NE hot summer day in
1953, a tall, smooth-faced young man stood up in a crowded courtroom in Santiago. Cuba, and facing his accusers cried: " Condemn me if you will; but history will absolve me."
The young man was Fidel Castro Ruz, and he was speaking in his own defence after leading the abortive July 26 attack against the Cuban Army fortress of Moncada in Oriente Province. The words had a strong emotional appeal, and six years later, in 1959, I watched as Castro—this time a burls, scraggly-bearded giant in green fatigues—was "absolved" by a cheering and adulating Cuban people.
Today, four years, eight hundred executions and half a million arrests after his rise to power, Fidel Castro is still asking for absolution and time to prove that he is right.
According to "Doctor" Castro (he obtained a law degree from the University of Havana) what is right for Cuba is Marxist communism. And what is right for Cuba is right for all of Latin America.
"The Cuban revolution." he has said. "should be the example of all the American" First attempts to extend this revolutionary gospel were surprisingly immature. The government radio called on all people of the hemisphere to throw off the cloak of imperialism and to carry out social revolutions a /a Cubana. On one occasion I turned on my radio to hear a broadcaster making an urgent appeal to all "suppressed" peoples of the United States to replace the government in Washington with a "revolutionary" one.
BEEHIVE Havana became a beehive of activity by plotters and counterplotters. Guerrilla units, armed and trained in the mountain forests of Cuba, embarked on expeditions to Nicaragua, Haiti. Panama and the Domincan Republic.
As a backstop against possible militant reaction to this kind of shotgun evangelism, organisations known as "Committees for the Defence of the Cuban Revolution" cropped up throughout Latin America, In the United States the "Fair Play for Cuba Committee" reared its head, and "hands off Cuba" became the bank cry.
These groups were never really needed, however. The guerrilla activities fell of their own weight. chiefly because the wave of executions ("revolutionary justice-) of so-called war criminals in Cuba convinced even the most weakkneed Army officers and politicians of the "invaded" republics that their heads would roll as well unless they suppressed the Cubansponsored revolutionaries. But things are different today. In 1959, the Cuban revolutionary leaders' ambitions were much bigger than their strength and they were restricted by the need to retain popular support. Now Cuba's leaders, aided by Soviet block morale and material support, have indeed shown themselves equal to their ambitions, and public opinion—painstakingly cultivated at the start—is now something to he disciplined. Attempts to convert" Latin America to
Marxist-Leninist teachings have been refined.
• Overseas transmissions via "Radio Havana" (inaugurated May 1. 1961, thirteen days after the Bay of Pigs invasion) beam a steady barrage of commentary in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. This shortwave band is usually operated on a prearranged combination with lengwave stations, thus enabling programmes to be received on the ordinary sort of receiver owned by most people in Latin America, • Motion pictures and printed matter have also been used with some success. The latter are usually introduced through the mails or by travellers or diplomatic pouches.
• Perhaps the most effective method has been the increased use of schools of indoctrination attended by students from all over the hemisphere. When I left Cuba, there were at least three such schools. I am told that their number has tripled since.
But some of the old flavour still remains. Venezuela, the "mysterious" introduction of Czech and Soviet arms continues, and terrorism as a weapon for subverting governmental and local authority is a daily occurrence.
I: has yet to be proved, however, that these arms come from Cuba: but it is difficult to see how they could come from anywhere else.
One Venecuelan official told me: "Our coast is too big for us to prevent the introduction of these weapons. There arc any number of coves and beaches where arms could he landed without the government knowing it.
EXCEPTION Smaller areas, like Nicaragua and Panama, have had similar problems So land size would not seem to be a major factor in protection against subversion from without. The fact is that few American countries possess the modern equipment and fleets necessary to keep gun-runners or guerillas from entering their countries. The lone exception, of course. is the United States. And while President Kennedy has embarked on a 'containment'' policy in combating Castroism (even the name has been refined). it is no secret that the State Department is pushing for a hemisphere-wide quarantine of Cuba. and a unified 'armada" to end gun running and illegal entry by subversives. First steps in this direction can be expected to emerge from this week's meeting of six Central American republics attended by President Kennedy. Oddly enough, it was the Ameri can President who was subieeted to pressure by many of these countriea—Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama in particular—to get "tough" with the Cuban communist regime. For many of these republics have already felt thc sting of Cubansponsored subversion, Their argument is that few of them can afford to concentrate on the basic reforms put forward by Mr. Kennedy in his Alliance for Progress Programme wh ile their already vulnerable flanks are further exposed by harassmentoriginating in the Soviet-supplied arsenal of Cuba. Meanwhile, President Kennedy— pressured on the home. front by right-wing republicans and conservatives from within his own party—can be expected to stand fast for his containment policy. No one breathed a greater sigh of relief than the American President when Premier Khrushchev backed down over the missile challenge.
And Mr. Kennedy is only too aware that having humiliated the Soviet leader once, it would be difficult to do so again should a second confrontation be forced upon them over Cuba. It is this realisation, more than any other, which has led the President to ignore the pressure beiag exerted by his critics.
Obviously a communist Cuba— ninety miles from its own shores— and a communist Latin America is of most danger to the United States, Its leadership in the Western alliance already questioned, nothing could be more disastrous than the continued undermining of U.S. leadership in its own hemisphere. In fact, some of the consequences are already being seen. American failure to prevent the Cuban affair from reaching its present proportions has already led to the loss of much business in a traditionally American market. Militarily, it has forced the Pentagon to rely less on the famed "ring around Russia" and concentrate more on protecting America's own immediate rear.
What then can the present United States administration — or any other administration for that matter—be expected to do about Cuba?
Strangely enough, precious little. There were two occasions on which direct military intervention might have been possible with the least possible risk of a nuclear war erupting. The first was the April 17, 1961, invasion at the Bay of Pigs (Bahia Cochinos). The second was last November, when it became known positively that nuclear missiles were being installed on Cuban soil. A little known fact with regard to the first date comes to mind at this point. No sooner had the American-sponsored invasion become common knowledge in Havana, than the Soviet Embassy solicited (and received) 250 visas from the Mexican Embassy for the hasty exit of Soviet subjects then in Cuba. It was supposed that the remaining Communist task force (then a tenth of what it is now) would be evacuated by any of the numerous freighters then in the court try. The reason? No one in Cuba at that time (myself included) believed that the United States would initiate a military action without the supreme intention of coming out winner.
While failure of the United States government to act firmly in support of its own military operation. once launched, may have toughened the Russian attitude, it may still have been possible to eliminate the communist menace on the second date. For one thing, at the time of the latest Cuban crisis, the missiles in question were still non-functional. This means than an air strike on these specific targets would not have been necessary at the time. Although the "threat" of a nuclear war was present. It is argued in some quarters that the pretext for an invasion was there, and that the Soviet government would not have risked an all-out war at the time.
But the case for a "justified" invasion (one in which the United States can claim undeniable provocation) seems to bevy, passed. While some Americans and Latins as well — would like nothing better than to see the United States Marines land in Cuba. reason alone rules this course out under present conditions.
Shortly after leaving Cuba, I was questioned by a Senate Sub-committee attempting to find out what went wrong with the invasion. At that time I was asked what, in my opinion, the outcome would.be if at some date in the future the United States were to drop a regiment of paratroopers in the heart of Cuba?
My answer: "They would be annihilated!"
I said it then. I believe it now. It would take much more that a mere regiment. The Sovietsponsored Cuban war machine has been and is being smoothly polished. Despite the grumbling of bellies and economic chaos which plagues the country internally, the Cuban man-in-the-street feels too let down to take heart in renewed vague promises of liberation. And you cannot convince the wellarmed militia man that the Bay of Pigs fiasco was a victory by him over other Cubans. As far as he is concerned, his was a victory over the United States—the first of its kind in the history of the hemisphere. He wild, if called on, be prepared to do it again. There is. of course, one final problem plaguing sages of the American State Department. And that is the constant wooing by Latin voters of leftist and Castroite votes as a stepping stone to power. This is best expressed in the old Ecuadorian saving that "politics is like the violin. It must be picked up with the left hand and played with the right.' Maybe so. But Fidel Castro has proved that violin picked up with both hands can also be played with the left.