Nixon's Perceptions of Castro Colored U.S. Policy

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says Richard Nixon's earliest perceptions of Fidel Castro led to misguided American foreign policy toward Cuba — policies that essentially lasted 50 years.

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This week, Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's head of state and commander in chief.

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr interviewed the Cuban leader twice over the years. He has these thoughts on the passing of the Castro era.

DANIEL SCHORR: In 1959, Fidel Castro met privately with Vice President Nixon in Washington. Nixon came away with the impression that Castro was incredibly naive of our communism.

That marked the inception of 50 years under 10 presidents of hostility to the bearded revolutionary. It has arguably been the most mindless, the most self-destructive long-term policy in American history.

A year after Castro's visit, President Eisenhower authorized a CIA-supported invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles. That plan was inherited and carried out by President Kennedy. The Bay of Pigs fiasco may have led Castro to ask for Soviet missiles for Cuba's defense, and that led to the Cuban missile crisis.

Castro was regarded by a succession of American presidents as the extended Soviet arm in the western hemisphere. To ward off Soviet penetration, the Contras was supported in a civil war in Nicaragua. The bloody regime of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile was supported, and the little island of Granada was invaded.

But perhaps the most disastrous decision of all was made by the Kennedy administration. The CIA enlisted a mafia in a scheme to assassinate Castro. There were also some hairbrain ideas, like giving Castro a poisoned cigar. One Cuban major enlisted to kill Castro was believed to have been a Castro double agent.

When President Johnson came into office, he was appalled at what he found. He told a Time magazine reporter that the United States has been running a murder incorporated in the Caribbean.

Castro once told an Associated Press correspondent at the Brazilian Embassy in Havana that if you U.S. leaders didn't stop their attempts to kill Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe - a threat of retaliation.

Having followed the assassination of President Kennedy since 1963, I have come to a conclusion. Lee Harvey Oswald may have read the AP interview. And when he shot Kennedy, he may have done it as a self-appointed avenger of his hero, Fidel Castro. What a price to pay for America's effort to dislodge a bone in its throat.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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