The Cuban Connection: Nixon, Castro, and the Mobby William Weyand Turner
In April 1959, Fidel Castro toured the United States at the invitation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Though he was wary, Castro entertained some hope of establishing a rapprochement with Washington. But after being snubbed by President Eisenhower and receiving a less-than-cordial reception from Vice President Richard Nixon, Castro got the strong… See more details below
In April 1959, Fidel Castro toured the United States at the invitation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Though he was wary, Castro entertained some hope of establishing a rapprochement with Washington. But after being snubbed by President Eisenhower and receiving a less-than-cordial reception from Vice President Richard Nixon, Castro got the strong impression that US intentions toward his new Cuban government were hostile.
In The Cuban Connection, former FBI agent and investigative journalist William Turner examines the fateful meeting between Castro and Nixon and the murky connections that existed between official Washington, the CIA, and organized crime in Cuba. Based on firsthand interviews with many of the key players involved in Cuban-American relations of that era, plus thorough background research, Turner raises a host of disturbing questions:
Before the ouster of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista by Castro, why did Vice President Nixon often socialize at Havana casinos with his Cuban friend Bebe Rebozo? How was the rabid anticommunism of the Eisenhower administration, especially its instant dislike of Castro, connected to its cozy relationship with the former mob-controlled dictatorship? How did all of this set the stage for the Bay of Pigs fiasco and ultimately the Cuban Missile Crisis and the JFK assassination?
In a vivid narrative The Cuban Connection provides insider information that rarely reaches the public and that many in power never wanted the public to know.
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THE CUBAN CONNECTION
NIXON, CASTRO, AND THE MOB.
By WILLIAM WEYAND TURNER
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2013William Weyand
All rights reserved.
THE VIOLENT PAST IS PROLOGUE
"HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE ME." —Fidel Castro, 1953
CUBAN PITCHER TURNS DOWN OFFER OF $5,000 BONUS TO SIGN WITH THE NEW YORK GIANTS; WILL STUDY LAW AT THE UNIVERSITY OF HAVANA INSTEAD.
This might have been the slug of the Manhattan press on that fine summer day when Fidel Castro Ruz opted for a legal career over a baseball one. The native of Cuba was scouted by Joe Cambria of the Washington Senators, who told him he didn't have a major league arm. But a Pittsburgh Pirates bird dog was more impressed, remembering, "He could set 'em up with the curve, blow 'em down with the heater." Castro tried out for several major league clubs, including the Philadelphia Athletics, but it was the New York Giants that showed a definite interest. The $5,000 figure was not random. Baseball rules at the time dictated that any amount over $5,000 tendered to a rookie required that he be kept on the roster of the big league club for a season. So the man with the golden arm would have been eligible for assignment to a minor league team, with the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League coming to mind. What may have offended Castro's sensibilities was that the Sugar Kings were owned by an official in the Batista regime. Fulgencio Batista was the Cuban Caligula, a dictator too long in power. But Castro never lost his love for the American national pastime, devotedly following Cuba's national squad and acquiring a batting cage of his own, though he was not destined to see his face on a bubble-gum card.
There are those, of course, who devoutly wish Castro had stuck with baseball. They don't include the Giants immortal Carl Hubbell, who undoubtedly would not have welcomed the stiff competition. But Castro himself found the stiffest competition imaginable when he later set aside his law books and took to the political hustings to deliver action-packed speeches that were distinguished by their length. But he spoke from the heart as he pleaded for an end to poverty in his homeland of eleven million people. The roads of Cuba never run straight, goes an old folk song.
At the University of Havana, Castro lost no time in becoming politicized in its hothouse environment. He was dominated by Cuban nationalism but affiliated with the Ortodoxo Party, which, like most Cuban political structures, was polemically flexible. Fidel's dominant theme in his speeches was the plight of the poor and what to do about it. He harped on agrarian reform that he saw as at least a partial solution in a country without rural electrification. Fidel had issued a manifesto on the subject in 1957 while still in the mountains. The move drew a furious response from the American legislator Harold Cooley, leader of the sugar lobby in Congress, and in the pockets of the corporate landholders such as United Fruit Company. But agrarian reform was a buzzword for American conservatives who viewed it as confiscatory socialism. It was not at all; usually the distributed acreage was unsuitable for agriculture. The Castro version was more like the ejiido model adopted in Mexico after the revolution. It called for division of surplus land and land holdings within reasonable limits. Critics charged that United Fruit Company, a huge presence in tropical countries, was the prime target of Castro from day one because his father, an employee, had been mistreated.
Be that as it may, Fidel's matriculation at the Havana institution was marked by controversy that carried beyond the ivied walls. The Fidel who went to the University of Havana in October 1945 both attracted and repelled his fellow "students," some of whom even came to study, for this was a classic Latin American university system that was half devoted to learning and at least half devoted to fomenting political action.
Castro's ability to deliver fiery speeches, albeit long-winded, gained him an approving audience in greater Havana that, when the time was right, coalesced into a solid political base. As a candidate he would have been a natural. Physically, Fidel stood out. He was markedly tall in a country of generally short men.
He affected a somewhat rumpled look, perhaps the result of a conscious attempt to look unconventional. Yet he possessed the magnetic personality of a yacht salesman.
The conventional Cuban political scene was so turgid that it was perhaps preferable to be called a revolutionary. Consider the hapless Eduardo Chibás, a rotund little man who kept the political waters constantly roiled. "Every week on Sunday night, Chibás spoke," Hugh Thomas recorded in his landmark volume Cuba or the Pursuit of Freedom, and "crowds flocked to hotels or cafés to hear him." Like Castro, Chibás was an Ortodoxo. "He spoke with extraordinary passion and energy, denouncing the unbridled corruption of the regime and the gangsters associated with it." He believed that corruption was the most important problem Cuba faced. But Chibás had erred in identification. On August 5, 1951, he walked into radio station CMQ in Havana for his weekly radio broadcast. That day he had promised to furnish the evidence supporting his claim that education minister Aureliano Sanchez Arango was embezzling money. Instead, he talked about other topics, warned that Fulgencio Batista might attempt a military coup, and made a farewell statement. Chibás, who was also a senator, was supposed to present evidence from congressmen supporting his claim, who ultimately refused to do so. Chibás apparently believed that killing himself was the only way he could apologize for his inability to keep his promise, so he pulled out a pistol and shot himself in the head. Unfortunately, he had forgotten that his allotted radio time was only twenty-five minutes. The shot took place while the commercial ad with "Café Pilon" was running, thus eliminating the planned effect of "his grand finale." The corrupt regime, as Thomas put it, was the presidency of Carlos Prío Socarrás.
* * *
Cuba wasn't mighty militarily, but with the possessions of Guantanamo it was strategically on the map. It was rich in natural resources such as nickel and copper, and a major player in world sugar markets. Behold the Cuban cigars, their labels second to none. It was the pearl of the Antilles, playground to the sophisticated traveler who bends an elbow at the Floridita bar, or the Bodeguita del Medio, where mojitos are the politically correct drink. The packing-crate United States Interest Section building forlornly faces the Malecon waterfront. Outside Havana, the white-sand beaches defy surpassing beauty, and the highland lakes abound with bass.
In the 1950s it was golden to be president of Cuba. Batista presided over the growing number of gambling casinos and spent many an hour clinking glasses with visiting notables. One such was Richard Nixon, who showed up with his constant companion, Charles "Bebe" Rebozo, at his elbow. For Batista, the slots clanking in the background must have been music to his ears, as were the sounds of the roulette wheels spinning and the dice rolling.
One of Batista's most useful partisans was Rolando "El Tigre" Masferrer, who can best be described as a man for all political seasons. In his youth, the powerfully built Masferrer was a militant communist, fighting on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, losing a leg but gaining a reputation as an enforcer. It is safe to say that Masferrer was a Renaissance man, affecting silk scarves while scribing poetry, and painting landscapes while patronizing classical music. Speeding down the Malecon in a Cadillac convertible, he justified the acceptance of gangsterism to a German passenger, "Remember, chico, we're all gangsters. What did you expect? Thi
Excerpted from THE CUBAN CONNECTION by WILLIAM WEYAND TURNER. Copyright © 2013 by William Weyand. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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Meet the Author
William Weyand Turner (San Rafael, CA) is the author of many books, including Deadly Secrets: The CIA-Mafia War against Castro and the Assassination of JFK (with Warren Hinckle). Turner served for more than ten years as an FBI agent. He was also a senior editor of Ramparts magazine and assisted the district attorney in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, with the investigation of the JFK assassination.
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