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Jewish World Review April 14, 2000 / 9 Nissan, 5760

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Clinton and the
Castro curse


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AT 73, Fidel Castro has a 9-0 record against American presidents.

Under Dwight Eisenhower, the CIA tried "dirty tricks" as a weapon against the Cuban revolutionary. Our agents tried spraying him with a drug similar to LSD prior to a radio broadcast. The idea was to make him sound nuts. The CIA also tried to poison Castro's cigars with a chemical agent meant to cause his beard to fall out, a preview of later American efforts to defoliate the Vietnam jungle.

With John F. Kennedy's transition to power, the CIA escalated its campaign. Mobsters Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana were recruited to carry out a gangland-style assassination of Castro. A hit man was to shoot him down in the street a la "The Godfather."

In April of 1961, Kennedy landed a band of Cuban exiles, recruited from Miami's Little Havana, at the Bay of Pigs, then refused to give them the air cover their CIA trainers had led them to expect.

Kennedy and his brother Robert, the U.S. attorney general, decided to get even through a campaign code-named Operation Mongoose. "There can be no long-term living with Castro as a neighbor," RFK wrote in a secret memo. "Get off your ass about Cuba!" he barked at one CIA official, placing no limitations on how the job got done.

In 1962, President Kennedy, operating with the powerful counsel of his brother, forced Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to remove nuclear missiles from Cuba. But a year later, the 46-year-old American president was still railing against Castro.

"A small band of conspirators has stripped the Cuban people of their freedom and handed over the sovereignty of the Cuban nation to forces beyond the hemisphere. This, and this alone, divides us. As long as it is true, nothing is impossible. Once this barrier is removed, everything is possible."

A week later, Kennedy himself was assassinated by a pro-Castro fanatic named Lee Harvey Oswald.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon hired a CIA veteran of the Bay of Pigs operation, E. Howard Hunt, to run his "plumbers" operation aimed at ending national security leaks. Hunt's selling point was his bitter outrage at Kennedy for failing to give the Bay of Pigs forces the CIA-promised air cover.

A year later, Hunt and a group of anti-Castro Cubans broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate. A week later, Nixon told his staff to tell the CIA to block the FBI investigation of the break-in because it would expose Kennedy's role in undermining the Bay of Pigs operation.

That June 23rd conversation would become the "smoking gun" of Watergate, the notorious tape that would force his resignation in 1974.

Fidel Castro helped topple another American president in 1980 by dumping 125,000 refugees on U.S. beaches. The Arkansas governor and future president Bill Clinton was also defeated for re-election that year when thousands of these "Mariel boatlift" Cubans rioted at a resettlement camp.

The Elian Gonzalez episode could either continue this presidential curse or end it.

Watch how the man in the White House has let Attorney General Janet Reno take the blame for this situation, especially from anti-Castro Cubans here in the United States, while allowing his 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore to position himself as a critic. There's a strong chance that President Clinton's crafty backroom handling of the crisis will free him for a far grander deal with Fidel Castro than this troubling reunification of a 6-year-old with his father.

If any U.S. leader can do it, it's our Bill, the first president in five decades who can match Fidel in both craftiness and luck.



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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