Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

How Fidel Outlived His U.S. Government Assassins


Editor’s note: On the occasion of the death of former longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, we are republishing this article by Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer, about U.S. relations with and actions toward Cuba. It was originally published in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 11, 1997.

You don’t need to rely on Seymour Hersh’s racy new book, “The Dark Side of Camelot,” to know that John F. Kennedy’s administration tried to assassinate Fidel Castro by using Mafia hit men. Denials by former Kennedy aides, led by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and speech writer Ted Sorensen, are simply wrong.

The entire nefarious business is documented in excruciating detail in “Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro,” a 133-page memorandum prepared in 1967 by CIA Inspector General J.S. Earman for Director Richard Helms. The supersecret report was so hot that after Helms read it, he instructed Earman: “Destroy all notes and other source materials” and “Destroy the one burn copy retained temporarily by the inspector general.” This left only one “ribbon copy” kept by the inspector general for “personal EYES ONLY safekeeping.”

Fortunately, that one copy survived; after lengthy lawsuits it was finally declassified in 1993. When Hersh came under attack last week for his new book, I dug out my copy of the CIA report, and there’s no question he got this point right.

I don’t know if Hersh is correct in his assertion that Chicago gangster Sam Giancana stole the 1960 election for Kennedy or that the president shared sexual intimacies with Giancana’s lady friend. But the CIA report makes it quite clear that during the Kennedy years, Giancana was a key player in the effort to overthrow Castro and that the president’s brother, the country’s top law enforcement official, knew all about it.

Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy was told about the Mafia’s assassination plot on May 7, 1962, by CIA agents who, according to the report, “briefed him all the way.” Castro’s revolution had wiped out organized crime’s Havana gambling empire and the revengeful mob was eager to return. But Castro had also nationalized other U.S.-owned businesses, incurring the enmity of American policymakers and thereby making an alliance with the Mafia seem all the more opportune.

Later, in his fateful candidacy for the presidency in 1968, Robert Kennedy would question the logic of unremitting U.S. hostility toward Cuba. But back when he was in his brother’s administration, the get-Castro mentality was all-pervasive. Even after being informed of the use of well-known mobsters in the plot to kill Castro, Robert Kennedy did not object except to wryly request of his CIA briefers that “I trust that if you ever try to do business with organized crime again—with gangsters—you will let the attorney general know before you do it.”

The efforts to kill Castro continued with the clear blessings of the administration. On Aug. 10, 1962, Secretary of State Dean Rusk convened a meeting of what was called the “special group” and, according to the CIA report, “[Secretary of Defense Robert] McNamara broached the subject of liquidation of Cuban leaders. The discussion resulted in a Project Mongoose action memorandum prepared by [CIA operative] Edward Lansdale.”

Mongoose was the name of a general sabotage campaign against Cuba that, according to the memoir of a subsequent CIA director, William Colby, included the “sabotage of Cuban factories and rail lines” as well as “spreading nonlethal chemicals in sugar fields to sicken cane cutters.” Efforts to kill Castro with poisoned cigars, infected saccharine pills and explosives fit right in.

True, U.S. planning to kill Castro began during the Eisenhower administration, but it hadn’t amounted to much until the Kennedyites added their special macho zeal. As the CIA report states: “We cannot overemphasize the extent to which responsible agency officers felt themselves subject to the Kennedy administration’s severe pressures to do something about Castro and his regime.” The pressure “to do something” put the knights of Camelot in cahoots with the lords of crime whom Castro had booted out.

That was 35 years ago, but the arrogance of our Cuba policy has not changed. Only now the policy is so ossified that a president who was merely a teenager when his idol Kennedy initiated this policy of fitful revenge is held captive to its inherited inanity.

Last week, President Clinton sanctimoniously justified the continued isolation of Cuba despite his warm welcome for the leader of communist China. Clinton said that the embargo against Cuba must continue until Cuba could prove that “it can turn into a modern state.” Perhaps it isn’t too late for the Cubans to do a joint venture on gambling casinos with the mob to prove just how modern they are.

Bernie Sanders tries to teach moron news anchors why Hillary lost


Fidel at 90: a Revolutionary Life

This column originally ran in August of 2016.

This August 13, Fidel Castro Ruz, leader of the Cuban Revolution and international inspiration for people struggling for a better world, turned 90. His age alone is a remarkable achievement, considering more than 630 documented assassination attempts on his life by the CIA and other nefarious agencies.

Despite the enormous historical impact that Fidel Castro has had in Cuba and Latin America for more than 55 years, it is astounding that his voice has never been heard nor his words widely known by the people of the United States.

But Fidel’s legendary life of revolution is certainly noted elsewhere. All this year in Cuba, and around the world as his birthday approaches, there are countless activities to celebrate his life.

It is a shame that Fidel Castro’s life and his audacity in defeating a bloody dictatorship to then build socialism, is hardly known by the American people. They would find a man of enormous courage and humanity who delivered his country from a neo-colonial status to a sovereign country with a major imprint on the world stage.

They would learn that Fidel Castro has expressed admiration for the American people, despite U.S. government policy that has tried to overthrow the revolution and done so much harm.

Think about this. In March of this year, President Barack Obama in Havana spoke on Cuban national television, uncensored on evening prime time, when undoubtedly millions of people watched him, curious to know if and how U.S. policy would change toward Cuba. Uncensored.

But how many people ever heard Fidel Castro — or Raúl Castro — over the airwaves in the U.S. or in a daily newspaper? To ask is to answer.

Part of the U.S. blockade of Cuba has been the travel ban, keeping us from seeing Cuba with our own eyes. Its intent was to isolate Cuba and keep people of the United States from understanding the Cuban revolutionary process or who the Cubans and their leaders really are.

Fidel Castro was one of Washington’s first demonized leaders, to justify the U.S. government placing the Cuban population under screws to extract their surrender to the old ways of domination.

The blockade has been extremely harsh, to the tune of more than 1 trillion dollars in damages to the Cuban economy, not including the human toll. And yet, Cuba’s infant mortality rate reached an astonishing low 4.2 deaths per 1,000 last year, a testament to their healthcare system.

Fidel Castro’s proposals of international solidarity also extended to the United States.

How many people know that right after the Katrina disaster, Fidel Castro quietly — without fanfare — offered George W. Bush more than 1,000 Cuban medical personnel, who were prepared to arrive in New Orleans within five hours of Bush’s would-be approval and treat the beleaguered victims along the Gulf Coast without a single cost to the U.S.?

Bush completely ignored the offer. After several days, Castro then publicly repeated the offer, hoping it could become a reality. Instead more people died needless deaths.

How many people know that young Americans are studying for free in Cuba, to become medical doctors in the U.S., thanks to the Latin American School of Medicine?

Cuban medical workers were decisive in combating Ebola in western Africa. When that health catastrophe seemed as if it could potentially spread around the world, many breathed a sigh of relief in witnessing Cuba’s role.

By extending support to the people of southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, surely Fidel Castro knew that would earn even deeper enmity from Washington, an ally of the apartheid regime.

But he nevertheless called on Cuban volunteers to aid in defeating the invading South African army in Angola. Those 300,000 men and women helped break the chains of apartheid, and led to Namibia’s independence.

Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday last Saturday should merit some reflection in the United States on who he really is, beyond the relentlessly negative image that the U.S. administrations and media have conveyed to the people of the United States.

Several times in the last 25 years, I have had the honor and privilege of meeting Fidel Castro. I am certain that I will never personally meet a greater humanitarian or revolutionary.

History Will be the Judge: Fidel Castro, 1926-2016

November 25, 2016

Fidel Castro, Cuba’s leader of revolution, has died aged 90. Here is an extract from Tariq Ali‘s introduction to The Declarations of Havana, Verso’s collection of Castro’s speeches.

On 26 July 1953 an angry young lawyer, Fidel Castro, led a small band of armed men in an attempt to seize the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, in Oriente province. Most of the guerrillas were killed. Castro was tried and defended himself with a masterly speech replete with classical references and quotations from Balzac and Rousseau, that ended with the words: ‘Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.’ It won him both notoriety and popularity.

Released in an amnesty in 1954, Castro left the island and began to organize a rebellion in Mexico. For a time he stayed in the hacienda that had once belonged to the legendary Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. In late November 1956 eighty-two people including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara set sail from Mexico in a tiny vessel, the Granma, and headed for the impenetrable, forested hills of the Sierra Maestra in Oriente province.

Ambushed by Batista’s men after they landed, twelve survivors reached the Sierra Maestra and began the guerrilla war. They were backed by a strong urban network of students, workers and public employees who became the backbone of the 26 July Movement. In 1958 the guerrilla armies began to move from the mountains to the plains: a column led by Fidel began to take towns in Oriente, while Che Guevara’s irregulars stormed and took the central Cuban city of Santa Clara. The day after, Batista and his Mafia chums fled the island as the Rebel Army, now greeted as liberators, marched across the island into Havana.

The popularity of the Revolution was there for all to see. Castro’s victory stunned the Americas. It soon became obvious that this was no ordinary event. Any doubts as to the Revolution’s intentions were dispelled by the First Declaration of Havana, Castro’s declaration of total Independence from the US made in public before a million people in Revolution Square. Washington reacted angrily and hastily, trying to cordon off the new regime from the rest of the continent.

This led to a radical response by the Cuban leadership. It decided to nationalize US-owned industries without compensation. Three months later, on 13 October 1961, the United States severed diplomatic relations; subsequently, it armed Cuban exiles in Florida and launched an invasion of the island near the Bay of Pigs. It was defeated. President Kennedy then imposed a total economic blockade, pushing the Cubans in Moscow’s direction.

On 4 February 1962, the Second Declaration of Havana denounced the US presence in South America and called for the liberation of the entire continent. Forty years later Castro explained the necessity for the Declarations:

At the beginning of the Revolution … we made two statements, which we called the First Declaration of Havana and the Second Declaration of Havana. That was during a rally of over a million people in Revolution Square. Through these declarations, we were responding to the plans hatched in the United States against Cuba and against Latin America – because the United States forced every Latin American country to break off relations with Cuba … [These declarations] said that an armed struggle should not be embarked on if there existed legal and constitutional conditions for a peaceful civic struggle. That was our thesis in relation to Latin America …

While they were in the Sierra Maestra, the direction that the revolution would take was still not clear – even to Castro. Until that point, he had never been a socialist, and relations with the official Cuban Communist Party were often tense. It was the reaction of that noisy and powerful neighbour from the north that helped determine the orientation of the Revolution.

The results were mixed. Politically, the dependence on the Soviet Union led to the mimicking of Soviet institutions and all that that entailed. Socially the Cuban Revolution created an education system and health service that remain the envy of much of the neo-liberal world.

History will be the final judge, but Fidel Castro has already been elevated by a vast number of Latin Americans to the plinth occupied by those great liberators Bolívar, San Martín, Sucre and José Martí.

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).