On January 23, 2012, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul–all seeking the Republican nomination for President–attended a candidates’ debate in Tampa, Florida.
Gingrich, Santorum and Romney played to the huge–and influential–Cuban community in Florida, especially in Miami.
All three had carefully avoided military service. But all three “chickenhawks” now wanted to show how eagerly they could send others into harm’s way.
Former House Speaker Gingrich spoke for all three when he said: “The policy of the United States should be aggressively to overthrow the [Castro] regime and to do everything we can to support those Cubans who want freedom.”
Only Texas Congressman Ron Paul–who had served as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force from 1963 to 1968–dared to call for normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.
But even Paul refused to say that the “chickenhawk” bravado of his fellow Republicans ignored a great many ugly historical truths. Among these:
- In 1959, Fidel Castro swept triumphantly into Havana after a two-year guerrilla campaign against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
- Before Castro’s takeover in 1959, Cuba had been a playground for wealthy American businessmen–and Mafiosi.
- Castro quickly nationalized Cuban businesses–especially the sugar-producing ones.Gangsters who had been heavily involved in running casinos were arrested, imprisoned or unofficially deported to the United States.
- The Mob–eager to reclaim its casino investments–agreed to help the CIA assassinate Castro.
Among the conspirators were such powerful mobsters as Santos Trafficante, Carlos Marcello, Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana.
- Almost immediately, hundreds of thousands of Cubans began fleeing to America. The first emigres were more than 215,000 Batista followers.
- The exodus escalated, peaking at approximately 78,000 in 1962.
- In October, 1962, Castro stopped regularly scheduled travel between the two countries, and asylum seekers began sailing from Cuba to Florida.
- Between 1962 and 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cubans entered the United States under the Attorney General’s parole authority.
- The overwhelming majority of Cubans who immigrated into the United States settled in Florida, whose political, economic, and cultural life they transformed.
- By 2008, more than 1.24 million Cuban Americans were living in the United States, mostly in South Florida, where the population of Miami was about one-third Cuban.
- Many of these Cubans viewed themselves as political exiles, rather than immigrants, hoping to return to Cuba after its communist regime fell from power.
- The large number of Cubans in South Florida, particularly in Miami’s “Little Havana,” allowed them to preserve their culture and customs to a degree rare for immigrant groups.
- These discontented immigrants became a potential force for politicians to court.
- Unsurprisingly, most of their votes went to Right-wing Republicans.
John F. Kennedy was the first President to face this dilemma.
John F. Kennedy
During the closing months of the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the CIA had begun training Cuban exiles for an invasion of their former homeland.
The goal: To do what Castro had done–seek refuge in the mountains and launch a successful anti-Castro revolution.
But word of the coming invasion quickly leaked: The exiles were terrible secret-keepers. (A joke at the CIA went: “A Cuban thinks a secret is something you tell to only 300 people.”)
Kennedy insisted the invasion must appear to be an entirely Cuban enterprise. He refused to commit U.S. Marines and Air Force bombers.
The invasion force was quickly overwhelmed at the Bay of Pigs, with hundreds of its men taken prisoner.
Kennedy publicly took the blame for its failure: “Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.” But privately he seethed, and ordered the CIA to redouble its efforts to remove Castro at all costs.
To make certain his order was carried out, he appointed his brother, Robert–then Attorney General–to oversee the CIA’s “Castro removal” program.
It’s here that America’s obsession with Cuba entered its darkest and most disgraceful period.
The CIA and the Mafia entered into an unholy alliance to assassinate Castro–each for its own benefit.
The CIA wanted to please Kennedy. The Mafia wanted to regain its casino and brothel holdings that had made Cuba the playground of the rich in pre-Castro times.
The CIA supplied poisons and explosives to various members of the Mafia. It was then up to the mobsters to assassinate Castro.
The available sources disagree on what actually happened. Some believe that the Mob made a genuine effort to “whack” Fidel.
Others are convinced the mobsters simply ran a scam on the government. They pretended to carry out their “patriotic duty” while in fact making no effort at all to penetrate Castro’s security.
The mobsters hoped to use their pose as patriots to win immunity from future prosecution.
The CIA asked John Roselli, a mobster linked to the Chicago syndicate, to go to Florida in 1961 and 1962 to organize assassination teams of Cuban exiles. They were to infiltrate their homeland and assassinate Castro.
Rosselli called upon two other crime figures: Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana and Santos Trafficante, the Costra Nostra chieftain for Cuba, to help him.
Giancana, using the name “Sam Gold” in his dealings with the CIA, was being hounded by the FBI on directr orders of Attorney General Kennedy.