A President’s Precedent

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, December 23, 2014 No Comment(s)

When President Obama announced his intention to improve relations with Cuba, Republican politicians received the news with great shock— particularly those who benefit from the status quo. Sen. Marco Rubio called it a "precedent" that encourages oppressive regimes everywhere. He described the president as naive and ignorant. But, Rubio is the one who shows ignorance if he really believes reaching out to countries with whom we disagree has no precedent. Has he heard of China, Vietnam? Did he ever read Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural, spoken as the Civil War was ending and some northerners would have hung southern leaders for starting a war that killed 600,000 young men? Lincoln said, "With malice toward none, with charity for all..." If that isn't reaching out to an enemy, what is? Gen. Douglas MacArthur made similar conciliatory remarks in accepting the Japanese surrender in World War II.
If Rubio read James W. Douglass' remarkable book, JFK and the Unspeakable, he would learn that more than 50 years ago, when Fidel Castro's rule was young, another American president sought better relations with Cuba. And, it helped in the result of his murder. As Douglass points out, declassified documents confirm what some American and Cuban diplomats suspected, but very few knew for certain at the time. Douglass’ book, 12 years in the making, benefitted from decades of work by other researchers, including Gaeton Fonzi’s “The Last Investigation,” which first appeared as a magazine article in a 1980 issue of Gold Coast magazine.
President John F. Kennedy, as a senator, had been a strong critic of the corrupt and brutal Batista regime, and when Castro’s revolution overthrew it, he and many others were hopeful for a better Cuba. But after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, JFK realized that Cuba's ties to the Soviets could start a nuclear war. He was determined to defuse that bomb. He simultaneously, and in extreme secrecy, opened channels to both Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro.
If Obama's action is volatile now, it is nothing compared to 1963 when Kennedy's initiatives, if made public, would have created a thunderstorm of anger in South Florida. It was a time when many in our military/industrial establishment actually wanted a war with the Communists, on the grounds that we could still win a nuclear showdown that they saw as inevitable. Our own government was still plotting to kill Castro. Even JFK's closest confidant, his brother Robert, disagreed with the president's ideas for a more "flexible" policy toward Cuba. Bobby Kennedy was fostering assassination plans against Castro even as his brother was trying to ease tensions. While our CIA was funding guerilla operations against Castro, President Kennedy was using the Coast Guard to stop those attacks and arrest anti-Castro fighters. For that he was hated and considered a traitor by the anti-Castro crowd. Traitor is the same word Miami Cuban demonstrators have used for Obama.
According to Douglass, whose book is extensively documented with almost 100 pages of footnotes, both Khrushchev and Castro had begun to trust Kennedy. It reached a point where Castro got word to Washington not to take his belligerent speeches too seriously. They were meant for local consumption. And, more than almost all Americans, the two enemy leaders were in a position to recognize the conspiracy that led to the assassination. Khrushchev had his information from the highest level. Within weeks of his brother's death, Robert Kennedy got word to the Russians that the assassination was a domestic plot. Robert Kennedy realized that part of that plot was to blame it on the Soviets and Castro, hopefully provoking a war, or at least an invasion of Cuba. 
JFK’s overtures to Castro were subtle. He largely avoided contacts by official government figures. He used journalists who had access to Castro to relay hints about his thinking.  Only two days before JFK’s death, French journalist Jean Daniel met with Castro in Havana, with Kennedy’s knowledge, exploring a possible dialogue between the two countries.
These contacts were invisible to the American public, but the motive behind them was clear to anti-Castro Cubans and their CIA sponsors. They knew Kennedy was thwarting their aims to overthrow Castro. That, combined with indications the president was reaching out to the Soviet Union and planned to disengage from the war in Vietnam, convinced our shadow government that the man was a traitor and needed to be removed. Rubio should know that President Obama’s actions have a precedent. Another president, and our country, paid a terrible price for it.

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