When Fidel Castro Dictated to the Old U.S. Media

We cannot for a second abandon propaganda. Propaganda is vital -- propaganda is the heart of all struggles. (Fidel Castro in a letter to a revolutionary colleague in 1954)
A foreign reporter -- preferably American -- was much more valuable to us at that time (1957) than any military victory. Much more valuable than rural recruits for our guerrilla force, were American media recruits to export our propaganda. (Ernesto "Che" Guevara in his diaries.)

In all essentials Castro's battle for Cuba was a public relations campaign fought in New York and Washington. (British historian Hugh Thomas)

Fought and handily won, I might add, as already explained here.

But even after the victory, Castro's U.S. public relations auxiliaries remained on call and primed for duty. By the time of Castro's delirious, deafening, foot-stomping reception at Harvard Law School and Washington, D.C.'s National Press Club (most of whose members oppose capital punishment) in April 1959, Castro's firing squads had slaughtered 1,168 men -- and boys, some as young as fifteen. And for months, Fidel, Raul, and Che had been repairing to their respective stolen mansions nightly to meet with Soviet G.R.U agents and button down the Stalinization of Cuba.

"The Cuba of Fidel Castro today is free from terror." That's from blond bombshell Dickey Chapelle in a Reader's Digest (yes, even the normally sensible R.D. proved susceptible to Castro-mania) story of April 1959. Close to two thousand men and boys had been murdered by firing squads without trial by this time. And thousands of women were locked up, mostly for the political crime of being the wives, daughters, and mothers of the executed men. Most of these women were of humble background, and many were black. This Stalinist horror of jailing and torturing women and girls was utterly unknown in our hemisphere until it was installed by the man gushed over by Barbara Walters, Andrea Mitchell, Diane Sawyer and Oriana Fallaci. (Yes, even the subsequently sensible Fallaci, a lifelong leftist, had her youthful fling with Castro-mania.)

"Civil liberties have been restored in Cuba and corruption seems to be drying up," continued Chapelle's Reader's Digest story. "These are large steps forward, and they were made against fearful odds."

"Castro is honest," reported Newsweek magazine on April 13, 1959. "And an honest government is something unique in Cuba....Castro is not himself even remotely a Communist."

"We can thank our lucky stars Castro was no Communist." William Atwood in Look magazine, spring of 1959.

Many Cubans saw no reason for such thanks. One day in May 1959, only five months after the triumph of Castro's glorious Revoluci ón, Castro's own Air Force Chief, Major Pedro Diaz-Lanz, told his friend Eddie Ferrer, "I've got to tell the Americans and the world what's going on here and start the fight against these communists. Everybody seems asleep."

A week later Diaz-Lanz resigned his post and declared publicly that Castro's civilian government was a hollow sham, nothing but a front for Soviet-trained Communists who were running the show behind the scenes, especially in the crucial functions of the military and police. Diaz-Lanz then bundled his wife and kids onto a small boat and escaped to Miami just ahead of a firing squad.

After weeks of frantically knocking on doors and hoarse from phone calls, Diaz-Lanz finally appeared at a public hearing before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. The date was July 14, 1959.

Mr. SOURWINE (Chief Counsel). Is Castro friendly to the United States?

Major DIAZ. No.

Mr. SOURWINE. But Fidel Castro has said on many occasions that he is friendly to the United States. You are saying that this is not true?

Major DIAZ. He is lying.

Mr. SOURWINE. Have you yourself seen instances of anti-American propaganda in Cuba under the Castro regime?

Major DIAZ. Yes, Sir.

Mr. SOURWINE. You know there are many who say that Fidel Castro is not himself a Communist.

Major DIAZ. I am completely sure that Fidel is a Communist.

Mr. SOURWINE. You are completely sure that Fidel Castro is what?

Major DIAZ. That Fidel Castro is a Communist. Also, I'm prepared because the Communists have a well-known system of trying to destroy the reputations of anyone who disagrees with them...

Castro's U.S. media auxiliaries (who earlier ignored Diaz-Lanz, hoping he'd fade away) heard the summons and again spit on their hands. They suited up, slid down the pole, and gunned the engines: This is not a communist revolution in any sense of the word, quickly wrote the New York Times senior man in Cuba, the redoubtable Herbert Matthews, from Havana itself. In Cuba there are no communists in positions of control, he stressed. The accusations of Major Pedro Diaz-Lanz are rejected by everybody.

But as Diaz-Lanz warned, when outing Communists, their denial is only half the story. The truth-teller must also be slandered, smeared, defamed, and his character assassinated -- as surely as the hundreds of men and boys then being physically assassinated by Che Guevara's firing squads. Not to worry...the U.S. media of the time was eminently worthy of the task..

"Sources (Castro or his henchmen) tell me that Major Diaz-Lanz was removed from his office for incompetence, extravagance and nepotism," continued Herbert Matthews' front-page article in the New York Times. "Fidel Castro is not only NOT a Communist,-- he's decidedly ANTI-communist."

Recently the New York Times' illustrious media critic, Alessandra Stanley, wrote that: "In the seedy world of cable news, facts, half-truths and passionately tendentious opinions get tumbled together on screen like laundry in an industrial dryer -- without the softeners of fact-checking or reflection." Perhaps she forgot that when something is issued from the mouth of a Stalinist dictator, the N.Y. Times sees no need to fact-check.

And Castro's propaganda minions were just warming up. The New York Times had sounded her bugle. Now the rest of the media pack rushed in behind her (remember, this was 1959), yapping and howling and wagging their tails, panting to join the hunt.  They were all too eager for a chance to mob and maul a man who risked his life and went stone-broke to warn America about what turned out to be the gravest threat in her history.

"It's an outrage that Congress should give a platform for a disaffected Cuban adventurer to denounce the Cuban revolution as Communist!" barked Walter Lippmann a few days later in The New York Herald Tribune. "It would be an even greater mistake even to intimate (italics mine) that Castro's Cuba has any real prospect of becoming a Soviet satellite," Lippmann stressed in a Washington Post piece a week later.

Lippmann's Pulitzer Prize the year before, by the way, noted "his distinction as a farsighted and incisive (italics mine) analyst of foreign policy."

The Atlanta Constitution yapped next: "Major Diaz-Lanz is simply a disgruntled soldier-of-fortune," wrote its chief editor and publisher Ralph "Conscience Of The South" McGill (who was in Havana at the time, schmoozing it up with Fidel and Raul). "Reliable sources tell me that Major Diaz-Lanz has been involved in clandestine money-making activities," McGill continued. "Diaz left Cuba because he was involved in black-marketing."

In 1964, LBJ decorated this filthy propagandist and smear-artist with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (italics mine). "The desire for individual dignity and freedom is in the genes of all mankind," proclaimed McGill during the solemn ceremony. Yes, Mr. McGill -- and amazingly enough, even in Cuban genes. Ask the thousands of Cubans riddled by firing squads yelling "¡VIVA CUBA LIBRE!" while you carried water for and chummed it up with their murderers.

In wistful moments, I imagine Rush, Beck, Hannity, etc. on the U.S. media roster when Pedro Diaz-Lanz burst upon the U.S. political scene with some pretty important revelations....

Humberto Fontova is the author of four books including Exposing the Real Che Guevara. Visit hfontova.com
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