach in Costa Rica, drinking margaritas and getting rich. Mandela went to prison, not to Libya or London.
But the wealthy Cubans scooted off to Miami - and got wealthier. Ninety percent of these exiles are white, while the majority of Cubans, 62 percent, are black or of mixed race. The whites knew they couldn't stay in Cuba because they had no support from the people. So they came here, expecting us to fight their fight for them. And, like morons, we have.
It's not that these Cuban crybabies haven't tried to help themselves. But a quick look at their efforts resembles an old Keystone Kops movie. The Bay of Pigs is their best known fiasco. It had all the elements of a great farce - wrong boats, wrong beach, no ammo for the guns, no one shows up to meet them, and, finally, they are left for dead, wandering around a part of their island completely unfamiliar to them (their limo drivers, I guess, had never taken them there in the good old days).
This embarrassment was so monumental the world still hasn't stopped laughing - and the Miami Cubans have never forgotten or forgiven this. Say "Bay of Pigs" to any of them, and you might as well be a dentist with a drill on raw, decaying nerve.
You would think that the Bay of Pigs defeat would have taught them a lesson, but then you would probably be projecting. YOU would have given up. Not this crowd. Since 1962, numerous Cuban exile groups have attempted even more raids to "liberate" their homeland.
Let's go to the highlights reel:
In 1981, a group of Miami Cuban exiles landed on Prividenciales Island in the Caribbean on their way to invading Cuba. Their boat, the only one of four exile boats to make it out of the Miami River (the other three were turned back by the Coast Guard due to foul weather, engine trouble, or too few life jackets), ran aground on a reef near Providenciales. Stuck there on the island with no food or shelter, the Miami Cubans started fighting among themselves. They begged the people of Miami to rescue them off the island, and after three weeks they were airlifted back to Florida. The only one of their group to make it to Cuban waters, Geraldo Fuentes, suffered an appendicitis attack while at sea and had to be helicoptered by the Coast Guard to Guantanamo for treatment.
In 1968, a group of Miami Cubans learned that a Polish ship was docked in the port of Miami and that a Cuban delegation might be aboard the freighter. From the MacArthur Causeway, according to the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, the Cuban exiles fired a homemade bazooka and hit the ship's hull. It only put a nick in the ship, and the group's leader, Orlando Bosch, was sentenced to ten years of prison, but was released in 1972. Bosch explained that they had hoped to cause more damage, but, he pleaded, "It was a BIG ship!" Bosch had earlier been arrested for towing a torpedo through downtown Miami during rush hour, and another time he was caught with six hundred aerial bombs loaded with dynamite in the trunk of his Cadillac. In 1990, the Bush administration released him from prison, where he was serving time for parole violations.
According to Washington Monthly, "During the summer and early fall of 1963, five commando raids were launched against Cuba in the hopes of destabilizing the regime. The negligible Cuban underground was instructed to leave faucets running and lightbulbs burning to waste energy."
In 1962, according to the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Cuban exile, Jose Basulto, on a CIA-sponsored mission, fired a 20-mm cannon from a speedboat at the Incan Hotel next to Havana Bay, hoping to kill Fidel Castro. The shell missed, and Basulto, seeing gasoline spilling all over his boat, high-tailed it back to Florida. "One of our gas tanks, made of plastic, began to leak," Basulto explained later. "Gas ran all over the deck. We didn't know what to do."
Years later, Basulto would go on to form "Brothers to the Rescue," an exile group that for the past few years has been flying missions over Cuba, buzzing Cuban sites, dropping leaflets, and generally trying to intimidate the Cuban government. In February 1996, Castro was apparently fed up with this harassment, and after the twenty-fifth incident in the past twenty months of the Brothers violating Cuban air-space, he ordered that two of their planes be shot down.
Even though Brothers to the Rescue was violating U.S. law by flying into Cuban airspace (a fact that FAA acknowledges), the Clinton administration again went to the exile trough and instantly got a bill passed to tighten the embargo against Cuba. This embargo has brought the wrath of the rest of the world against us - UN General Assembly voted 117 to 3 to "condemn" the United States for its economic violence against Cuba (as it has in every vote since the embargo was imposed).
The week after the planes were shot down, the exiles tried to force the hand of the U.S., hoping to get the military to engage in some kind of action against Castro. They announced that on the following Saturday they would take a flotilla of boats from Florida to just off the Cuban coast, to protest the loss of the two planes. Clinton decided to stage the greatest show of force against Cuba since the Missile Crisis, and sent a squadron of F-15 fighters, eleven Coast Guard cutters, two Navy missile cruisers, one Navy frigate, two C-130 planes, and a bevy of choppers, AWACs, and six hundred coast guardsmen to support the flotilla.
All he forgot to send was the Dramamine - which, it turned out, was what the Miami Cubans really needed. Just forty miles out of Key West, the Cubans on the boats started getting seasick, heaving up big chunks and begging their skippers to turn the damn yachts around. With the whole world watching, the Cubans once again turned tail and ran. When they got back to port, they held a press conference to explain their retreat. One spokesman was still a little woozy, and you could see the journalists backing away from him, expecting any moment to be covered with a Linda Blair Special.
"A horrible storm arose out of the sea," said the rapidly paling Cuban exit leader. "The waves were over ten feet high, and we had to turn back or lose our ships!" As he spoke some creative genius working the weekend shift at CNN ran footage of the flotilla taken from the air as it headed towards Cuba. The sun was shining, the sea was as smooth as glass, and the wind blew gently, if at all. Reporters out at sea did say that after the CNN cameras left, the waters became "rather rough." I'm sure they did.
Castro has to be laughing his ass off.