For the first time since 1956, an American President has held substantive discussions with a Cuban head of state. The world is now poised for Barack Obama’s next Orwellian gambit: Removing Cuba from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
What’s George Orwell got to do with it? Because it’s a classic example of “Doublethink” as refined by “Big Brother” in Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984.
Doublethink, it may be recalled, “was a form of trained, willful blindness to contradictions in a system of beliefs. In the case of Winston Smith, Orwell's protagonist, it meant being able to work at the Ministry of Truth deleting uncomfortable facts from public records, and then believing in the new history which he himself had written.”
Nothing could better describe Washington's official portrayal of its relations with Cuba. For more than five decades, the U.S. government ---abetted by the overwhelming majority of America’s media, political leaders and most of their citizens profound disinterest in the world around them—has managed to maintain the fiction that Castro’s Cuba is one of the world’s worst state sponsors of terrorism, In fact, many others would award that title to the U.S. itself.
They cite the notorious history of America’s own violent, sanguinary actions across the globe over the past half century—toppling leaders from Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, to Jacabo Arbenz in Guatemala, to Patrice Lumumba in the Congo; training and/or arming vicious killers from the Contras in Nicaragua to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan; to operating the swarms of deadly drones currently soaring over huge swathes of the planet, ready to blow apart whomever the current U.S. leader deems to be a threat to the United States.
Most Americans have been conditioned to accept these actions—and the “collateral damage” that goes along with them —as regrettable but necessary to defend their supposedly embattled homeland. Those nations and peoples on the receiving end of such fearful measures can justifiably denounce them as terrorism.
But nowhere is U.S. hypocrisy—and moral blindness--in this respect more blatant than in the violent campaign that Washington unleashed against Fidel Castro almost immediately after he took power in 1959.
From the start, it was driven by major U.S. and Cuban financial interest--casinos, sugar and rum—which had thrived under the vicious regime of Fulgencio Batista, only one of the many brutal dictators supported throughout the region by the United States.
It was fueled by American Cold Warriors fearful that Castro’s revolutionary call was resonating throughout Latin America, and might also provide a dangerous opening to the Soviet Union.
But Washington’s terrorist campaign against Castro began long before May 1961 when he declared himself a Marxist-Leninist. Indeed, almost from the time that Castro marched into Havana and made it clear his revolution was the real thing, American Presidents—Republican and Democrat--attempted to throttle and then overthrow his regime by every possible means.
Their methods ranged from the embargo that still strangles the country’s economy, to allowing Cuban exiles operating from Florida to attack Cuba’s refineries, infrastructure, sugar cane fields, and assassinate government officials, including Fidel himself.
There was also, of course, the disastrous Bay of Pig’s Invasion in 1961, and American U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s bold-faced lie that the United States had nothing to do with it.
After the Missile Crisis in the Fall of 1962, President Kennedy pledged that the U.S. would not invade Cuba, but the White House and the CIA continued to support and train radical Cuban exile groups based in the U.S.
Indeed, at one point the Joint Chiefs of Staff even signed off on a plan to fake Cuban “false flag” attacks on American facilities, in order to give the U.S. a pretext to launch another military attack on Cuba. President Kennedy rejected the idea, but ordered other violent anti-Castro programs continued.
In October 1976, the CIA had information that one of the Cuban exiles linked to the Agency was planning to plant a bomb on a Cuban airliner—but the U.S. never informed the Cuban government.
All seventy-three passengers were killed.
Altogether, the Cubans estimate that more than three thousand of their people have been died in such terrorist acts.
As documented by the late filmmaker Sol Landau, there were Americans who argued for change, like John Burton, the former President of the California Senate. “We do business with all sorts of bad quote undemocratic countries without free elections, but we pick on Cuba because we can, because they're small, because they're political benefit to doing it in Florida.”
But as attacks against Cuba mounted from the U.S. continued. Castro’s government did what any government would have done: it dispatched intelligence agents to the U.S. to infiltrate radical exile Cuban groups and thwart their plans.
One of the groups they targeted was “Brothers to the Rescue”, flying small planes out of Florida to buzz Cuban cities, dropping anti-Castro leaflets and propaganda. The group was also experimenting with weapons that could be fired from the air.
In 1996, according to Sol Landau, Fidel Castro told visiting Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico: “You’ve got to tell your government to get control of these people.” As Fidel declared, “What would the U.S. do to if the Cubans flew over Washington? How long would that plane last?” Richardson relayed the message to Morton Halperin, point man for Cuba on Clinton’s National Security Council staff. Halperin said he would raise the issue with the FAA. The flights continued.
Finally, on February 24,1996 Cuban Migs shot down two of three small Cessnas over international waters, killing their passengers. Clinton, who reportedly had been hoping to loosen American policy towards Cuba, instead was forced by the ensuing political outrage to further tighten the embargo.
Radical Cuban exile groups also targeted Cuba’s vital tourist industry, warning potential visitors they would turn the island into a free-fire zone. They bombed several Havana hotels, injuring and killing the innocent.
Again, according to Sol Landau, in 1998 Fidel Castro gave a letter to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez to transmit to President Clinton: to stop the violent exile groups, Cuba would be willing to cooperate with the FBI. An FBI team was dispatched to Havana and the Cubans supplied them with substantial information about exile terrorist activities.
Instead of dismantling those exile groups, the FBI used the information to discover the identities of the undercover agents in Florida working for the Cuban government. On September 12, 1998, five Cuban intelligence officers were arrested in Miami and charged with, among other things, conspiracy to commit espionage and murder. They were found guilty and received maximum sentences; in the case of one of them, two life sentences without possibility of parole.
Two of the men served out their terms, and returned to Cuba. The three others remained in U.S. prisons until last December, when they were released and flown to Cuba as part the dramatic thaw in relations between Washington and Havana.
Meanwhile, in Florida the most prominent of the radical Cuban exiles—those proudly linked to the campaign of terrorism against Castro’s Cuba--remain the toast of many inside and outside the exile community to this day.