April 19, 2006

45 Years Ago This Week

It turns out that the man who invented Fidel worked for the same paper that suppressed a story about the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Four years after Mathews conjured Fidel out of thin air, NY Times journalist Tad Szulc, later a Castro biographer (as was Matthews), made an agreement with Kennedy to delay news items that might “alert the Cuban government ” about the imminent attack.

The CIA developed an elaborate cover story blaming the aerial bombings of April 15 1961 on defecting Cuban pilots. The invading force two days later was to form a temporary government (the designated would-be Cuban president was kept on a U.S. Navy ship nearby) and this temp government would ask for U.S. military assistance, which would be provided immediately. You couldn’t just say WMD in those days.

The news media, then prone to investigating such things, uncovered the lie immediately.

1,300 Cubans, recruited, paid and armed by the U.S. government, took the beach at Playa Girón and Playa Larga. Two days later, as members of brigade 2506 were running out of ammunition, President Kennedy decided it would not be prudent to back them up. Most of the invading forces were taken prisoner, the others killed in battle.

The invasion at Bay of Pigs is an ugly and disturbing incident on many levels, and clearly shows the lack of true compassion and respect that empires have had over the years for the Cuban people.

Eventually Kennedy realized that it was foolish to alienate the Cubans, and was in the process of arranging private talks with the Cuban government when he was assassinated.


April 13, 2006

Looking Back at Fidel’s Inventor

As we approach the 45th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961, a new book provides a glimpse at US-Cuba relations at a time when the media still had teeth and the economic embargo against Cuba was young.

The Man Who Invented Fidel,” by New York Times reporter Anthony DePalma, looks closely at the reporter who bravely followed a bunch of young rebels into the Sierra Maestra to perform what would turn out to be the most important interview of his life. Herbert L. Matthews not only brought back the news that Castro was alive, but presented a positive editorial portrait of the man.

DePalma balances Cuban history with behind-the-scene moments of decision-making at the New York Times editorial offices. The fact that Cubans in the U.S. showed their support for the writing of Matthews didn’t help the perception of objectivity that reporters and historians are expected to adhere to. To complicate matters, it was obvious to everyone with a heartbeat that the U.S. government had been actively supporting Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The NYTimes eventually assigned reporter Homer Bigart to cover the situation in Cuba.

If you have a public library card you can search the NYTimes Archives and compare the articles of Matthews to those of Bigart. But read the DePalma book first. You can’t go wrong with this title.


April 03, 2006

The Truth About Herbert L. Matthews

In mid-February 1957 an American journalist made his way into the Sierra Maestra mountain range in Oriente province to conduct an interview with Fidel Castro. For months it had been speculated that Castro had been killed, and that journalist’s words in the New York Times not only brought him back to life, but painted him in ways that were very palatable to an American audience of the time. The words of Herbert L. Mathews, some would later claim, painted Castro as a modern day Robin Hood who could fix a cloudy day.

Members of the anti-Castro community have never forgiven Matthews, and claim that he was duped into writing about the Cuban rebel in a positive manner.

A new book coming out at the end of April, “The Man Who Invented Fidel” by Anthony De Palma takes a look at the controversial journalist, who later paid the price for Castro’s about face into the socialist camp. Eventually Matthews was accused of being a communist sympathizer and a traitor, and prevented from writing about the subject he knew best… this in the days when the news media was strong and believed in healthy skepticism… (Imagine what they would do to him today?)

Herbert’s biography of Castro a few years later came a bit too late to distract the journalist’s critics.

I’ve just acquired an “advance reading copy” of the book by De Palma. Was Herbert L. Matthews a communist? Was he a fool? Or was Castro’s plunge into the socialist camp something we could have avoided? Even if this doesn’t provide answers, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it.