||The Western Press and Fidel Castro's Rise to Power
Today no one doubts that Fidel Castro was disingenuous when he told New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews that he was committed to democracy and social justice. In a December 1957 series of front-page articles introducing Fidel Castro to the American public, Matthews wrote that Castro, a lawyer by training and the son of wealthy Cuban landowners, was in sympathy with the American ideals of freedom, democracy, and social justice. Through reports such as Matthews', Castro came to be touted in America's progressive circles as the "George Washington of Cuba." Pressure grew and all U.S. financial, technical, and military support for the Cuban Dictator Fulgencio Batista ended in 1958. With Castro's assumption of power on January 1, 1959 Cuba was soon to become the first Soviet satellite in the Western hemisphere. In its editorial paying tribute to Castro's assumption of power, The New York Times swooned:
One thing must be said. This is an acknowledgement to an extraordinary young man, Fidel Castro. The American people wish him good fortune.5
In a January 4, 1959 Times article, Herbert Matthews reassured the American people about the politics of Che Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary who played such a crucial role in Fidel's rise to power. Matthews romanticized Guevara. In describing him, he wrote, "his voice is incredibly low, and his smile unexpectedly gentle."6 Matthews took Guevara verbatim when he said:
I have never been a communist. Dictators always say that their enemies are communist, and it gave me pain to be called an international communist all the time.7
The New York Times had reported that neither Fidel nor Che were communists. However, as early as 1957 Guevara had already stated, "I belong, because of my ideological background, to that group whichbelieves that the solution to the world's problems lies behind the Iron Curtain."8
The U.S. Presence in Vietnam
By the late 1960s the American media had begun to question the U.S. presence in Vietnam. Myriads of mainstream media articles and editorials berated the United States government for its support of corrupt South Vietnamese officials. A pro-communist National Liberation Front, which constituted the anti-Thieu forces in South Vietnam, was described in the Western media as a "broad coalition" of Christians, Buddhists, and pro-democratic forces. Communists, we learned, served as merely one part of the alliance. However, most articles did little to inform the American people of the balance of power in the alliance, nor did they dedicate sufficient attention to the region's prospects in the event of a communist takeover.
The day after Saigon's fall, a New York Times front-page story headline read, "The New South Vietnamese Regime would follow a Foreign Policy of Peace and Non-Alignment."9 Shortly after the communist takeover of Vietnam, the Soviets began to use naval facilities constructed by the United States at Cam Ranh Bay. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese workers were dispatched to the Soviet Union to lay the Siberian pipeline, as a way to reimburse war debts. Re-education camps became a way of life for South Vietnamese citizens and again hundreds of thousands who rejected this fate perished at sea in a desperate attempt to escape the new dictatorship.
Just prior to the fall of Cambodia on April 16, 1975 an article by New York Times reporter Sidney Schanberg appeared under the headline "Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life." When Cambodia fell, New York Times editors expressed compassion in lamenting the American involvement there:
Must the futile battle for Phnom Penh now be duplicated at the far greater cost in lives, in a fight to the finish in Saigon? There is nothing in human power which can redeem the hundreds of deaths, the thousands of ruined lives, the tragic result of the last weeks around the Cambodian capital.10
The editors of The New York Times justifiably mourned hundreds ofdeaths but failed to treat warnings of Pol Pot's plans for full-blown genocide with the same level of concern. Pol Pot's overthrow of the US supported Lon Nol government would cost the lives of at least one million Cambodians out of a total population of eight million. America's departure from Cambodia led to the emergence of one of the most draconian regimes in all of human history.
With the fall of Vietnam, Marxist revolutionary activity intensified in numerous parts of the world. Much of Central and South America represented excellent political and tactical terrain for revolution. Numerous Latin American nations had gone for decades without democratic rule. Huge gaps existed in Latin America between the living conditions of the ruling class and the circumstances of the campesinos (peasants). When Marxist insurgency intensified in Central America in the late 1970s, the media reported extensively on the corruption and the repression of Anastasio Somoza, whose family had held power for decades in Nicaragua.
The mainstream press did not exercise the same type of critical coverage in reporting on the Communist opposition that included Daniel and Humberto Ortega, Tomas Borge, and Sergio Ramirez Mercado who would assume power, once Somoza had been removed from office. The communist-dominated Sandinistas were amicably heralded as "los muchachos" (i.e., the Boys). As in the media reports on the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, we were informed that the resistance to Somoza constituted a broad spectrum of political views and that a number of the leaders, including Minister of Education Ernesto Cardenal and Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel D'Escoto, were Catholic priests. One even had the impression that the revolution could be "Christianized" because of the considerable Church support for the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front).
American media such as The Washington Post, The New York Times and Time Magazine were justifiably critical of the government of Somoza, but again seemed to lack interest in the sociopolitical implications of a pro-Soviet left wing regime replacing him. Time Magazine reported in the week following the July 1979 Revolution that the Sandinista ruling junta had appointed a "15 member cabinet dominated by moderates."11 In a press conference on July 25, 1979 shortly after the Sandinista takeover, U.S. President Jimmy Carter declared, "I do not attribute at all the changes in Nicaragua to Cuba." The following day The New York Times described this declaration by Carter as his "diplomatic high note."12
In Nicaragua Marxist-Leninists expeditiously assumed the major positions of power and eventually even the most stubborn pro-democratic supporters of the Revolution concluded that the popular revolution against Somoza had been "stolen."
Ten of thousands of Cubans, East Germans, North Koreans, and Soviets were soon dispatched to Nicaragua and assisted in the training of the Sandinista military and in the construction of the Punta Huerta airfield, designed to allow the Soviets to fly long-range reconnaissance flights along the West Coast of the United States. They were already doing this along the East Coast because of their access to Cuban airfields. Once brought under the Sandinistas, Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, began to serve as a headquarters and safe haven for other Central American and South American revolutionary armies, including the communist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front of El Salvador and the Montonero terrorist network of Argentina.
The Sandinistas were heralded by American supporters for having launched a literacy campaign. Nevertheless, the first word that the students learned was "revolution." The second word was "liberation." Their first sentence was "Long live the Sandinista National Liberation Front." In the Sandinistas' math textbooks, students did not learn to add apples or oranges. They learned to add submachine guns.
The Sandinistas lost the February 1990 elections. The American media, which had so scrupulously hammered the Somoza regime for political corruption, made no issue of President Daniel Ortega wrestling away the controlling interests of Nicaraguan television Channel Twelve nor of Vice President Sergio Ramirez Mercado gaining control of the newspaper El Nuevo Diario. Even veteran Sandinista and Minister of the Interior Tomas Borge took over the newspaper Barricada. Nicaraguans still refer to the post-1990 Sandinista grab of assets as the "pi_ata." In the twilight of the Sandinista revolution, the revolutionary "heroes" of the people followed the example of the oppressors of the past and became millionaires at the cost of the common people.
The Media and the Media Response
An examination of Hollywood movies from the 1960s through the early 1990s reveals a flurry of films painting the U.S. military and security agencies such as the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. as the "bad guys," constantly involved in plots to overthrow the US government. This is the topic for a whole other book but let us cite at least a few examples. Havana, featuring Robert Redford, emphasizes the corruption of Fulgencio Batista, Castro's rightist predecessor, rather than the brutal rule, the mass executions, imprisonments, and the flood of desperate refugees that resulted from Castro coming to power. The film Managua depicts the Sandinistas favorably. Oliver Stone's JFK more than intimates that Richard Nixon was behind the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his film Platoon focuses on the most negative aspects of the American presence in Vietnam. At least since the film Seven Days in May (1964), Hollywood writers during the Cold War seem preoccupied with depicting the military and security agencies of the U.S. government as "Hell bent" on assuming executive power through unconstitutional means. Such attempts to portray unlikely scenarios as "real threats" provide insight into the attitude which Hollywood had toward major branches of the American government that were central to the rollback of the Soviet Union, that is, the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council. Until recently, there was never a feature film depicting the horrors of communismeven The Killing Fields never used the word "communism" and more than implied that the root cause of the Cambodian genocide was the decision by Richard Nixon in April 1970 to bomb North Vietnamese troop sanctuaries in western Cambodia.
The Soviet Plan and Central America
Following the American defeat in Vietnam in 1975, the communists moved quickly on a variety of fronts. Most importantly, a number of nations on the American continent and in the Caribbean were pulled toward Marxism. A radical Leftist government was set up in Surinam and a pro-communist government was established under Maurice Bishop in Grenada. Guerrilla war quickly spilled over from Nicaragua into El Salvador and Guatemala. The Sandinistas spoke frequently of their eventual goal of reunifying the "Central American nation," that had existed for a brief period in the early1820s and included Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
One of the nine Sandinistas commandantes, Victor Tirado, was a Mexican national and today it is self-evident that the southernmost part of Mexico, including Chiapas, has become fertile breeding ground for revolutionary activity. What would have transpired in Chiapas and in the rest of Mexico had Central America been communized in the 1980s? Without the Reagan Presidency and the successful rollback of communism in Central America, communism would very possibly have reached our southern border.
The late Dr. Joseph Churba, an appointee to President Ronald Reagan's National Security Council, who later served as President of CAUSA's International Security Council, was not alone in maintaining that the Soviets had an immediate strategic purpose for supporting revolution in Central America. They understood that revolution in Central America could serve as a catalyst to reduce the American military's role in Western Europe, the Middle East, and Northeast Asia. For that reason, the USSR provided $11 million in aid per day to Cuba, which, in turn, served as a Soviet client state to advance revolution in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
After the fall of Nicaragua and El Salvador, if Mexico had also eventually formed a Sandinista type, pro-communist government, the United States would have found itself sharing a two thousand mile border with an enemy hosting a population of over 100 million. To defend the 2000-mile border with Mexico would have required the marshalling of hundreds of thousands if not millions of American troops.
The Vietnam War saw the end of the American military draft and the Soviets understood that for the United States to re-enact the draft would have been a highly unpopular decision. To avoid re-enacting the draft, the United States would have been pressured to withdraw troops from overseas to defend America's own southern border from a Soviet-backed Mexico. This would have spelled an end to or a very substantial reduction of the US military presence in NATO and in the Pacific.
The United States would have become a hemispheric power, focused on defending its own border against a communist Mexico, plausibly demanding the return of lands such as Texas, California, and much of the American Southwest, which had been claimed by the United States 150 years earlier. The redeployment of American troops along U.S. borders would have left the Soviet Union free to act at its whim in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. By the early 1980s the possibility of the U.S. facing such a scenario was increasingly evident.
What communist strategists did not anticipate was the extent to which Moon's initiatives in Latin America and in the United States would frustrate their grands projets.
1 Associate Press and Newsweek Moscow Correspondent Fred Coleman recalls this interview in his book The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Empire. 1996.
3 See, for example, Robert V. Daniels' Red October, (Boston: Beacon Press), 1984.
4 Volkogonov, Dmitri, LeninA New Biography, (New York: Free Press), 1994, pp. 208-219.
5 The New York Times, January 2, 1959, p. 2.
6 The New York Times, January 4, 1959, p. 7.
8 Franqui, Carlos, Retrato de Familia con Fidel, (Barcelona: Editorial Seix Barral S.A.), 1980.
9 The New York Times, May 1, 1975, p. 1.
10 The New York Times, April 18, 1975, p. 32.
11 Time, July 30, 1979, p. 35.
12 The New York Times, July 27, 1979, p. A 22.