"FACT FINDING" IN FIDEL-LAND
By Humberto Fontova
They say weird things happen in the Bermuda Triangle. I say much weirder things happen in the Florida straits. Let any Cuban cross it coming north to escape the Maximum Leader and he’s instantly a gangster, liar and scoundrel. If he gets down to work and raise a family, he’s an effete dispossessed millionaire. If he engages in politics, he’s an underhanded rascal. If he takes up arms to free his homeland, he’s a terrorist. We can’t win with the Beltway media.
But let any politician cross these straits going south for a friendly visit with the Maximum Leader and he’s instantly a visionary, philanthropist, oracle and business wiz.
But it’s the effect of this 90 mile expanse on reporters that amazes most.
Let a Beltway reporter confront a Republican President in a press conference and Torquemada comes away a sorry chump, Vishinsky a sniveling nursemaid. I always marveled at Nixon, Reagan and Bush’s powers of self-control in front of these people. To the Cuban central-nervous system such self-control seems downright supernatural. "Get off the podium and go bash ‘em in the MOUTH!!" I’d always bellow at the TV.
My old TV set sported a cracked console. I aimed my beer-mug at Dan Rather during his famous "interview’ with George Bush in ‘88 but hit a bit low. North of the Florida straits and in front of Republicans no question is too rude, irrelevant or offensive; no demeanor too haughty, combative or insolent.
But just let these clowns cross those straits and find themselves in front of "President" Castro. Remember Eddie Haskell addressing June Cleaver? "Why Mrs Cleaver, you certainly look wonderful today! I was just telling little Theodore how I marvel at how you manage to look younger and younger every single day! And isn’t that a wonderful smell coming from the kitchen! I was just telling Theodore how lucky he is to have such a wonderful cook for a mom!"
I love all these U.S. "fact-finding" missions popping in Havana lately. Over two dozen Congresspersons and scores of "reporters" have gone over in search of "facts’ in the past four months alone. Lately, there’s more "fact-finding" missions to Havana than there are facts. ( I stole that from P J O’Rourke. He coined it when slamming all the Sandalistas flooding Sandinista Nicaragua during the Reagan years.
Lets’ look at a few of the "facts found," on the very latest one for instance. And let’s remember, according to Jeff Flake, Jesse Ventura and the entire "lift the embargo"gang, this interchange of valuable info and insights, these-eye-opening encounters, will work inexorably towards Castro’s doom. They’re adamant on the subject. "Right now, Castro has nearly absolute control of the information" says Arizona Republican Jeff Flake. "By letting Americans travel to Cuba, Castro loses that control."
Just let these fearless politicians and reporters into Cuba, they claim. Fidel wont know what hit him. These crusaders for the truth will topple the Communist edifice faster than a squadron of Skyhawk jets over the Bay of Pigs in April 61, they assure us. And the best part (they wink-wink at us) is that Fidel, that doofus, doesn’t realize this. Ha-Ha! What a dummy that guy is!
The latest "fact-finders" went on junket sponsored by the "Center for International Policy." It included U. S. House of Representatives: Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.,) Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Cal Dooley (D-Calif.), and Dan Glickman, former secretary of agriculture under the Clinton administration. Here’s part of the facts found.
"The fact-finding trip gave us all a broader view of the situation in Cuba" reported one member last week in (Ted Turner’s) Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Castro remains a striking and charismatic figure at age 77. He was hospitable and curious....Cuba has offered to help the U.S. with drug interdiction and has made important breakthroughs in biotechnology research that could benefit Americans....universal health care and education have been hallmarks of Cuban society."
Whoo-Boy! I can see Fidel barricading himself in his Bunker already.
Indeed he was still convalescing from the savage blows delivered by that brute ,Gov George Ryan, in an earlier "fact-finding" mission. Here’s how Chicago Sun-Times reporter Michael Sneed saw that meeting : "Castro joked as the two men blissfully bantered while the rest of the group gawked and gulped over the dinner table.''
Shortly "President" Castro was lifting himself from the mat with a heavy groan again. He was bruised and groggy after the merciless pummeling dished out by the scrappy Arlen Specter and his dauntless sidekick Michael Smercomish of the Philadelphia Enquirer. These went on "fact-finding" mission a month after Ryan’s. "The conversation was spellbinding. Castro was vibrant, animated, courteous," gushed Smercomish. "Castro’s laugh broke up the room. He was fully engaged. He was the opposite of today’s sound-bite, blow-dried politicians. No subject was off-limits."
Apparently one of the "fact-finders" broached a touchy matter.
"Is there any proof of torture in Cuba?" smiled Fidel. " We don’t have much money, but we will give you all that we have if you can prove anyone has been tortured here in the past 43 years. There are no missing people in Cuba."
Everyone laughed and the subject was immediately dropped. Ah yes, like famous Fidel interviewer Dan Rather himself said after his ‘88 interview with George Bush. "I don't pull punches when an interview subject is involved with allegations of serious wrongdoing in public office, it is the responsibility of an ethical journalist to ask the tough questions and keep pressing it."
You betcha. So apparently, mass-murder, mass-incarceration and mass-theft don’t qualify as "wrongdoing." Urging Nikita Kruschev to make Hiroshimas of Atlanta, Houston and Miami in Oct ‘62 doesn’t either. Of course not. Castro’s a co-leftist. "Selective indignation", James Burnham called it in his classic Suicide Of The West.
"Castro’s a hell of a guy!" Ted Turner told a Harvard audience in 1997. "You’d like him!" Not that Turner’s a pushover. He’s a plucky guy. Get him in front of his (female) Catholic employees on Ash Wednesday and he’s a pure wiseacre, a ferocious tiger. "What’s that stuff on your faces?" he snarls and snickers. "Ya’ll a buncha Jesus Freaks or something?"
But get him in front of a mass-murderer and he turns into a purring puddycat, rubbing Fidel’s leg affectionately and looking longingly into his eyes. Even Eddie Haskel might gag.
Within weeks of Ted’s comments at Harvard, CNN had a bureau in Havana. (what a coincidence!) Bureau chief Lucia Newman assured viewers, "we will be given total freedom to do what we want and to work without censorship."
Hard-hitting stories immediately followed. To wit: CNN soon featured Fidel’s office in their "Cool Digs" segment of CNN’s Newsstand.
"When was the last time you saw a cup full of pencils on the boss’s desk?" asked perky CNN anchor Steven Frazier. "And, they do get used — look at how worn down the erasers are.... Years ago, our host worked as an attorney, defending poor people....He’s Fidel Castro, Cuba’s leader since 1959!"
The Council of Foreign Relations sponsored a "fact-finding" junket last year. Their indefatigable Chairman uncovered this gem: "I was impressed with Cuba’s commitment to literacy and health care."
Can any dictator long survive such onslaughts from such dauntless crusaders for the truth, I ask?
Much like Flake, Ventura et al, Clinton’s Press Secretary Mike McCurry had proclaimed as CNN opened it’s Havana Bureau that: "reporting of truth about the conditions in Cuba will further peaceful, democratic change in Cuba."
Perhaps, Mr Mc Curry. But who’s doing it besides Newsmax? Here’s a classic example of the "opening up" taking place in Cuba as a result of the 1.3 million tourists (last year alone) and the proliferation of Western news bureaus. It’s Raul Castro last year in a conversation with Robiana:
"Better watch it! If any Gorbachev raises his head around here we’ll hang him from the nearest Guava tree!"
And remember folks, this is Fidel’s successor.
Don’t take it from us "Mafiosi,"we’re lepers. The longer you collaborated with Castro the better chance of being taken seriously by the Beltway. Okay fine. Here Aliciedes Hidalgo who collaborated till last week. For years he was Raul Castro’s Chief of Staff. "Lifting the travel ban would be a gift for Fidel," he said recently. This appeared in the Washington Post, no less.
The exasperating part is that the Cuban tragedy, properly investigated and reported, could keep Beltway news bureaus, New York publishers and Hollywood neck-deep in sexy material for the next century. Sex, Violence, Treachery, Heroism, Intrigue, Tragedy–it’s all there.
Take Cuba’s desaparecidos. Argentina and Chile’s get no end of coverage, a movie even, Missing, with Jack Lemmon. El Salvador’s Archbishop Romero get’s assassinate by "right-wing" gangsters and we get "Romero" with Raul Julia in the lead role.
About Castro and Che’s mass-murder? Zip. How about a few interviews with mothers, sisters and daughters of Cuba’s desaparecidos , grieving silently all these years? Come on Oprah and Katie and Greta, thousands of these ladies live right here in the U.S. It wouldn’t cost much to find them.
Come on Rosie and Sally Jessie, forsake the teary interview with the mom who’s daughter was teased in school for coming out as a bull-dyke. We can just imagine the anguish and heartbreak. Let’s hear from the daughter with no memories of her dad since the age of ten because some bearded men with machine guns dragged him off in 1959. Ask her about her mother fainting when she picked up the phone and heard a strange voice reporting where her husband’s corpse was buried. These ladies would like a consoling hug too, believe me. And God knows they merit one.
Indeed, here’s that favorite theme of daytime chat shows. The "victimized-woman" and how she "overcame her sorrow"and "got on with her life, how she "got her groove back," if you will. After 18,000 firing squad executions, close to half a million souls incarcerated and tortured in Castro’s Gulag and 2 million split and shattered families there’s fodder here for five generations worth of such stories. Get busy, will ya..
But I warn you, you probably wont get a whine-fest about "discrimination, lack of opportunities.. blah, blah." You’ll get a strange thing: gratitude. "El pais que nos abrio los brazos" (the country that opened it’s arms to us)as my late and saintly grandmother always referred to the U.S.
I know. That wont make the kind of TV you people want.
And if you’re tired of victimhood and prefer the "strong" or "feisty" female, we’ve got scores of them too. Take Molly Gonzalez. She almost plunged a bayonet into Che Guevara’s chest at the U.N. in 1964. Some of her compatriots were waiting to take out the murderous little weasel with a Bazooka from across the East River. But typical female, Molly wanted something a little more "intimate."
Her husband’s cowardly executioner (when he was bound, gagged and blindfolded, of course. The search for battlefield victims of the mighty Che remains fruitless) surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards, had just entered the hallowed building to start his usual noise about "Yankee. Imperialism blah..blah..blah" when.....
"CABRON!" a female shriek erupted and everyone looked around. A little woman leaped the snow fence outside the United Nations and sprinted towards the door. Cops drew their guns and and diplomats gaped. "Holy S**T!..what the??"
"ASESINO!" another shriek. Molly was a rolly-polly little 24 year-old gal but amazingly spry, shrieking and baring her fangs as she ran. She hurtled a 3 foot hedge like an Olympic sprinter and raced for the door, gripping the bayonet with white knuckles,. "AQUI! ASESINO!" she was closing fast on the gallant Che, her little legs pumping furiously. Revenge is a serious fuel. "Hell hath no fury" indeed!
The cops freaked. "Stop that crazy woman!" yelled one. "She’s gotta knife!" Two cops sprung into action, galloping frantically towards the crazed woman. They had the angle on little Molly and tackled her in the nick of time. The other made it over, saw that his partner was faring badly and leaped into the fray.
A bit later both of the hapless officers were rushed to St Clare’s hospital and stitched up-- though the knife made no contact. "I meant the police officers no harm," said Molly. "The knife was for the ASESINO Guevara!" True enough. The poor cops tangled only with a buzz-saw of Molly’s teeth and fingernails. Reported in the Dec. 14th New York Times.
Afterwards Cuban-American protestors outraced the cops to the flagpoles, hauled down the Soviet hammer and sickle, spit on it, trampled it, stomped it, hacked it, defiled it, and burned it.
Isn’t that wonderful? And you thought that only happened to Old Glory. "We are among pirates and hooligans!" grumbled Soviet chief delegate Nikolai Federenko. "How can we work?" Anti-Imperialism cuts both ways, Nikolai. If ya can’t stand the heat get outta the kitchen, baby.
And that kitchen was heating up fast. All through the early 1960s Cuban exile groups were making hit and run raids on Cuban ports, blasting Soviet ships with 20 MM cannons and killing scores of Russian sailors. They’d land and mow down Russian soldiers too.
So come on all you intrepid and hard-nosed reporters who fancy yourselves so devilishly clever and feisty for foiling the U.S. blockade against travel to Cuba. Go ahead, travel to Cuba; but bring us back something meaty. Perhaps an exclusive interview with a Cuban widow. Just one, please.
Castro’s firing squads piled up 18,000 corpses. These heroes all had families. Their wives and daughters shouldn’t be too hard to find, especially for reporters as brave and clever as you guys, right? Find them. Interview them. Then you feisty guys and gals, ( you "passionate crusaders for the truth" as the Columbia School of Journalism calls it’s graduates) can grill "President" Castro about these desaparecidos with the same haughty scorn you displayed (with one eye on the camera) when grilling Presidents Nixon and Reagan and Bush about some budget bill, right? Don’t your bosses Ted Turner and Ben Bradlee love this type of "hard-nosed" reporting?
Well, we’re all waiting out here. And if in the course of your heroic labors you get detained by "President" Castro’s G-2, for heavens sake don’t divulge sources. Just snicker and tell these gentlemen you got the information from a Cuban "Deep Throat." Ha!-Ha! They’ll get a big kick out of that.
Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in history from Tulane University. He's the author of "Helldiver's Rodeo," described as "Highly entertaining!" by Publisher's Weekly, "A must-read!" by Booklist, and "Just what the doctor ordered!" by Ted Nugent.
You may reach Mr. Fontova by e-mail at email@example.com.