Fidel and The Prince

On August 25, El Nuevo Herald led with an incoherent and fact free story about Cuba selling underage girls for prostitution in Latin America. Earlier in August, The Herald also trumpeted that 3 Cuban gymnasts had defected at the Pan American games in Santo Domingo. They barely mentioned the 72 gold medals Cuban athletes won. Other recent Herald stories assert that Castro has lost his marbles because he seemed confused at a speech, that Greece denied Castro’s application for a visa for the 2004 Olympic Games and that Elian Gonzalez, the little boy rescued off the Florida coast who was returned by the Clinton government to his father two years ago to the horror of the Castro-hating Cubans in Florida, has become Castro’s “little puppet doll.”

Aside from the irrelevance of these stories to the issues of the world and the nation, they do demonstrate the ability of Fidel Castro to twist the brain of his opponents, — as well represented by the Herald — to reduce them to a cackling gang of fixated or obsessed harpies.

Castro has infected his enemies with obsession, a mental state that clouds the mind. The political finesse of the Cuban leader have led some to call him Machiavellian. Politicians and scholars still quote with reverence Nicolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, an early 16th Century treatise on political realism — lessons and rules for maintaining the status quo. Machiavelli tried to advise his political leaders on the best methods of dealing with conflicts without losing popularity.

I recommend that a publisher reissue The Prince and contact Fidel Castro to write new chapters and a forward. One chapter would be: How to Export Foolish Internal Enemies and Confound Foolish External Enemies; another, How to Convince Your Enemies to Place their Money in Your Treasury; and Obsession Leads to Foolish Behavior.

The forward would explain how Castro, now in his 45th year as head of a revolutionary government, has gone beyond Machiavelli. He has defied Washington and survived for an unnatural length of time by practicing the equivalent of political judo on his foes.

The world’s most powerful nation, bent on destroying him and the revolution he has led, imported Castro’s opposition. In 1959, US officials decided to allow entrance to top officials and backers of fleeing Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Some of these men had committed murder; others had tortured, stolen, engaged in political fraud and colluded with the Mafia. After the initial exodus, Cuba’s economic and professional aristocracy came to Florida, followed by much of the upper middle and middle class.

At the time, few strategists or pundits saw these Washington moves (letting so many Cubans emigrate) as politically foolish. The experts all agreed: the US government would not allow disobedience to prevail 90 miles from the US border. Since Washington would soon send the younger men back as its soldiers to retake the island, Castro’s days were numbered. But, unfamiliar with Machiavelli, Washington strategists underestimated the upstart who had taken power on the island that had been an informal colony of the United States except for a small sector (gambling, drugs and prostitution) controlled by the Mafia.

As if God was teaching us a lesson, many of us watched in horror how they helped corrupt the US electoral system in 2000 in Florida where they intimidated vote counters. In addition, they have contributed countless acts of terrorism to the domestic climate and have caused political problems for several Administrations.

Cubans pressured successive presidents until 1981, when the Cuban American National Foundation captured US-Cuba policy. President Reagan liked the idea of privatizing everything even Cuba policy. The State Department’s Cuba Desk officer routinely checked with Foundation chair Jorge Mas Canosa before pursuing customary actions. Aside from backing an irrational embargo and travel ban that have helped Castro maintain his legitimacy, the Foundation has inserted Castro-hating into domestic US politics, making Cuba policy an issue beyond its strategic importance. They have failed to change Cuba, but they have influenced US politics.

Kennedy assassination investigators like Gaeton Fonzi and Anthony Summers offer evidence that some of the Cubans trained by the CIA to kill Castro played a role in the Kennedy hit. Three of the six Nixon “Plumbers” who broke into the Watergate in 1972 were anti-Castro Cubans.

When President Carter challenged Castro in 1980 on migration policy, Fidel opened the door for a migration of 120,000 Cubans from the port of Mariel. Mauricio Ferre, then mayor of Miami, told a TV reporter as he watched the arriving Cubans: “Fidel has just flushed his toilet on us.” He referred to men with prison haircuts and others with “crazy looks” on their faces. Indeed, Castro had emptied both his prisons and asylums just before the exodus.

In the 1980s, when the Iran-Contra scandal broke, the public learned that some of President Reagan’s top officials had gotten into conspiratorial bed with anti-Castro Cuban terrorists, like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, who had sabotaged a Cuban commercial airliner over Barbados in 1976.

The United States, the strongest empire in world history, had pursued a simple strategy toward Cuba and other disobedient governments. As one former national security official put it “Obey or we’ll kick your ass.”

This had worked in those nations that lacked political leaders with Machiavellian instincts. In Korea and Vietnam, however, US policies proved costly and the US government withdrew, although they did not easily forgive. The Vietnam War taught the Washington crowd not to fight anyone who could fight back. This Vietnam Syndrome lives on, especially when the White House hears the shrill demands of its anti-Castro friends to attack Cuba while US forces find themselves bogged down in Iraq. But did Castro employ Machiavellian tactics to confuse President Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961? Did he do something to cause Kennedy to not use US air power to support the CIA-backed Cubans invaders? Or did political realism somehow inform Castro that Kennedy, an intelligent young president, would not make himself despised in much of the world by acting like a bully?

According to Kennedy biographer Robert Dallek, writing in the August 26, 2003 Times of London about “The Bay of Pigs: JFK’s perfect fiasco,” Secretary of State Rusk had warned the president that: “We might be confronted by serious uprisings all over Latin America if US forces were to go in.” Rusk worried that a move against Cuba could trigger “Soviet and Chinese moves in other part of the world.”

Alternatively, if Kennedy decided to call off the CIA-backed invasion, he would receive the “weak” label from the Republicans. Going ahead with the plan would mean that the young president would face condemnation from much of the world just as he was trying to build a solid image.

Jump ahead to the 1990s when Castro’s Soviet sugar daddy imploded and left the Cuban economy in a serious tailspin. Here, the Machiavellian instinct kicked in again. How to extract from your enemy the necessary foreign exchange to keep the economy viable? Castro gave the impression that he opposed dollarizing the economy in 1991 allowing the dollar to exist as acceptable and parallel currency.

From south Florida, where most of his exported internal enemy resided, came the anticipated response. The Miami Herald and its Spanish offspring furthered the rumors of Castro’s imminent demise. Andres Oppenheimer, the pontificating columnist, called his 1992 book Castro’s Final Hour. While waiting for the regime’s collapse, Cubans sent cash (remittances) to their “starving” relatives, a term employed by Armando Perez Roura, a well-known radio screamer in Miami, referring to his brother. More than a billion dollars poured into Cuba and ended up in the Central Bank, where Castro could allocate it for the island’s economic needs.

Castro dealt with the US attempt to support dissidents by exposing their financial links to Washington and then sentencing them to long terms. He responded to the US leniency in dealing with hijackers of Cuban craft by executing three hijackers. He got bad press, lost some aid and trade, but Washington backed down from its aggressiveness. The Miami gang demanded harsh measures. Bush offered a stronger TV Marti signal (still jammable), increased aid to dissidents and indictment of two pilots and an air force general in Cuba for having shot down two anti-Castro pilots in 1996. Once again, the US sets a legal standard that contradicts its own policies about protecting US service men abroad by charging three Cuban military officials. The Cubans, Sudanese, Cambodians and many other peoples could charge American bomber pilots and their commanders with murder.

Like the embargo itself and the various bills that tightened it, the new measures are directed against one man as if Castro was the lone resident of the island. By producing rage and irrationality, Fidel has induced his enemies to make foolish moves. He learns news ways. They don’t. This truly revolutionary Machiavellian, now 77 years old, still has a few tricks up his sleeve. So, watch out Mr. Bush.

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, will be published in September by Pluto Books. He can be reached at:

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.