The New York Times and Cuba

A report by Antonio Prieto for On Cuba News.

The New York Times’ relationship with Cuba has, like everything else, its own history. In February 1957, Hebert Matthews’ three reports on the rebels in the Sierra Maestra were a severe blow against Batista’s official propaganda: there were, in effect, military troops fighting in the mountains and Fidel Castro was neither dead nor buried. “Fidel Castro, the rebel leader of the Cuban youth, is alive and fighting hard in the rugged and almost impenetrable mountains of the Sierra Maestra, in the extreme south of the island,” was the lead.

These texts contributed to socializing in the United States the figure of a kind of Garibaldi or Robin Hood fighting against the adversities and injustices of the Tropics, as opposed to hawks and cold warriors like Richard Nixon, who perceived him as a communist under Moscow’s cloak.

After the bearded men took power, the Times and other organs of the liberal American press experienced a change of perspective, visible in the idea of ​​the revolution betrayed, a code that would come to stay for a long time. Also in the early 1960s, the newspaper’s directors finally decided to publish a dispatch by journalist Tad Szulc, its main expert on Latin America, according to which in a Guatemalan camp, specifically in a place called Retalhuleu, there were Cuban exiles receiving military training with U.S. advice, the news however was edited for a matter of national security (the request was made by phone by President Kennedy himself, although in Miami bars it was an open secret. Years later, Szulc would declare that his story had been “drastically censored”).

Members of Brigade 2506 prisoners in Cuba.

Although a study questions the fact and even scrutinizes the records of telephone calls made from the White House to the Times in April 1961, the anecdote illustrates in any case the links between the press and political power prior to the time of the Pentagon papers — the Nixon administration took the Times to federal court for publishing classified information about the Vietnam involvement, and the Supreme Court ruled against it — and the Watergate crisis, when two largely unknown Washington Post journalists contributed to seal the resignation of a president as unpopular as the war in Southeast Asia. It was like the Himalayas of the expression “the power of the press.”

During the 1970s its editorials supported the normalization of relations with Cuba in line with Congress and with the Ford and Carter administrations, a very brief moment of détente that would lead, among other things, to found interest sections in the respective capitals and even to certain modifications in the embargo/blockade policy, later dismantled by the Reagan administration. “The passage of time has shown that Castro’s Cuba and the United States can coexist peacefully. The hour of reconciliation has arrived,” they editorialized in 1971.

But towards the middle of that same decade, the Cuban military presence in Africa led to a change of course, or rather to reinforce another idea socialized before and after the Missile Crisis: Cuba as a surrogate of the USSR, a total coincidence of concave and convex the result of an inter-elite consensus as engraved in stone until the maps changed color. Then the newspaper, in the heat of the dismantling of bureaucratic-Stalinist socialism in Eastern Europe, activated a coverage of Cuba marked by a question that the political scientists of the moment baptized as “the domino effect.”

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