December 20, 2014

President Barack Obama announced this week that the United States will reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba, thawing half a century of cold – and sometimes hot – war.

The first time I visited Cuba was in the almost unbelievably remote years before “el Maximo Leader,” Fidel Castro. My parents and I went most evenings to the legendary “Floridita” Bar for daiquiri cocktails with a burly, bearded writer and his lady companion, Pilar.

I still have his book, “A Farewell to Arms,” autographed, “to Eric, from his friend Ernest Hemingway, Havana 1953.”

Over the ensuing six decades, I’ve made numerous trips to Cuba as a journalist and film maker. Old Havana is a century older than my native New York City, and bursting with life and charm. I’ve always regarded Cubans as the aristocrats of the West Indies and their lovely island as its premier destination.

Hardly anyone remembers why the US imposed a punishing blockade on Cuba – tantamount to an act of war. Fidel Castro proclaimed himself a simple agrarian reformer (as did Mao) but later revealed that he and his allies were ardent anti-American Communists. This was an era when Uncle Sam dominated Latin America and “guided” its autocratic regimes, including Cuba’s sleazy Batista government.

In the 1950’s, US business interests owned much of Cuba’s economy and land. Castro nationalized these assets without compensation. Washington at once set about trying to overthrow his upstart regime. The mighty, post-war US was in no mood to brook defiance from a nation of only 11 million people.

Ever since, the US has tried to assassinate Castro and overthrow his government. Cuba claims over 200 plots on Castro’s life, including some involving American gangsters. All failed, leaving the US look like a ham-handed bully.

The boldest effort to overthrow the Havana government came in 1962 when the Kennedy Administration mounted a full-scale invasion by Cuban exiles. Kennedy, author of “Profiles in Courage,” got cold feet on the last minute and called off essential air cover, leaving the invaders to be massacred.

Kennedy’s fiasco at the Bay of Pigs led directly to a reckless attempt by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to implant nuclear-armed SS-4 missiles in Cuba pointed at the US. A US naval blockade and plans to invade Cuba ensued. I remember this crisis vividly because I was living in Washington DC – ground zero.

The 1962 crisis ended by a secret deal between the US and Soviet Union in which Russian missiles were withdrawn from Cuba in exchange for US missiles being pulled out of Turkey and Italy – and a US agreement not to invade Cuba. The whole business was billed by the US media as a triumph for Kennedy. In reality, it saved Fidel Castro.

But Castro was no saintly agrarian reformer, as his many supporters around the world believed. KGB sources claim that during the 1962 crisis, Castro begged Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to fire nuclear-tipped missiles at the US mainland. The Kremlin refused. But Castro allowed his intelligence agency, DGI, to become an arm of the Soviet KGB and actively engage in Central American conflicts. DGI operated against the US under KGB tutelage.

During the 1980’s, Castro dispatched tens of thousands of Cuban troops to Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia. In Angola, I was in combat against Cuban troops at the battle of Mavinga. The Cubans acted as a Soviet foreign legion.

The vendetta between Cuba and the US continued; Washington has kept trying to overthrow Castro. The latest comic episode was a hare-brained effort by the US Agency for International Development, which has become a little CIA, to infiltrate Cuban hip-hop music groups to turn them against the regime.

Small wonder that Cubans have long seen American plots under every cocoanut palm. Add this farce to CIA’s record of trying to kill Castro using exploding cigars, poisoned pastries and sabotaged airliners.

An easing of US travel and trade restrictions on Cuba appears likely to lead to political convulsions in Havana at a time when the long Castro era is nearing its end. A flood of US investment in tourism is ready to transform Cuba’s tourism and agriculture, and, alas, seriously corrupt Cubans.

Miami’s rightwing Cuban exiles are already jostling to see who will take over the government. When Cuba again becomes a premier tourist paradise, it will divert American tourists away from the rest of the less welcoming, crime-ridden West Indies – and even from Miami Beach.

Lifting the foolish blockade of Cuba will greatly benefit US relations with the rest of Latin America and end decades of suffering and hardship in Cuba. Hopefully. Unless the new Republican dominated US Congress tightens the blockade and again declares Cuba an outlaw state. Republicans don’t understand that the blockade of Cuba has kept the Castros in power. Unfortunately, the GOP is held hostage by far right Cubans in Florida and their supporters among the wilder fringes of the Republican Party.

Republicans actually claim that the blockade is due to concern for human rights – the same Republicans who vote money and arms for Egypt, and Uzbekistan, two of the world’s cruelest regimes. Just this month, Egypt sentenced 188 supporters of the former democratic government to death.

Fidel Castro will probably spend his final days knowing that he and Cuba withstood all the wrath and fury of the United States, a Latin David and Goliath.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2014

This post is in: Barack Obama, Cuba, Soviet Union, USA


  1. Interesting that the infant mortality rate in Cuba is lower than that in the good ol’ US of A…

  2. Somebody once told me, that Cuba was a giant whore house for the rich Americans, where the Maffia reigned supreme. I have always admired Castro, regardless of what the propaganda is trying to make him out to be. They may financially not be that prosperous, but that is no wonder, when that mogul next door spent itself into virtual bankruptcy, because it has that insane desire to be the new Roman empire. The internal rot, that caused the demise of the Roman empire are already manifest in the US. Cuba had better be very careful, because they ought to know, that an agreement of any kind with the US is not worth the paper it is written on. Ask the Russians. This whole cozy-up bit to Cuba has a putrid smell to it, because Cuba, along with north Korea and Iran, have the last three central banks, that are not in the orbit of the international central banksters. The US is both friend and foe at the same time with Iran. I hope the Iranians are not going to sacrifice their principles and sovereignty. My warning is: “When the fox preaches the passion, farmer watch your chickens”.

  3. The Americans haven’t lifted the embargo… and with the potential of an influx of Americans, the island will quickly go down hill… back to where they were pre-Castro…

    Best to eliminate the embargo, and keep the Americans out… the best of both worlds.

  4. George Rizk says:

    Obviously our sanction against Castro was very silly? First, if we think that that was done because he was a communist, so why we had diplomatic relation with Eastern Europe and China?

    As the entire world has real ship with Cuba, that makes us isolated as the only fools who refuse to smoke a Cuban cigar? ISRAEL, Canada, and England the three closest allies all import and sell Cuban cigars.

  5. Good article, as usual. But, the Bay of Pigs “invasion” took place in 1961 (April 17th to be precise), not in 1962.

    As for the Republicans who claim that the blockade is out of concern for “human rights” they are in no position to lecture the Cuban government or anyone else on that subject. As you note, the US has backed brutal dictatorships in Egypt and Uzbekistan, among others – such as Saudi Arabia. The US will support any country that is friendly to US interests, regardless of its human rights record or its lack of a democratic government. Don’t forget that the US government ardently supported Saddam Hussein for a number of years – it even turned a blind eye to his use of poison gas on his own subjects – until Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait and stopped serving American interests.

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