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Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 1960: 'Who Lost Cuba?' and Western Retaliation in Berlin

A fight broke out in the newspapers on this day over who "lost Cuba." Senators James Eastland (D-Miss.) and Thomas Dodd (D-Conn.) accused low-level State Department officials and two reporters of complicity in Fidel Castro's rise to power. The senators cited the testimony of two former ambassadors to Cuba, Earl Smith and Arthur Gardner, before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. The senators charged that "Cuba was handed to Castro and the Communists by a combination of Americans in the same way that China was handed to the Communists." They said Secretary of State Christian Herter "is not in charge of the ship." Herter called the senators' statement "shocking and unfounded."

Making policy, the senators said, were "the unknown policy planners and memo-makers who fill the Secretary's in-basket. These unnamed State Department officials "worked with pro-Castro elements in the American press to make Castro appear as Robin hood," they said. Smith had testified to the committee that Herbert Mathews, a member of the New York Times editorial board, and Jules Dubois, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, had contributed to Castro's overthrow of Fulgencio Batista. According to Gardner, Mathews' reporting "related a biased situation against Batista" and favored Castro. Mathews and Dubois were "radicals," said Gardner, who was ambassador to Cuba from 1953 to 1957.

"Three front-page articles in the New York Times in early 1957, written by the editorialist Herbert Matthews, served to inflate Castro to world stature and world recognition. Until that time, Castro had been just another bandit in the Oriente Mountains of Cuba, with a handful of followers who had terrorized the campesinos, that is the peasants, throughout the countryside," Gardner said. "After the Matthews articles, which followed an exclusive interview by the Times editorial writer in Castro's mountain hideout and which likened him to Abraham Lincoln, he was able to get followers and funds in Cuba and in the United States. From that time on, arms, money and soldiers of fortune abounded. Much of the American press began to picture Castro as a political Robin Hood."

Newspapers on this day in 1960 also reported that the West had retaliated against East Germany's recently imposed travel restrictions by limiting the travel of some East Germans. The United States, Britain and France, which share control of West Berlin, said they would not issue travel documents for East Germans seeking to participate in Western exhibitions, sporting events and conferences. "The East Germans have put great value on these visits to enhance their international standing," the New York Times wrote in its coverage.

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