Cuban Blackmail, 50 Years After the Missile Crisis

The Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2012

Cuban Blackmail, 50 Years After the Missile Crisis

The past decades have shown that the Castro brothers’ behavior in October 1962 was perfectly characteristic.

By Jeb Bush and Frank Calzon

Oct. 23, 2012 7:16 p.m. ET

With this week marking the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, Americans are recalling the 13 days in October 1962 when the Soviet Union and Cuba’s Fidel Castro brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon.

But in assessing the crisis, and President John F. Kennedy’s decisions over those 13 days, it is equally important to consider what has happened since. Using what the late U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick called the “politics of deception,” Cuba’s Castro brothers have maintained power through international deceit, blackmail and hostage-taking.

The past decades have shown that the behavior of the Castro brothers in 1962 was perfectly characteristic. Fidel Castro has never shied away from a political gamble such as deploying secret Soviet missiles and then lying about them. He assured other governments that he would never do such a thing, just as the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the United States told the Kennedy administration that rumors about missiles were false. But the missiles were there, and their deployment was an effort to intimidate and blackmail America.

Today, Havana’s intimidation and blackmail are of a different magnitude, but there are plenty of examples.

Days ago, a Cuban court sentenced young Spanish politician Angel Carromero to four years in prison for committing manslaughter in the death of Oswaldo Payá, one of Cuba’s most prominent human rights leaders. Payá died while a passenger in a car Mr. Carromero was driving, when it veered off the road and hit a tree under suspicious circumstances. Payá’s family says that Mr. Carromero has sent text messages saying that a vehicle (presumably driven by Cuba’s state security police) was attempting to force him off the road. The family was prevented from attending the trial and is calling for an international investigation.

For years, state security had tried to intimidate Payá and his foreign visitors, part of a larger effort to discourage democracy advocates from visiting or contacting Cuban dissidents. Havana similarly tries to intimidate other countries—such as Spain, whose nationals have business interests in Cuba—into accepting its routine violations of human rights, including the beatings of dissidents.

Joining Mr. Carromero as a hostage in Cuba is Alan Gross, an American development worker held since December 2009. His supposed crime: giving a laptop computer and satellite telephone to a group of Cuban Jews.

Mr. Gross has lost some 100 pounds in prison, according to his wife, who also reports that he has a growth on his shoulder that may be cancerous. The Castro regime intends to keep him in prison until the U.S. government releases five Cuban spies from prison in the U.S.

There is long history here. In 1962, Fidel Castro wrung $53 million from Washington in exchange for releasing the prisoners he had taken after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Before that, during the guerrilla war against the Batista dictatorship, Raúl Castro extorted thousands of dollars from owners of sugar mills, threatening to burn down their homes and mills unless they aided the guerrillas. In June 1958, he tried to force negotiations with Washington by kidnapping 29 American sailors and marines; when word got out that Washington might send U.S. Marines to rescue the hostages, the Castros freed them.

In dealing with Cuba’s regime, the Obama administration has too often sent contradictory signals of U.S. resolve. Though Raúl Castro (who now heads the Cuban government) has refused to allow Mr. Gross to return to the U.S. to visit his seriously ill mother, the Obama administration allowed a Cuban spy to leave an American halfway house to visit his sick mother. While Mr. Gross remains in prison, the Obama administration last year issued visas to Raúl Castro’s daughter and her retinue so they could visit America and attack its Cuba policy.

The lessons of October 1962 must not be forgotten. President Kennedy showed fortitude and resolve in forcing the Soviet Union to stand down. Whoever wins the Nov. 6 election ought to deal similarly with today’s intimidation and deception from the Castro regime.

Mr. Bush is a former governor of Florida. Mr. Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C.