A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF HOW SELECTED
FLORIDA NEWSPAPERS REPORTED THE
THOMAS MELVILLE FULLMER
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS IN JOURNALISM AND COMMUNICATIONS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
For their critical guidance and encouragement I wish to express
my sincerest appreciation to Dr. H. H. Griggs, Professor John Paul
Jones, and Dr. C. K. Yearley, Jr., who by thei.'rexamples as scholars
and gentlemen set the highest of standards. Any errors of inade-
quacies in this study are completely my responsibility.
A special note of thanks must go to my parents, Mr. and Mrs.
E. J. Fullmer of Berlin, Wisconsin. Their support and understanding
can never be fully repayed.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTI ON................... .......... ......................
I THE INVASION AND FIRST MONTH.......................
11 1957............................. ...... ...........
III SPRING 1958: A FALSE ALARM.........................
IV THE REBELS KIDNAP AMERICANS.........................
V FALL 1958: REBEL TACTICS CRITICIZED................
VI THE FALL OF BATISTA MISSED BY THE PAPERS............
VII JANUARY, 1959: MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT REBEL
VIII EARLY 1959: CRITICISM GROWS........................
IX LATE 1959: HOSTILITY PREDOMINATES.................
X THE COLD WAR ENTERS THE PICTURE.....................
XI THE ROAD TO THE BAY OF PIGS.........................
.This study attempts to trace and to analyze how selected Florida
newspapers treated the Fidel Castro revolution in Cuba. Despite its
importance, or more likely because of it, the Castro revolution is
imperfectly understood and is a highly controversial subject. Much
of that controversy rages over the role the American press played in
its treatment of the revolution. Criticism has been leveled at the
press by both hostile and sympathetic observers of the revolution.
Those most hostile to the Cuban revolution focus on the press's
treatment of Castro during the 25-month struggle to overthrow
Fulgencio Batista, the dictator who had ruled Cuba for practically
a quarter of a century. These critics claim Castro was glamorized
by the press and pictured as a savior while his leftist tendencies
This view was expressed succinctly before a U. S. Senate Internal
Security subcommittee by Earl E. T. Smith, who was the American
ambassador to Cuba from June, 1957, until January, 1959. He said that
during 1957 "much of the American press began to picture Castro as a
political Robin Hood." The American people were misled into thinking
Castro represented liberty and democracy, Smith said, because "the
crusader role which the press and radio bestowed on the bearded
rebel blinded the people to the leftwing political philosophy with
which even at that time he was already on record."'
Those who have shown sympathy to Fidel Castro have focused their
criticism on the press's treatment of the revolutionary government
which took power in January, 1959. They contend the American press
was too critical of the Castro government and turned against it during
the difficultearly weeks and months without sufficient justification.
Those sympathetic to the revolution have complained that lack of
understanding on the part of the press helped push Castro into the
waiting and all too willing arms of the Communists. Two of the chief
spokesmen for this viewpoint have been Herbert L. Matthews, who
covered the revolution for the New York Times, and C. Wright Mills.
The study covered important events in the Cuban revolution during
a 49-month period from December, 1956,through December, 1960. This
time span was selected because it covered a two-year period before
Castro took power and a two-year period after. Selection of specific
time segments to study within this 49-month period was made by deter-
mining the major events in Cuba with the aid of books covering the
revolution and the New York Times index. Thus, the crucial events
during the 49-month period were studied, including Castro"s invasion
of Cuba in December, 1956, the rebel kidnapping of nearly 50 Americans
in the summer of 1958, the Fall of Batista, Castro's two visits to the
U.S., and the crises over sugar and oil in July, 1960.
Quoted in Robert F. Smith, What Happened in Cuba? (New York:
Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1963), pp. 268-269.
Five Florida morning daily newspapers were selected to be studied.
The papers were Miami Herald, Florida Times-Union, Tampa Tribune,
Orlando Sentinel, and Pensacola Journal. This group offered the dual
advantage of covering the various geographical areas of Florida and
including papers of varying editorial beliefs. During the period
studied, these papers represented nearly 80 per cent of the circula-
tion of Florida's daily morning newspapers.
The Miami Herald is the largest of the papers studied. Serving
the state as well as the metropolitan Miami area, the Herald's circula-
tion during the 49-month period studied averaged nearly 281,000 on
weekdays and 333,000 on Sundays. Miami was the focal point of Cuban
exile activity throughout this period. In the latter two years of
Batista's rule, the area served as a departure point for rebel smug-
gling activities. Since Castro came to power the city has become
home for the vast majority of refugees from rebel rule. With its
large staff and proximity to Cuba, the Herald often dispatched its
own reporters to cover stories from the island nation. Of the five
papers studied, the Herald consistently gave the greatest depthof
coverage to the events in Cuba.
The next largest paper studied was.Jacksonville's Florida Times-
Union. During this period its circulation averaged nearly 160,000
on weekdays and 165,000 on Sundays. The Times-Union not only
covered Jacksonville, a city of 201,000 in 1960, but also circulated
over wide areas of northern Florida and southern Georgia.
The Tampa Tribune during this period had a somewhat smaller circu-
lation than the Times-Union averaging 133,000 daily and 150,000 on
Sunday, although Tampa's population in 1960 was 274,000. Like Miami,
Tampa has a large Latin American community. But Ybor City, home of
Tampa's Latin population is an old community with long history.
Tampa never became the Cuban refugee center Miami did, thus Tampa's
Latin population was much less deeply involved in the events in Cuba
The Orlando Sentinel was the fastest growing paper throughout the
period studied, its daily circulation jumping from 53,000 to 80,000
and its Sunday circulation from 69,000 to 107,000. Orlando, unlike
the other four cities, is landlocked and not a major port for the
state. Much of Orlando's growth during this period, however, can be
traced to the development of the then Cape Canaveral missile range
some 40 miles to the east.
The Pensacola Journal had the smallest circulation of the papers
studied with a 49,000 weekday circulation and a 54,000 Sunday circula-
tion. The Journal served much of the Florida panhandle as well as
areas in southeastern Alabama. Its circulation was more rural than-
those of the other papers.
Attention was devoted to both news reports and editorials about
the Cuban revolution in these five papers. The great majority of news
reports originated from the two major American press associations, the
Associated Press and United Press International. Disregarding minor
day-to-day variations, all five papers carried substantially the same
news from Cuba, although differing, of course, in quantity mainly due
to the size of the respective papers. The significance of the analysis
of the news reports, therefore, lies not in providing distinctions
between the various papers, but in demonstrating the type of news
concerning Cuba which was available to the readers of the newspapers
studied. And to the extent that papers around the nation relied on
dispatches from those two press services, the analysis of news reports
will indicate the news available to the readers of most American
Analysis of the papers' editorial reactions to the developing
Cuban story, of course, does provide distinctions among the individual
papers. Editorials are significant in that they indicate a variety of
interpretations and opinions prevalent on various aspects of the
In studying both the news reports and editorials of the five
papers for the 49-month period it became apparent that for these
papers, at least, the general assumptions about the press's treatment
of the Cuban revolution were not valid. Never during the two-year
struggle to overthrow Batista was Castro pictured as a hero or polit-
ical Robin Hood. News reports generally dealt with the progress of
the revolt in a straightforward manner. Editorially, while most of
the papers took a stand against Batista, there was never any declara-
tion of support for Castro and the revolution. In fact, as the struggle
progressed the.papers became increasingly critical of the tactics of
the rebels. Thus, for the five papers studied, criticism of the
rebels began not with the executions of Batista followers in January,
1959, but long before Castro took power.
This criticism was not consistent, however. Soon after Castro
took power news reports and editorials expressed sympathy for the
revolution and optimism for Cuba. As reports of executions of Batista
supporters grew, however, the papers once again became critical and
skeptical. While opinion was still in flux in the spring.of 1959,
events soon started the Cuban-American hostilities which led eventually
to the Bay of Pigs invasion.
And in a sense, the .latter part of this thesis is a long preface
to the Bay of Pigs, examining those attitudes and beliefs which formed
the rationale behind that attempt to overthrow Castro.and bring the
Cuban revolution to an end.
THE INVASION AND FIRST MONTH
The revolt which led to the eventual overthrow of Cuba's
President and Dictator, Fulgencio Batista, began November 30, 1956.
That was the day scheduled by Fidel Castro for his return to Cuba.
Fidel Castro was a 30-year-old lawyer who had, during his
student days at Havana University, been active in political activi-
ties, many of them revolutionary. In 1947 he took part in a plot
against the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic.1 The follow-
ing year he was active in left-wing, anti-American riots in Bogota,
Colombia.2 And on July 26, 1953, he led a group of rebels against
a Cuban army post. Arrested and sentenced to jail, Castro in 1955
was released to exile in Mexico where he helped organize a group
whose goal was the overthrow of the Batista government.
On Friday, November 30, 1956, young revolutionaries in Santiago
de Cuba, the nation's second largest city, staged an uprising that was
scheduled to coincide with the landing of Fidel Castro and 81 revolu-
tionaries on Cuba's southeast shore.
All five newspapers carried accounts of the uprising, but only
the United Press story of the outbreak indicated that Castro might be
Ruby Hart Phillips, Cuba: Island of Paradox (New York: McDowell,
Obelensky, 1959), p. 293.
Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc.,
1959); pp. 17-23.
in.Cuba. The UP story said, "reports from Mexico City where Castro
had been in exile said he had disappeared and was believed to be in
Actually, Castro was not yet in Cuba. He and his 81 followers,
who were packed in a small yacht built to carry eight comfortably,
were still at sea. They heard reports of the uprising over radio.
It was not until December 2 that they landed.5
The landing itself was almost a complete disaster. The yacht ran
aground unexpectedly in swampy waters. A rowboat lowered to carry
men and equipment to shore sank.7 The men were forced to abandon food,
medicine, weapons, ammunition and other supplies and struggle to dry
land through the water and deep mud. All 82 reached dry land, but
were soon under attack from Cuban army troops and strafing aircraft.
The revolt hung by a thread during the month of December. Under
constant harassment from the Cuban army, the rebels split up and
attempted to' make their way to the sanctuary of the Sierra Maestra
mountains of Oriente province. Of the 82 who landed, 60 were killed,
10 were captured and imprisoned, leaving a nucleus of 12 to lead a
revolution to overthrow the government of Fulgencio Batista, which
was backed by well-trained, excellently-equipped army of 30,000.8
3Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, December 1, 1956.
Dubois, p. 139.
5lbid.,pp. 139-140; Herbert L. Matthews, The Cuban Story (New
York: George Braziller, 1961), p. 17; Phillips, however, says the
landing took place on December 1; Phillips, p. x.
Phillips, p. x.
Dubois, P. 139.
Ibid.,p. 144; Phillips, p. xi.
The newspaper reports of the revolt were generally vague and
frequently contradictory. One of Batista's first acts after the
Santiago outbreak was to suspend constitutional guarantees and impose
press censorship in four of Cuba's six provinces. Information was
difficult to obtain and this suited the government fine.
On December 2, the Florida Times-Union and the Miami Herald
carried a UP story speculating that the Santiago uprising could be
the prelude to an invasion by revolutionaries. Batista had always
labeled his opponents Communists, and the UP report seemed to add
credence to the charge by describing the expected rebel invaders as
The question of Castro's political leanings was treated in an
Associated Press depth story carried by the Herald and the Times-
Union on December 9. The story described Oriente province as "the
scene of the most intensive Communist activity in Cuba,'and said
that Castro might have planned on support from leftist groups. While
not directly labeling Castro a Communist, the story indicated this
was a distinct possibility: "People disagree on whether he is
actually a Communist. However, they say he had strong leftist
beliefs while studying law." The story also raised the possibility
that Castro was being backed by Trujillo, who had no love for,
Batista at this time.
Generally, however, the question of Castro's political beliefs or
associations'was not treated in the newspaper reports. Much more
attention was paid to the mystery over where he was and whether he
was still alive. The Miami Herald on December 3 ran a page-one, by-
lined story by Ruth McCarthy under the headline:
Fidel Castro Killed
In Cuban Revolt
The story began:
A young revolutionary who pledged his life for
an ideal gave it Sunday afternoon on the barren southern
coast of Cuba.
Handsome, dashing, 30-year-old Fidel Castro Ruz
who gave up exile in Mexico to lead a "life and death
fight" against Cuban President Fulgencio Batista was
shot to death Sunday in a field of sugar cane where
he and his commandoes were ambushed by government
On the same day, the Times-Union and Orlando Sentinel carried
front-page stories from the UP which quoted "government military
leaders" as saying that Castro was among 40 rebels killed by govern-
ment planes and ground troops shortly after the rebel landing.
The next day, though, both the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel
carried an AP story which reported that Batista "said rebel leader
Fidel Castro Ruz had not been killed as reported." The Herald
story added another possibility to the mystery by quoting Batista
as saying he believed Castro was still in Mexico. The Times-Union
and the Tampa Morning Tribune also raised doubts about whether Castro
had been killed, saying there had been no official confirmation of
.The issue was in doubt throughout the month. On the fifth a
UP report carried by the Times-Union seemed to indicate that only
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Tampa Morning Tribune,
December 4, 1956.
official identification of the rebels killed prevented confirmation of
Castro's death,.while an AP report in the Morning Tribune said
Batista had denied that Castro had been killed and had said, "his
present whereabouts are unknown."10 On the 15th it was reported that
captured rebels said they had not seen Castro since they were attacked
by government forces on the first day.1 A report on the 16th,
however, held that Castro was "believed to have eluded his pursuers."l2
Generally, United Press stories indicated the probability of Castro's
death, while other releases indicated that Castro was alive.
But, if there were some doubts; as to whether or not Castro was
alive, the newspaper reports generally agreed on the status of the
revolution. All pictured the revolution as being in serious trouble.
Ruth McCarthy's December 3 story quoted the chief of the military
forces in Oriente as saying "the revolution attempt is completely
crushed.'13 On the fourth, two papers quoted Batista as saying quiet
had been restored to Oriente.14 Only the Times-Union of that day
indicated the probability of continued hostilities. That report from
the Chicago Tribune Press Service said Batista was ordering a
tightening of security measures "as the revolution reached its
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union add Tampa Morning Tribune,
December 5, 1956.
1Miami Herald, December 15, 1956.
'2Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, December 16, 1956.
13Miami Herald, December 3, 1956.
14Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel, December 4, 1956.
15Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, December 4, 1956.
Reports of fighting between rebel remnants and government troops
were carried sporadically by the five papers throughout the first half
of the month. Then on the 15th and 16th all the papers but the
Pensacola Journal carried reports saying the revolt had officially
been declared ended by the Cuban government. The Herald story,
however, emphasized that new, more intensive uprisings against the
Batista government were expected in the near future.6
As far as the Cuban revolution was concerned, 1956 ended with a
whisper rather than a bang. But the whisper had not yet died out.
The Tampa Tribune, Miami Herald and Florida Times-Union continued
to carry isolated stories of outbursts of violence against the Batista
regime in Oriente province. Although the flame of revolution may
have gone out the embers continued to set off occasional sparks.
6Miami Herald, December 15, 1956.
The Cuban government's announcement of the death of the revolt
was proven to be premature by the events of 1957. The smouldering
revolt failed to succumb under government pressure and occasionally
burst into flames. News reports continued to be vague and somewhat
contradictory while editorially the majority of the papers adopted
an attitude of passive hostility to the Batista regime.
Status of the Revolt
From an Ember to a Flame
After a relatively quiet January, reports in the Miami Herald
and Tampa Morning Tribune in mid-February indicated the situation
in Cuba was volatile. A Herald story by assistant city editor
George Southworth said information leaking out from Cuba was "that
Castro and his '26th of July' group are having some success."2
Both the Herald and an AP story in the Morning Tribune quoted an
American citizen who had just returned from Cuba as saying: *
unrest is spreading and becoming more noticeable. The man in the
street hates his [Batista's] guts."3
1An interview of Fidel Castro by Herbert L. Matthews which
appeared in the New York Times on February 24, 1957, put an end to any
speculation of Castro's death.
2Miami Herald, February 17, 1957.
3Miami Herald and Tampa Morning Tribune, February 17, 1957.
More common, however, were stories on how the revolt had died or
was doomed. Only the Morning Tribune failed to carry such a-story
during late February or early March. On February 24 the Times-Union
reported that the government seemed to be winning its drive to wipe
out revolutionary resistance in Oriente and expected to finish the
job in the near future. Six days later a Pensacola Journal story
said that Cuban army headquarters reported the rebels had been reduced
to scattered remnants. The Orlando Sentinel followed with a story on
March 8 which quoted Cuba's army chief as saying the insurrectionaryy
movement has been completely overcome."
But the next two days saw all five papers carrying stories that
three American youths missing from the American naval base at
Guantanamo were believed to have joined the rebels. UP stories
carried by the Journal, Times-Union and Herald indicated that if
messages from the youths' families failed to bring their return, the
U.S. would take "more drastic" action, such as sending an, "American
'expedition' into the Sierra Maestra to contact rebels and arrange
return of the boys."5 No such action followed, however although the
boys refused to return until Castro ordered them to several weeks
Only the Miami Herald ,covered Cuban events late in February and
early in March with any degree of thoroughness. In addition to the
Pensacola Journal, March 2, 1957.
5Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Pensacola Journal, March 9,
1957; Miami Herald, March 10, 1957.
6Dubois, p. 159.
wire service reports the Herald featured several depth stories by
assistant city editor George Southworth analyzing the political unrest
Cuba became front page news for all five papers, however, when
on March 13 a group of young revolutionaries attempted to storm the
Presidential palace and assassinate Batista. The revolutionaries, who
had no connection with Castro or his movement, failed. But the attempt
dramatized, far more than Castro's invasion had, the volatility of the
Cuban situation and the intensity of feeling against Batista. George
Southworth in the Herald concluded that Batista had won the battle
at the palace, appeared to be winning against Castro, but seemed to
be losing the battle of public opinion in Cuba.7
But Batista had not yet won the battle against Castro by June,
and in that month the army launched an all-out offensive against the
rebels in Oriente province. A UP report on the first battle of the
drive quoted the army chief of staff as calling it a "new extermina-
tion campaign to crush the rebel movement." The Tampa Tribune
carried an AP report on the same day which also said the chief of
staff "asserted the operation was already 'nearing its end.'" The
Miami Herald and Florida Times-Union on June 3 and the Orlando
Sentinel on June 4 carried UP reports telling of army claims for the
imminent end of the revolt.
Miami Herald, March 15, 1957.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, and Orlando
Sentinel, June 2, 1957.
9Tampa Morning Tribune, June 2, 1957.
An AP story in the Tampa Mornina Tribune on the 6th raised some
doubts, however, calling government reports on campaign results
negative. On the 7th a Herald news story indicated that there could
be trouble if the offensive failed saying, "Batista is playing his
trump card right now and the 800 men he has sent after Castro better
succeed or Batista will lose a lot of prestige." The story by
Southworth said that Castro had become an anti-Batista symbol with
some appeal to Cuba's youth.
There were signs in stories carried by the Herald, Times-Union
and Pensacola Journal on June 8 that the offensive had indeed failed.
In an interview with a Herald reporter, Batista dismissed the Oriente
rebels as being of no significance.0 UP stories in the Journal and
Times-Union said Batista firmly denied persistent rumors that he was
going to resign. On June 9, the Herald in a story by Southworth
cautioned, "don't sell Cuba's hot-headed revolutionary leader, Fidel
The government offensive was a failure. The rebels continued to
harrass the Batista government with hit-and-run raids in Oriente
province and bombings in Havana and elsewhere.
Then in September, without warning, naval personnel and anti-
Batista civilian's attempted to seize control of Cienfuegos, a port
in southern Cuba less than 150 miles from Havana. The uprising was
put down by army units, but it led to a reassessment of the anti-
Miami Herald, June 8, 1957.
Pensacola Journal and Tampa Morning Tribune, June 8, 1957.
A story in the Miami Herald saw the uprising as a serious threat
to the Batista regime: "The military has been Batista's strength, and
defection by any of his own indicates a severe breach in the solidarity
of his government's strength."2
Reports in other papers at first gave a different interpretation.
An AP report in the Tampa Morning Tribune and Florida Times-Union
emphasized the loyalty of the Batista army. It said that Castro's
men were no match for the government forces and added, "it would take
a mutiny in the armed forces to unseat Batista."13
But, a day later both papers carried another contradictory AP
story which agreed with the earlier analysis in the Miami Herald;
Some Cubans who in the past conceded no chance
for the cause of rebel leader Fidel Castro now seem
to have changed their minds. They believe it pos-
sible the defection of navy men to the rebel side
in Cienfuegos may be followed by similar desertions
The Herald reported that the people of Cuba were apprehensively
expecting a revolution. The story by George Southworth indicated
the aftermath of a revolution might be characterized by a bloody mood
of vengeance because years of smouldering hate had so embittered Cubans.
He wrote, "the only thing Cubans fear worse than a shooting revolution
is what might come after. They fear 'the revenge' would follow a
12Miami Herald, September 6, 1957.
13Jacksonville Florida Times Union and Tampa Morning Tribune,
September 8, 1957.
14Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Tampa Morning Tribune,
September 9, 1957.
15Miami Herald, September 8, 1957.
By the end of the year the burning embers of the revolt had
apparently grown into a flickering flame. While Castro's forces had
yet to win any significant battle, they had, against great odds,
managed to stay alive. The outbreaks against Batista, meanwhile,
indicated potential serious trouble for his regime.
Batista Has Several Enemies but Castro Has No Friends
The assassination attempt in March vividly dramatized the
volatility of the Cuban situation and the intensity of anti-Batista
feeling and sparked editorial comment from the Pensacola Journal,
Miami Herald, Tampa Morning Tribune and Florida Times-Union. All
expressed varying degrees of hostility to Batista. Kindest was the
Journal which simply noted that "power as an end in itself is always
a sensitive and destructive explosive." The editorial said the
eruption proved many Latin Americans were not ready for democracy
and that feeling against Batista was high. The paper's main concern,
however, lay with the source of weapons and ammunition for the rebels.
It asked, "what man or men in the country from which the arms were
obtained undertook such a shocking responsibility for gain?"
While the Journal expressed a measure of distaste toward the
Batista government it indicated that it did not feel conditions
merited a revolution. Speaking of the rebels, it noted "force has
never solved one of humanity's problems." It concluded t'this reign
of terror can only result in injury to Cuba."l6
16Pensacola Journal, March 15, 1957.
The Miami Herald, although it was more harsh with Batista,
calling his government a "military dictatorship" that "is being main-
tained now through bloodshed," took a stand similar to the Journal's.
It cautioned, "those who slay brothers to oust such a dictatorship
also must have public confidence that they too are not motivated by
the thirst for the same power."
For its conclusion the Herald struck a note that was to become
familiar in its editorials on the Cuban situation. The paper urged
Cuba to find and unite behind a true patriot whose sole interest lay
in helping his country.7
While the editorials of the Pensacola Journal and Miami Herald
tempered disenchantment with Batista with reservations about the
revolt, editorials in the Tampa Morning Tribune and Florida Times-
Union did not. The Tribune avoided any assessment of the nature of
the revolt saying rebellions .against authoritarian rule are not easy
to judge at the time they happen. As for Batista, the Tribune said
he "will find scant sympathy in this country." It indicated that
revolution was to be expected in Cuba saying "he who comes to power
by the sword must live in its shadow."l8
The most penetrating of the four editorials which appeared after
the March assassination attempt appeared in the Florida Times-Union.
The editorial squarely faced the question of the nature of the anti-
Batista movement and its implications for American policy. A com-
parison of the Hungarian and Cuban revolts, the editorial said the
17Miami Herald, March 15, 1957.
18Tampa Morning Tribune, March 16, 1957.
two countries were ruled by tyrannical regimes which "vary only
slightly." Likewise it noted the similarities in the two revolutions.
In doing this it dealt with the charge the Cuban revolution was a
Communist revolution by saying that some Communists may have entered
the revolt, but as in the Hungarian revolt,
The backbone of the fighting forces is made up of the
students and the country people, the one group interested
in ideas, the other in individual freedom from oppression
But the Times-Union pointed out a dangerous paradox in United
States policies toward revolutions noting that in Latin America
the U.S. often supported dictators because they were anti-Communist.
The paper commented:
There is danger in this courseif, in our
eagerness to.oppose communism, we forget to support
liberty. Past U.S. policies in Latin America have
aided the Reds to obtain popularity. When United
States policy supports a totalitarian dictator,
those free men disgusted with the regime turn from
us to become easy listeners to the promises of our
enemies, the Communists.19
If the Times-Union editorial in March was the most penetrating,
the most vitriolic editorial appeared in the Tampa Morning Tribune in
September following the Cienfuegos uprising. Even its title, "Come
Back, Fulgencito," was insulting as it used the Spanish diminutive
"ito" making the title read, "Come Back, Little Fulgencio." The paper
said "Castro's successful guerrilla warfare" and repeated insurrec-
tions 'indicate a broad and rising popular discontent against the
Batista regime," and maintained "there will be neither peace nor
19 Florida Times-Union, March 7.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, March 15, 1957.
freedom in Cuba until Batista is deposed." In order "to get his foot
off Cuba's neck," the Tampa paper invited Batista to return to Daytona
Beach, while he was still able: "Come back, Fulgencito. At Daytona
lies obscurity but in Cuba, a thousand bullets bear your name.
Thus, as 1958 approached and the Cuban revolution appeared to be
gaining momentum, the Batista regime had come under some sort of
attack from four of the papers with the MorninqgTribune by far the
most outspoken. It remained to be seen whether this disenchantment
with Batista would be turned into support for Castro.
2Between 1944 and 1949 Batista lived in exile in Daytona Beach.
21 Tribune, September 9, 195
Tampa Morning Tribune, September 9, 1957.
SPRING 1958: A FALSE ALARM
The revolution picked up steam following the outbreak in
Cienfuegos. During the early months of 1958 revolutionary acts of
violence occurred with increasing frequency and intensity. Several
attempts to bring about conciliation failed, and as spring approached
the spectre of civil war loomed on the horizon. Castro, made confi-
dent by a rising tide of rebel successes and the inability of Batista
to destroy the rebels, in mid-March announced an intensified campaign
to overthrow the government. Key to the campaign was to be a revolu-
tionary general strike which Castro expected would topple the Batista
By this time the press association reporters apparently had
established contacts with rebel organizations in Cuba, and perhaps
partly because of this, news stories in all five papers emphasized the
seriousness of the situation and, as never before, indicated the
revolution posed an imminent threat to the government. News reports in
the Miami Herald and Tampa Morning Tribune said Castro's strike threat
"sent fear surging through Cuba." Another Herald story was headlined
"Terror Takes Reins in Cuba."2 On March 12 increased fighting was
Miami Herald and Tampa Morning Tribune, March 9, 1958.
Miami Herald, March 9, 1958.
reported in Oriente province, the government again suspended all con-
stitutional guarantees, and Batista's cabinet walked out "en masse."
This story was page one in all five papers. If nothing else,.it was
apparent that the revolution had reached the stage where the threats
and announcements of the insurgents were matters of concern for the
regime and the people of Cuba and an important source of news for the
Editorially, the step-up in rebel activity brought mixed reactions.
The Herald expressed displeasure with both the "dictator-like" actions
of Batista and the terrorism of the rebels in burning sugar fields
and industrial establishments which "strikes at the national economy"
and "injures the very people whom Castro professes to represent."3
The Tribune, on the other hand, saw the increased rebel activity
as another indication of the unpopularity of the Batista dictatorship.
"In so far as one can estimate these things," the Tribune said, "an
overwhelming majority of the Cuban people must be opposed to Batista
now." Saying that it was becoming apparent the Ide's of March were
nearing for Batista, the Tribune concluded, "certain it is that
Fulgencio Batista will find few mourners when he falls from power."
Threat to Ultimatum
Rebels Apparently Gain Momentum
In mid-March the rebel threat to call a general strike turned
Ibid., March 14, 1958.
Ibid., Tampa Morning Tribune, March 14, 1958.
into an ultimatum for Batista to step down by April 5 or be overthrown
by a revolutionary general strike coordinated with action by Castro's
troops. The Florida Times-Union was first with the story running a
dispatch by Jules Dubois of the Chicago Tribune Press Service on
March 17. Dubois described Castro as "confident of victory." The
story was picked up by the press associations and the other papers the
For the next two weeks news reports from Cuba told of an approach-
ing showdown in the revolt, and the emphasis generally was on the
effectiveness of the rebel actions. On March 19 all five papers
carried an AP story describing Havana's streets and stores as deserted
following Castro's ultimatum. The next day the Tribune ran a dispatch
from International News Service saying unconfirmed reports were cir-
culating in Havana that Batista's wife had fled Cuba. The rumors
proved to be false, but they indicated the tension in Havana. Indeed
the situation had grown so serious that elections scheduled for June 1
were postponed until November 3.
As March came to a close the rebels were running at high tide.
On the 30th all five papers carried front page stories from the
Associated Press telling that the rebels were arming civilians in prep-
aration for the showdown against the Batista government. The story
also reported that Batista had asked the Cuban congress for extraor-
dinary powers to crush any attempted uprising or strike, and commented,
"it was the first time the Batista regime showed any alarm over the
possibility of a general uprising." Potentially even more ominous
for the Batista regime the story also said there were "unconfirmed
reports of soldiers deserting and fleeing to the mountains to join
Castro." On the same day the Orlando Sentinel ran an AP story by
Larry Allen which said that while Batista was planning to hold power
until the November elections, "most of his countrymen don't think he
will last that long."
The start of April found the rebels at their highest point in
the 17-month-old rebellion.5 On April 1 Castro launched the first
phase of his "total war" against the Batista government, and reports
of this activity in the five papers on April 2 generally told of
rebel successes, especially in disrupting communications in Oriente
province. There were also reports of workers leaving their jobs
even though no strike call had yet been issued.
Editorially, the Tampa Tribune responded to Castro's ultimatum
with another strong statement calling for Batista to resign and leave
Cuba so the island could be spared bloodshed and terror. In addition
the editorial contained a veiled threat to the dictator: "Surely
Batista himself would rather quit Cuba under his own power than to
leave the presidential palace on a slab."6
The Tide Begins to Turn
April 3 was a turning point, as indications of rebel successes
began to level off and there were increasing indications that the
SThe United States government at this point stopped supplying the
Batista government with arms and ammunition. The American military
mission, which helped train Batista's troops, remained in Cuba until
after Castro had come to power.
6Tampa Morning Tribune, March 19, 1958.
Batista regime might weather the storm. On that day the Herald and
the Journal gave big play to the announcement that Rafael Trujillo'had
rushed five planeloads of arms and ammunition to Cuba and toaid his
brother dictator and former enemy Fulgencio Batista.
The big news for the Sentinel on that day, however, was that
Cuba's outlawed Communist party had pledged support for the rebel
general strike. That story was carried under a five column headline
reading "Cuban Commies Support Castro." The Sentinel followed the
story with an editorial entitled "Commies in Cuba." While admitting
that the announcement may have been purely an opportunistic move to
try to gain influence if Batista fell, the Sentinel warned, "the U.S.
certainly wouldn't want to see a nest of Commies in high positions in
a country so close to us as Cuba."
News of the Communist announcement was also carried by the Tribune
and the Herald, but it was not assigned much importance. George
Southworth in the Herald called it "more of a political maneuver than
evidence of a tieup with Castro." He wrote that when all the evidence
has been weighedoneisAlikely to decide "that communism does not play
an important role in the current Cuban situation." Then as if to add
controversy from the other end of the political spectrum the Herald
ran a picture of new Cuban army recruits with the following caption:
"This group of 350 recruits giving a Nazi-like salute were added to
Batista's growing military forces."
The reports of increased rebel activity in Oriente, Batista's
asking for and receiving emergency aid from his former enemy, Rafael
Trujillo, and the Communists apparently jumping on the rebel bandwagon
all indicated unprecedented rebel strength. The Herald, however,
indicated that strength was not yet sufficient to the job. George
Southworth reported on April 3 that Batista appeared to still hold the
upper hand. Furthermore, this period saw the first criticism of the
rebel movement by the Tampa Tribune. The paper attacked Castro for
launching an offensive that promised to bring violence and bloodshed
to Cuba during Holy Week.7 For the next six days the revolution
existed on a sensitive balance. News reports alternatively indicated
rebel confidence and despair, government confidence and despair and
rebel and government successes and failures.
Nevertheless, there were indications the momentum was slipping
away from the rebels. An AP story carried by every paper but the
Herald told of disenchantment among Castro's supporters because of
the long delay of the strike call.9 Things looked worse on April 9
as the wire services reported that government forces had smashed a
rebel move on Santiago in the heart of rebel strength. George
Southworth, who happened to be in Santiago at the time of the sup-
posed rebel attack, however, reported for the Herald that he couldn't
find any evidence of a battle. He cautioned his readers that whatever
happened in the next few days in Cuba neither side had the power to
bring an end to Cuba's political disruption.
71bid., April 3, 1958.
Among the reported government successes were stories that govern-
ment troops had isolated a group of rebels led by Fidel Castro. But
dispatches from both press services in all five papers on April 16 men-
tioned that such reports had proved false in the past and said Havana
was skeptical of their accuracy.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Orlando Sentinel, Pensacola.
Journal and Tampa Morning Tribune, April 6, 1958.
A Long Run for a Short Slide
Despite the long buildup, when the attempted uprising and general
strike came on April 9 it was singularly unsuccessful. Newspaper
reports on the 10th, except for the Pensacola Journal, all emphasized
the almost total ineffectiveness of the rebel attempt.0 The AP report
carried by the Sentinel, Times-Union and Morning Tribune called the
action "daring, but poorly timed and badly coordinated." These papers
and the Herald reported only 100 men in Havana answered the rebel call
for an armed uprising against Batista. James Buchanan, a Herald
reporter in Havana, said the attempt "appeared to have failed
The similarity between the AP dispatch and Buchanan's story
indicate both the AP reporter and Buchanan were using the same source.
In fact both the AP and Buchanan's story contained the following
sentence: "Scanty reports out of Oriente Province, hotbed of the Castro
rebellion, indicated no unusual activity there." While such duplica-
tions were not common they did occur occasionally in the coverage of
The post mortem of the revolution showed:unanimous agreement that
the rebels had suffered a severe setback. Buchanan reported that there
was no doubt in the mind of the average Havana citizen "that Castro
The Journal apparently had an earlier deadline than the other
papers for occasionally it missed a late breaking story or merely ran
a bulletin on it. The Journal story on April 10 was obviously an
'suffered terribly' as a result of the fiasco."ll All papers reported
dissension in the ranks of the Havana rebels.
But all the reports were not negative for the rebels. Buchanan
reported that Castro was "scoring more than usual success in Santiago"
before news of the disaster in Havana forced him to call off his big
push.12 The AP story of the Santiago failure also told of thousands
of workers obeying a strike call even in the face of a government
decree ordering permanent dismissal of workers leaving their jobs.13
Another AP story reported, "it is probably no exaggeration to say that
80 per cent of the nation's six million people oppose Batista."14
None of the press reports mentioned the role of the Communists
in thwarting the strike. The Reds had helped to sabotage the strike.
Later in an open letter to the rebels they claimed the strike had
failed because the rebels had refused to secure Communist aid.15
Actually, little significance should be drawn from the failure to
include this information. The earlier announcement of Communist
support for the rebels had not been given much credence except by the
Editorially, Castro's attempt won him no friends and disclosed
one antagonist. The Herald saw the events as proof Cuba's unrest
llMiami Herald, April 13, 1958.
13Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Pensacola Journal and Tampa
Morning Tribune, April 11, 1958.
J1acksonville Florida Times-Union, Orlando Sentinel, Pensacola
Journal and Tampa Morning Tribune, April 13, 1958.
15phillips, p. 352.
would be of long duration. It called the situation "deplorable" and
expressed hope that somehow Cuba could find a 'Y'true, inspired patriot"
who would cure her economic and political ills.16
The Tampa Morning Tribune for the second time added criticism of
the rebels to its criticism of Batista. It said there were three sides
to the Cuban revolution, Batista's, Castro's and the Cuban people's.
After dealing with Batista, the Tribune called Castro "the idol of
impressionable young people," and criticized his lack of a positive
program. It suggested that Batista resign in favor of'a union govern-
ment which would then hold elections under the auspices of the
Organization of American States. In view of the bitterness of the
struggle the suggestion was unrealistic, and the Tribune seemed to
realize this saying that it was perhaps hoping for too much.17
The Orlando Sentinel, which had been the only paper to refrain
from attacking Batista, took advantage of Castro's defeat to state
its position which was strongly pro-Batista and anti-Castro. "There
has been too little substantiated news from Cuba to indict Batista,"
the Sentinel said. According to the paper, "new.hotels, new indus-
tries andprosperity were all over the place until Castro started his
war." As for the revolution, the paper said the failure of the
April uprising "spotlights the affair as more of a Communist plot
than a spontaneous movement of the people."18
1Miami Herald, April 11, 1958.
17Tampa Morning Tribune, April 11, 1958.
180rlando Sentinel, April 11, 1958.
Thus, after a big buildup, perhaps somewhat exaggerated because
information from rebel sources was used for the first time in any "
significant extent, the spring attempt failed, indicating that while
the Cuban people were apparently anti-Batista they were not willing
to risk all for Castro. Although news stories had indicated the
possibility of success by Castro, none of the papers championed his
cause. In fact, the Orlando Sentinel labeled the movement Communist
while others criticized Castro's tactics. Still, all but the
Sentinel remained anti-Batista in editorial line, thus there was
still a reservoir of potential support for Castro if the defeat
in April did not prove fatalto the movement.
THE REBELS KIDNAP AMERICANS
Although little was heard from or about the rebels for many
weeks following the April debacle, that defeat had not ended the
revolt. In mid-summer of 1958 it burst back into the public lime-
light with a vengeance. In a series of spectacular raids in Southeast
Cuba near America's Guantanamo naval base, a rebel.group under the
direction of Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother, kidnapped 50
North American citizens including American and Canadian civilians
and U.S. Marines and sailors.
From the day the story broke, June 28, until the last hostages
were released, some three weeks later, the story was an important
source of news for all five papers. At the beginning, little con-
cern was shown. All five papers reported that American officials
expected early release of the captives, who apparently had been
kidnapped in retaliation for alleged U.S. aid to Batista. The
rebels charged, and the U.S. Embassy denied, that Batista's war-
planes were using the Guantanamo naval base airport for refueling and
bombing operations against the rebels.
As July began and the rebel raids did not stop, however, it was
becoming apparent the kidnapping could turn into a serious matter.
News stories on July 1 reassessed the probable motives behind the
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, Pensacola
Journal, Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel, June 28-29, 1958.
kidnapping, and both AP and UPI stories speculated that they were
ordered to prevent an attack from 12,000 government troops which had
massed in the area for a new offensive. The desire for publicity was
also given as a probable explanation.2
If the latter was the motive, editorials of July 1 indicated it
was an ill-considered tactic. The Cuban kidnapping came at a time
when American citizens were being detained in Russia, East Germany and
Red China. Feelings were sensitive in this country over our failure
to secure the release of these men. Thus, the Cuban kidnapping
irritated already festering wounds, and the first editorial reactions
on July 1 indicated America's frustration and pain.
Three of the four editorials appearing on that day linked the
Cuban kidnapping with the other detained Americans and expressed
displeasure with the failure of American policy to protect its
citizens. The most blunt was the Orlando Sentinel which said, "it's
time nations again were taught respect for U.S. nationals." Both
the Florida Times-Union in an editorial titled "Uncle Sam Should
Drop This Hat-in-Hand Role," and the Miami Herald in an editorial
titled "Hands Off U.S. Citizens" recalled that in the past America
had taken decisive actions to protect its citizens. The Herald,
somewhat wistfully, commented, "evidently that has gone out of
fashion, or been discarded." The Times-Union conceded it would be
unwise to "run rough-shod" over any nation that crossed the U.S.
but asked, "how long can we take the current treatment and retain
our self respect?"
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, Pensacola
Journal and Tampa Tribune, July 1, 1958.
The Tampa Tribune devoted its lead editorial to an attack on
the rebels for the kidnapping. It suggested that Castro, rebuffed
in April by the Cuban people, was attempting to dramatize his cause
and take advantage of latent. anti-American sentiment in Latin America.
The Tribune also commented that until the kidnapping Castro had
"enjoyed widespread sympathy in the United States,"but now would
very likely lose this important source of support.
By July 2 the kidnapping story was breaking on two fronts, one
in Cuba, the other in the United States. The news from Cuba included
speculation that two American envoys sent to negotiate with the
rebels for the release of the captives had themselves been seized.
Meanwhile, the rebels' earlier charges of U.S. aid to Batista were
explained and partially substantiated by a UPI story saying the
American Embassy had disclosed that it had delivered 300 rockets to
the Batista government in May in fulfillment of an agreement
inaugurated before the American cessation of arms shipments.
Stories from Washington in all papers but the Journal told of
indignation in the capital over the kidnapping raids. Secretary of
State, John Foster Dulles, accused the rebels of conducting a black-
mail campaign to force U.S. intervention in Cuba. Some congress-
men, notably Republican Senate leader William F. Knowland, encouraged
such intervention. He said the United States should furnish the
Cuban government with sufficient arms and ammunition to fight the
rebels if the captives were not released within 48 hours.
Miami Herald and Tampa Tribune, July 2, 1958.
John McDermott of the Herald seemed to sympathize with Knowland's
view. He decried the position the United States had assumed in the
incident and asked, "has U.S. foreign policy gone soft?" Of prime
consideration to McDermott was American prestige. He said, "around
the world we must be looking like prize dumbbells," and commented,'
"for a nation which supposedly is the leader of the Free World, this
is anything but good."4
There were other columnists and politicians, however, who refused
to become agitated by the Cuban developments. Peter Lisagor, in a
column on the same page as McDermott's, reported that American
officials were confident that now that Castro had gotten back into the
news he would soon release the prisoners. He chided those who wist-
fully referred to the past use of gunboat diplomacy saying that policy
"began to go out of vogue with high button shoes," and had "vanished
completely in a mushroom cloud a few years back." For his part,
President Eisenhower firmly rejected the use of any militant action,
and on July 2 the rebels released five of their civilian captives.
With the return of these men the question of the motivation
behind the kidnapping became even more complex. The released
captives reported the rebels had taken them to bombed areas and
showed them fragments from American bombs with the hope that these
men would rally public opinion against further military aid by the
U.S. government to Batista's regime. In the days that followed the
Herald was to give much space to this aspect of the kidnapping.
Miami Herald, July 2, 1958.
The Sentinel, on the other hand, ran a story on July 3 saying
that the rebels in Santiago "had defied" demands in the U.S. to use
force to return the captives. According to this account "the rebel
attitude bolstered the belief of some observers here (Washington) that
the kidnapping were a bid for U.S. intervention in Cuba's creeping
revolt rather than retaliation for alleged U.S. aid to the government."
The situation became even more muddled when all papers but the
Herald reported that Fidel Castro had broadcast an order to his
followers to release any Americans and Canadians they might have
seized.5 Later an AP story in the Journal, Sentinel and Times-
Union reported "rebel radio broadcasts said Fidel Castro had ordered
his brother to free all captives." These announcements suggested
a possibility the kidnapping had taken place without Fidel's prior
Nevertheless, it was still generally assumed that Fidel was
behind the kidnapping, and the Sentinel took advantage of this to
strengthen its pro-Batista, anti-Castro editorial position. Calling
Batista "a friend of this nation," the Sentinel said, "now almost 50
U.S. nationals and at least 29 in the uniform of the nation are held
in Cuba by a rebel leader whose history includes two trials for murder
and almost constant action in behalf of Latin American Communist
5Tampa Tribune, July 3 and 4, 1958; Jacksonville Florida Times-
Union, Orlando Sentinel and Pensacola Journal, July 4, 1958.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Orlando Sentinel and Pensacola
Journal, July 5, 1958.
leaders." More importantly, the Sentinel became the first of the five
papers to suggest American men be sent to get rid of Castro. "It
wouldn't take long," the paper said, "and it would impress the entire
Latin American community that the U.S. means business.. .."
The Pensacola Journal, though, spoke out in favor of the American
policy. Unlike other papers which in varying degrees decried the lack
of U.S. action, the Journal said the American policy was destined to
cause the rebel plan to fail since'the President has rightly turned
thumbs down on sending in Marines for which Castro had hoped."8
Linked with this debate over the sagacity of American policy
were the theories on the motivations behind the kidnapping. The
Sentinel based its militant stand on the belief that the kidnappings
were part of a world-wide Communist conspiracy directed from the
Kremlin. In addition the Sentinel claimed that Castro's ultimate
goal was to destroy American prestige. "Rebel leader Fidel Castro
has a pro-Communist record which dovetails perfectly with the Red
kidnapping policy he has adopted in the global campaign to destroy
The Journal pictured Castro with similar but more modest goals.
It said, "Castro's purpose seems to have been to invite American
intervention so that he could charge the U.S. was upholding dictator
70rlando Sentinel, July 4, 1958.
Pensacola Journal, July 7, 1958.
90rlando Sentinel, July 11, 1958.
Batista and thus gain the support of dissident Latin American
These views were in direct conflict with a report filed by James
Buchanan of the Miami Herald. Writing from Cuba, Buchanan maintained
the servicemen were being held "as a trump card to force compliance
with demands for strictest U.S. neutrality."ll This analysis squared
more with the rebels announced reasons for the kidnapping and the
reports of those men released by the rebels.
There was still the possibility that the raids had no place in
the formal rebel policy. This possibility was strengthened by further
reports that Fidel had again ordered his brother to release the
remaining captives "immediately." These orders suggested again
that if Fidel had ordered the kidnapping he did not expect or desire
them to become a political hot potato and had attempted to extract
himself from an unpopular position as quickly as possible. A
subsequent story in the Herald tended to remove Fidel from implica-
tion in the planning of the kidnapping raids as it quoted "informed
sources," which absolved him from complicity in the raids. .'They said
the elder Castro had no hand in the kidnapping and was irked at Raul's
seizure of the prisoners.
With all civilians returned, negotiations for release of the
American servicemen dragged slowly under reports of increasing
10Pensacola Journal, July 7, 1958.
Miami Herald, July 7, 1958.
Miami Herald and Pensacola Journal, July 11, 1958.
13Miami Herald, July 12, 1958.
impatience with the rebels who supposedly were demanding recognition
from the United States government. On July 12 an AP story in the
Tribune, Journal and Times-Union quoted the commandant of the naval
base as saying the Castro brothers had hurt their cause in an attempt
to blackmail the United States into recognition. Two days later a
UPI story in the Herald and Times-Union reported that sources at
Guantanamo said it was obvious the rebels were holding up release of
the men in an attempt to gain some sort of recognition from the
American government. The attempt failed, and after another slight
delay the rebels began to free the servicemen. When the Lebanon
crisis broke, all remaining hostages were released.
James Buchanan, who had gone into the mountains and found' Raul
Castro's band, came up with an excellent postscript to the episode,
shedding light on some of the background story of the kidnapping.
Buchanan reported that the younger Castro "enjoyed every second he
had kept our State Department and Navy in embarrassing suspense."
He said the decision to stage the kidnapping "was Raul Castro's and
Raul's alone." By their actions, Buchanan related, the rebels had
gained breathing time in their fight with Batista but had failed
to get what Raul "most wanted: A slip of paper--just any slip of
paper that would show the U.S. recognizes the rebels as an indepen-
In summary, the rebels had regaLned publicity by their actions.
Nevertheless, they had done so at the risk of much prestige and
4Ibid., July 20, 1958.
support. Kidnapping is among the most serious crimes in American law
and the outraged reaction of many Americans was to be expected.
Furthermore, the timing of the kidnapping, with Americans concerned
with the fate of fellow citizens held behind the iron curtain, could
only amplify the American reaction.
The press associations and the papers had occasionally supported
questionable analyses in assessing the motives of the kidnapping
raids. It stretches credulity to maintain that the kidnapping were
ordered to provoke U.S. intervention in order to attract anti-
American sentiment throughout the hemisphere or were part of a
global Communist conspiracy to destoy U.S. prestige. The rebels were
engaged in the deadly serious business of revolution. Any move designed
to bring the United States into the struggle on the side of Batista in
exchange for moral support from Latin America would have been sheer
insanity. Likewise, it is difficult to believe the rebels would risk
their movement and their lives to conform with the desires of some
global ideological movement.
The rebels did attain some limited benefits from the kidnapping,
the foremost being a breathing space in the war with Batista and
renewed publicity. But as has been shown, the rebels paid a stiff
price. It remained to be seen whether the kidnapping had permanently
colored American opinion toward the rebels.
FALL 1958: REBEL TACTICS CRITICIZED
The rebels were only sporadically active during late summer and
early fall, but as the long-postponed-national elections approached
the rebels stepped up their activities and again ran afoul of American
opinion. The kidnapping of two Americans late in October created
little immediate interest in the papers. Two days later, however,
when the captives were released the papers carried stories telling of
sharp official reaction to the rebels' actions. A UPI story in the
Journal reported the State Department had issued "a harshly worded
statement" concerning the kidnapping.
Furthermore, the American government took some action by
evacuating more than 50 U.S. citizens from its Nicaro Nickel plant
in Oriente province. Rebels had moved into the area of the plant and
the evacuation had taken place supposedly to prevent further kidnap-
pings. Again official American annoyance with the rebels was
portrayed in an AP story in the Tribune and the Sentinel which quoted
a State Department official as saying, "we're damned sick and tired
of having Americans kidnapped from time to time."2
Pensacola Journal, October 24, 1958.
Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, October 24, 4958.
The evacuation of American citizens from Nicaro Nickel plant led
to a bitter outburst from Fidel Castro. In a rebel broadcast follow-
ing the evacuation Castro warned the United States to stay out of the
rebellion. He called the American statements about the kidnapping
aggressivee declarations," and charged that the American ambassador
Earl E. T. Smith was plotting with Batista to provoke direct American
intervention in Cuba. The rebel leader maintained the current crisis
had been initiated when Smith and Batista agreed on the withdrawal
of Cuban troops from Nicaro in the hope it would force America to
take actions involving itself in the Cuban dispute. The story of
Castro's warning and charges were given page-one treatment by all
except the Sentinel and Times-Union.
There 'was sharp editorial reaction to Castro's statements. The
Orlando Sentinel called Castro's values "cockeyed" and said "the only
thing people like Castro understand is force."3 The Herald termed
Castro's broadcast "impudent" and called his followers "brigands."4
Harshest of all was the Tribune which evaluated the rebel moves as
"misguided press agentry designed to publicize the revolution and let
us know it is still going on, despite the failure of Castro's call for
a general uprising early this year." The Tribune said Americans were
once sympathetic with Castro but now "we suspect that American opinion,
summed up and addressed to Senors Batista and Castro, now would say:
A plague on both your houses."
3Orlando Sentinel, October 29, 1958.
4Miami Herald, October 28, 1958.
5Tampa Tribune, October 27, 1958.
Indeed, according to a Trendex News Poll in the Florida Times-
Union the rebels had failed to win American sympathy. The poll which
sampled opinion on the revolutions in Algeria, Cyprus and Cuba showed:
that while Americans favored the rebels in Algeria and Cyprus, in' Cuba
more Americans favored Batista than the rebels. The biggest factor in
limiting support of the Cuban rebels to 31 per cent as opposed to 38
per cent for Batista apparently was the kidnapping of Americans by the
As November approached attention turned to the upcoming elections.
David Kraslow reporting from Washington for the Herald said the official
U.S view was "that the most crucial period of the two-year-old rebel-
lion is at hand." He quoted his source as saying Castro must make some
move between November 1 and the date the new Cuban administration would
take over, February 27. Castro's chances for success were believed to
lie in either a crippling general strike or a big military offensive.
In view of later events this story proved remarkably prophetic.
With Castro's main attention centered on disrupting the planned
November 3 election,all papers reported stepped-up rebel activity in
Oriente on October 30. The following day the Herald carried a story
by George Southworth telling of a drastic rebel campaign of violence.
Southworth said, "rebels were told they could kill any candidate for
national., provincial or municipal office .. Cubans were warned
they risked their lives if they voted."
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, November 2, 1958.
7Miami Herald, October 26, 1958.
On the eve of the election, in the midst of reports of increased
rebel activity, a passenger plane was hijacked during a Miami-to-
Havana run, and while attempting to land in rebel territory crashed,
killing 17 of the 20 on board. The rebels had hijacked another plane
earlier and although they denied any involvement in the fatal hijack-
ing all news reports linked the rebels with the disastrous stunt.
The hijacking brought forth-another harsh statement from the U.S.
State Department deploring acts of brigandage and violence. An inves-
tigation was begun to see if the rebels were responsible as the Cuban
government and the airline charged. A UPI story in the Herald and
Journal noted that U.S. information on the incident had come not from
interviews with survivors but from airline officials. Nevertheless,
the assumption continued that rebels were responsible, and it was
safe to assume that if the hijacking had not been orderedby rebel
leaders it had been done by rebel partisans caught in the spirit of the
fierce attempt to disrupt national elections.
Despite rebel efforts, the elections took place, and to no one's
surprise, Batista's candidate, Andres Rivero Aguero, won handily.
There was little hope the election would settle anything, and the
news reports in the five papers on November 5 did not express any
optimism for the end of the civil struggle.
Editorially, the rebels took another beating for their tactics.
The Herald on November 4 called the hijacking of the Cuban airliner
"an outrage," and said "the Castro excesses have passed all bounds
Miami Herald and Pensacola Journal, November 4, 1958.
of sanity." Commenting on charges of election rigging, the Tribune
said Gallup could have predicted the outcome of the election "without
sampling a soul." The Tribune joined in attacking the rebels saying
if Castro ever came to power he "might be worse than Batista.' Only
the pro-Batista Orlando Sentinel saw the results of the election as
significant. "Castro has been beaten many times by the Cuban army,"
said the Sentinel,'"but this time he was beaten by the voters. It
may be more effective."0 Suprisingly, harshest of all, was the
Pensacola Journal. The Journal, which had steadfastly supported
Eisenhower's policy of nonintervention during the June and July
kidnapping controversy reversed its position after the fatal election-
eve hijacking. While throwing a bone to nonintervention the Journal
said the lives of American citizens were involved and that if
Needs assistance in cleaning out the brigands posing
as rebels seeking freedom from the Batista dictatorship,
the time is approaching when he should get it from this 11
country in the form of well armed Marine or Army forces.
The election had been held and it had settled little. The revo-
lution would continue. But if David Kraslow's report was correct
a big move could be expected from the rebels before Aguero was
scheduled to take office in February. It would probably come in the
form of another attempt at a general strike or a large-scale military
Tampa Tribune, November 5, 1958.
O1rlando Sentinel, November 13, 1958.
1Pensacola Journal, November 14, 1958.
If and when it did come the rebels could expect little moral
support from the five newspapers, despite the fact that four of them
had expressed editorial opposition to Batista. The kidnapping in
the summer had not been forgotten, and the rebel efforts to prevent
the election had only heightened editorial displeasure with rebel
THE FALL OF BATISTA MISSED BY THE PAPERS
If the press associations and the newspapers which use them could
have their way the coverage of the Cuban revolution in December of
1958 would probably never be mentioned. For after following the revolt
during a long two-year period, when the climax came the press associa-
tions and the newspapers using them were looking in the wrong direction.
The forces which had mobilized so well to cover the false alarm in
April were in many respects caught napping in December. In addition,
as rebel successes began to grow in significance news reports from
the most commonly used press association, the Associated Press, seemed
to display an anti-rebel bias.
On December 11 after the return of former judge Manuel Urrutia
to Oriente, Fidel Castro announced the rebels were going to establish
a provisional government with Urrutia as President. The Herald in
a story by George Southworth speculated the move was a preliminary
step to mediation of Cuba's civil war by the United States. A UPI
story in the Journal, Tribune and Times-Union, however, saw the move
as an attempt to add new energy to the revolt through recognition of
the provisional government by other Latin American nations.2
Miami Herald, December 12, 1958.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Pensacola Journal and Tampa
Tribune, December 12, 1958.
Editorially, the Herald indicated dispair over the conditions in
Cuba, picturing the situation as a hopeless stalemate with neither.
side being able to defeat the other. This view was taken although
the Herald noted the power of the rebels."seems to be growing" and
also that "government troops have no will to fight their brothers in
the cruel guerrilla struggle that is now in its third year." It was
just these two factors which were shortly to provide the impetus of
the rebel victory, but their significance was not seen at this
time. The Herald, obviously tired of the prolonged revolution, said
in language similar to a Tribune editorial a month earlier, "the
common people of Cuba cry a plague on both houses. They have no
love for Batista and no confidence in Castro."3 Although subsequent
news stories in the Herald reported that Batista was having trouble
with his rubber-stamp congress, that the revolt was spreading, and
that there were doubts about the loyalty of the army, the rebels
still were not given much chance of success. George Southworth
concluded in one story, "even if the rebel groups were united they
could not hope to defeat the combined military strength of the
Newspapers and press associations weren't the only ones destined
to place their collective feet in their collective mouths in December.
Senator Alien Ellender of Louisiana,speaking at a press conference
in Havana on December 12, said he thought the press had greatly
3Miami Herald, December 13, 1958.
lbid., December 14, 1958.
exaggerated the Cuban situation. According to a UPI story in the
Herald, "Ellender said he had found no unrest but conceded,
'I might be wrong.'" Ellender called the rebels a bunch of
bandits," and refused an invitation to meet with Castro saying, "I
certainly am not going to become involved in the internal affairs of
a sister republic."5 Needless to say, these remarks did not sit
well with Fidel Castro who soon was to be the leader of the nation.
The storm clouds were gathering around the middle of the month.
On December 16 the Tribune reported the Cuban army was preparing a
major Christmas offensive against the rebels. One day later the
same paper said the rebels were preparing to increase their activity
in Las Villas province. The first report of the government offensive
came in an AP story in the Herald, Tribune and Journal on December 20.
The stories in the first two papers by William L. Ryan said the
offensive would be bolstered "by tons of new military equipment
which arrived yesterday from England."
The following day all papers but the Herald carried an analysis
of the Cuban situation by Ryan which, while somewhat kind to Batista,
proved remarkably prophetic. Ryan saw a tragic irony in the long
fight against the Batista regime, which he said by Cuban standards
had been "fairly respectable." The country had been so disrupted by
the events of the last two years, Ryan said, that even though the
rebels were fighting to oust a dictator their efforts were bound to
be in vain for even if the rebels won "nothing but a dictatorship
could possibly rule Cuba in the wake of this revolt."
5Ibid., December 13, 1958.
As the month and the year were drawing to a close the newspapers
were silent on the government offensive, but instead began to carry
stories of rebel military victories. The Miami Herald carried such
stories on the 23rd and Christmas. On December 26 reports of rebel
successes appeared in all but the Pensacola Journal. Both an AP
story and a Chicago Tribune Press Service dispatch said the rebel
advances in central Cuba had confronted the government "with a
rapidly deteriorating situation." There was still little awareness
of the importance of the battles, however, as the Tribune story was
only four paragraphs long and the Times-Union story was run on
News out of Cuba continued to tell of rebel successes in their
drive to capture the eastern half of Cuba. A UPI dispatch quoted
a rebel broadcast by Ernesto "Che" Guevara claiming the rebels
would soon enter Santa Clara, the capital of Las Villas province.
The UPI story described Guevara as an "Argentine-born physician and
one of Castro's chief lieutenants," The AP described Guevara simply
as "an Argentine leftwinger."7 In addition AP stories claimed the
rebels' successes were due in great part to the fact:that the govern-
ment was suffering from a lack of arms. This analysis seemingly
ignored an earlier AP story telling of the arrival of tons of new
arms from England.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Pensacola Journal,
December 27, 1958.
7Tampa Tribune, December 27, 1958.
Miami Herald, Pensacola Journal and Tampa Tribune, December 27,
With the continued rebel successes there was a growing awareness
that the revolution was reaching perhaps its most vital phase. In an
editorial the Herald noted a great increase in the number of Cuban
pesos being changed into American dollars. Calling money "a sensitive
barometer of revolutions," the Herald speculated, "perhaps something
big is in the Cuban wind."9 News on December 28 substantiated this
speculation as all five papers gave the Cuban story front-page space,
reporting that Batista had shaken up his army command as rebel
successes continued. In addition AP stories in the Times-Union,
Journal and Tribune said, "some government troops are reported balk-
ing at the prospect of a bloody all-out offensive against the rebels
. .." 0 Reports of the next two days told of both government and
rebel offensives, and although there was confusion: as to who was
winning all papers on December 29 reported, "the payoff day of the
two-year-old civil war appeared to be close at hand." It was.
On the last day of 1958 newspaper reports emphasized rebel claims
of success in the decisive battle for Santa Clara. Three ran headlines
repeating rebel predictions of Batista's imminent overthrow. Adding
substance to this claim two of Batista's sons flew to New York. Three
papers reported the government's claim that the youths had just gone
to New York for the holidays and would return immediately.ll
9Miami Herald, December 27, 1958.
10Again these reports emphasized the government was hampered by
a lack of arms and ammunition due to the American embargo. This
ignored the aid Batista got from other countries.
11These were the Times-Union, Sentinel and Tribune. Ironically,
this was the truth since Batista's decision to leave came at the last
moment; Phillips, pp. 393-394.
The AP, which had begun in the latter stages of December to draw
attention to "Che" Guevara and label him a leftist, on the 31st linked
the Communist party with the revolution. An AP story in the Tribune
reported that the party which had long supported Castro had renewed
its allegiance to the revolution. The 22nd paragraph of a 23-paragraph
AP story in the Times-Union referred to the revolution as "Castro's
Communist backed campaign to oust Batista."
As the final day of 1958 told of rebel victories three papers
ran editorials pessimistically appraising Cuba's future. The Tribune
while it continued to indicate it would only be too happy to see
Batista leave also continued to express doubts about the Castro
movement. For the first time it expressed concern over possible
Communist involvement in the revolution, noting it was disturbed by
reports that one of Castro's lieutenants, "an Argentine named Guevara,
is'pro-Communist."12 The Herald and Journal raised questions about
Castro's ability to lead Cuba wisely. The Herald said, "there is
doubt whether Castro's type of leadership would pull Cuba from its
political morass."3 The Journal, noting evidences of anti-American
sentiment by Castro, questioned whether if he won he would "bring
better government than the present regime." While these statements
were critical of the rebels it must be noted that they- were milder
than the evaluations which had appeared early in November. Thus, 1958
ended with the climax of the revolution apparently near, with the
12Tampa Tribune, December 29, 1958.
13Miami Herald, December 31, 1958.
14Pensacola Journal, December 31, 1958.
rebels riding a string of military successes, and with the majority of
the papers expressing editorial opinions critical of Castro.
Then it happened. Batista fled Cuba near midnight New Year's
eve, too late for the morning New Year's day papers. This in itself
would not have led to a journalistic debacle. But the stories which
did run reported the smashing of the rebel offensive by the govern-
ment troops. AP stories in all five papers accompanied by bold
headlines said Batista's troops were routing rebel forces and
driving them out of Las Villas province. Batista was reported
staying in the Presidential palace so he could greet the new year
with an announcement of a sweeping victory over the rebels. Nothing
could have been further from the truth.
There has been no real answer as to how the reports could have
been so wrong. The stories quoted rebel broadcasts calling for rein-
forcements, but neither this nor claims from frequently unreliable
government sources should have been enough to justify the stories
written, especially in light of the recent string of rebel victories
and reports of apathy among government troops. Then too, with this
claim of a smashing government victory the AP would have had to
ignore some of its earlier stories saying the Cuban army did not
have sufficient arms and ammunition to fight the rebels.
In fact in the Herald's AP story on January 1 there was informa-
tion which should have raised serious doubts that the government
was really winning any victory at all. The last paragraph in the
story indicated panic among Cuban government officials, something
that certainly would not have accompanied a Batista victory. The
In Havana, a group of government officials and
lawmakers sought visas from the American embassy to
go to the U.S. Families of some prominent Cubans
already have left for the U.S.
It is almost inconceivable that news of large-scale government
victories could be accepted without question in view of the above
information, especially after the trend of rebel successes and
reports of apathy among Batista's troops.
JANUARY, 1959: MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT REBEL GOVERNMENT
Although the flight of Batista came as a surprise, the press
associations and newspapers rapidly marshalled their forces to pro-
vide exhaustive coverage of the Cuban situation.
Batista had fled, but the power of Castro was not immediately
recognized. The Herald on January 2 asked in a headline, .
Castro to Take Over?" An Associated Press story on the history of
the revolt said it was still in doubt whether Castro would emerge as
the top man in Cuba. The AP's William L. Ryan in a Times-Union
story on the same day said the only hope for peace in Cuba lay in
the possibility Castro might accept mediation from a third party.
Ryan said Castro was in a position where he could hold out for all
or nothing but contended, "if he does, that will be costly for Cuba."
The failure by many to realize immediately Castro's power
probably stemmed partially from a lack of understanding of Batista's
Cuba. While during the revolution news dispatches had at times
reported as much as 80 per cent of the people against Batista, and
although four of the five newspapers studied had with varying fre-
quency and intensity editorially attacked the Batista regime, neither
the press associations nor the newspapers appeared to be aware of
the nature of the Batista regime or the intensity of feeling against
Penscola Journal, January 2, 1959.
During the two-year struggle for power Batista was often called
a dictator, but reports of government terror or torture were extremely
rare. Opposition to Batista was reported to be mainly on the grounds
he was a dictator and he was thwarting the democratic desires of the
Cuban people. Even the Tampa Tribune with the strongest anti-
Batista editorial line did little more than emphasize Batista's
Evaluation of Batista immediately after his fall was very
sympathetic. On January 2 the Herald ran two stories picturing
Batista as a near-hero. A story by Herald managing editor George
Beebe told of Batista's sincere desire to make Cuba the happiest and
most prosperous small nation in the world. He said Batista's program
for progress had gotten off to a good start but had somehow been
stalled. "Fidel Castro thumbing his nose from the Sierra Maestra
was probably a contributing factor," Beebe wrote.
Batista's original popularity was emphasized. Beebe told of
a trip he had made with Batista to Sancti Spiritus where the Cuban
leader was to dedicate "badly needed schools and highways." Beebe
said, "I have never seen a throng of people show such reverence for
a benefactor." This incident took place after 1952 when Batista had
returned to power through a coup. Another Herald story on the same
day also emphasized the early popularity of Batista, but, somewhat
contradictory to Beebe's story, said Batista's popularity had
waned by 1952. Batista was said t6 have been rated as the third
man in a three-man field as the 1952 election approached.
Of course leading the pro-Batista voices was the Orlando Sentinel
which editorially called the fall of the Cuban dictatorship "a blow
to the Western Hemisphere." It said Batista "introduced tourism to
Cuba, built many swanky hotels, did a lot of economic good for the
country he loved."
As January progressed, knowledge of the nature of the Batista
regime slowly increased. William Ryan in an AP story carried by the
Journal, Sentinel and Times-Union called the Batista rule "repressive
and often wantonly cruel." Still, however, the two major indictments
against Batista were that "Cubans were ruled by a dictator who gave
no freedoms; and Batista's followers and family/amassed fortunes at
public expense.3 And the Pensacola Journal could still say in an
editorial on January 5 that there was some truth to Batista's claim
that his rule was benevolent. A day later the Tribune mentioning
Batista said he was "at least, pro-American." Nevertheless, claiming
it had learned much in the last few days, the Sentinel on January 7
did an abrupt about face and criticized the Batista regime. Its
editorial attacked Batista's dictatorial policies and the graft in
Most damaging to the Batista reputation were the reports of
torture and terror under his rule that began to appear in the papers.
One such story told of the discovery of a mass grave of 160 mutilated
anti-Batista political prisoners at a town 60 miles from Havana. In
2Orlando Sentinel, January 2, 1959.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Orlando Sentinel, Pensacola
Journal, January 4, 1959.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Miami Herald, January 12,
light of these and similar reports the Tribune remarked that appar-
ently "Batista had gathered around him a prize collection of gunmen
and experts in torture."5
The surprise victory of Castro and the revelations about the
terror and torture under Batista put the papers in a somewhat awkward
position. The Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald and Tampa Tribune all
editorially admitted they had been ill-informed on the nature of the
Batista regime. The latter two papers also engaged in a little
The bulk of the blame was placed on the press associations.
John Knight, editor and publisher of the Herald commenting on the
stories of government successes that were filed on the day Batista
fled, commented, "editors who value resourceful reporting and integ-
rrity in news have a legitimate complaint against both press associa-
tions.'" The Tribune charged that "in the coverage of the Batista
government, the wire services suffered from an excess of caution and
left a story untold."
Don Shoemaker, the editorial page editor of the Herald, leveled
the most serious attack against the press's failure to present the
complete picture of Batista's Cuba.
It is the business of a free press to report the news
when it is available--and to make it available when
5Tampa Tribune, January 16, 1959.
Orlando Sentinel, January 7, 1959; Miami Herald, January 9,
1959; Tampa Tribune, January 27, 1959.
Miami Herald, January 18, 1959.
8Tampa Tribune, January 27, 1959.
it is elusive. Most American newspapers abdicated this
role in Batista's Cuba and in the hours when Castro was
coming to power.9
At the same time the nature of the Batista regime was being
unmasked, the charges of Communist influences which had periodically
plagued the rebels and had become an important issue as soon as the
rebels had come to power were being gradually weakened by January's
events. An AP story appearing in all five papers except the Miami
Herald reported on January 2 that Castro was "the darling of the
Communist worldwide propaganda machine." The story went on to
explain, however, that this support for a successful revolutionary
leader was "standard operating procedure" for the Communists and did
not mean the Reds had hopes of exerting any influence over any
The Tampa Tribune, nevertheless, again expressed concern in an
editorial about possible Communist influences in the rebel movement.
The paper referred to a manifesto Castro had issued in Mexico in 1955
calling for nationalization of American owned utilities and sugar
estates in Cuba, but was more disturbed that "one of Castro's
lieutenants [Guevara] has been described as pro-Communist."l0 The
Sentinel could only explain Castro's victory in terms of such
Miami Herald, January 23, 1959.
'OTampa Tribune, January 3, 1959.
extensive aid from some outside source--"the Soviet Union seems the
best bet"--that the rebels couldn't lose.
Despite the allegations consistently linking Guevara and fre-
quently linking the Castro brothers with the Communists, the U.S. State
Department denied the presence of Red influences in the rebel move-
ment, and news stories from Cuba tended to confirm this assessment.
The State Department's analysis was reported in an AP story in the
Tribune and Herald on January 3. According to the story a State
Department official, who asked to remain anonymous, said there were
indications the rebel leadership was "trying to avoid any Communist
News stories on January 5 tended to substantiate this assessment
as they told of a showdown between Communists and rebels over control
of a labor union building with the Reds finally being forced to back
down.2 Editorially, the Journal used the showdown as evidence of
the democratic and middle-class nature of the revolt.13 The Tribune
called the regime's policy toward communism "more reassuring."l
Most startling of all the Sentinel said it had been convinced the
revolution was truly a popular uprising and said "the Communist tag,
thank goodness, has been somewhat removed from Castro's halo."15
Orlando Sentinel, January 3, 1959.
12Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, Pensacola
Journal and Tampa Tribune, January 5, 1959.
13Pensacola JournalJanuary 8, 1959.
14Tampa Tribune, January 6, 1959.
1Orlando Sentinel, January 7, 1959.
The news from Cuba throughout the month told not of cooperation
and agreement between Fidelistas and Communists but clashes and dis-
agreements. !The Herald reported that several pro-Communists, who
had seized important positions in Cuba's labor movement in the con-
fusion after Batista's fall, had been shuffled out of office in a
move sanctioned by Castro. Several days later Cuba's foreign
minister said the country had no plans to establish diplomatic
relations with Russia and indicated Communists would be excluded
from the government.
The news from Cuba, therefore, seemed to contradict those who
saw a Castro-Communist link. Subsequent events in Cuba have made
an apparently reasonable circumstantial case for those who saw
Castro wedded to the Communists from the start. Such an explanation,
however, fails to square with the events in January 1959. This is
not to deny the presence of any Communist influence in the rebel
movement, but to say that events in January indicated any such
influence was not important and was not sought by the rebel movement.
Nor did the events in January remove all suspicion of Communist
influence in the rebel ranks. The Tribune remained concerned about
the presence of Guevara in a position of power, saying on January 16
that his prominence "raises some doubts about Cuba's future." Near
the end of the month George Southworth wrote in the Herald that "even
rebel leaders admit that a few of their big boys may have Communist
1Miami Herald, January 24, 1959.
171bid., January 25, 1959.
As Castro took power there was general agreement his first task
would be to restore order to Cuba. It was assumed this would be a
long, difficult, and perhaps very bloody project. The intense anti-
Batista hatred of the people, however, turned into complete adulation
for Castro, who was viewed as a savior, and the process of restoring
a surface order proved to be fairly simple. Well-disciplined rebels
took over control of Havana and the rest of Cuba, and under their
firm guidance peace was restored to the island much sooner than had
been believed possible by American observers.
In the end this quick return to order may have hurt Castro, for
combined with the unmasking of the nature of the Batista rule and
the reduction of the fears of Communist influence in the rebel move-
ment it turned a suspicious, pessimistic, and formerly hostile press
into an optimistic observer. -Thus, the AP's William'L. Ryan wrote,
"Young Fidel Castro faces a golden opportunity to give Cuba
what it has long craved--a free and honest constitutional govern-
ment."'8 Late i.n December of 1958 the same correspondent had said
"nothing but a dictatorship could possibly rule Cuba in the wake of
Editorially, all the papers but the Florida Times-Union.which
maintained a sphinx-like silence on the Cuban situation, reversed
long-held positions and became sympathetic and optimistic observers
of the rebel movement. The Tampa Tribune on July 6 praised Castro's
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, Pensacola
Journal and Tampa Tribune, January 3, 1959.
1Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Orlando Sentinel, Pensacola
Journal and Tampa Tribune, December 21, 1958.
responsible words and actions. The Miami Herald a day later in its
lead editorial commented, "considerable order has been brought out of
civil chaos, and in a remarkably short time." Optimistically, the
Herald asked, "is this, at long last, Cuba's main chance?" In a
subsequent editorial the Herald called the workings of the rebel
government "an eight-day wonder" and said, "it cannot be repeated too
often that Cuba's finest opportunity may lie just ahead of her."20
Even the Orlando Sentinel, under the pressure of the revelation
of the venality and corruption of the Batista regime, said a few
good words about the revolution. It even went so far as to negate
charges of Communist influence in the revolt.21 Finally, the
Pensacola Journal saw the events in early January as indications "the
people of the island are struggling upward toward a real republic
ruled by a vote of the majority."22
This temporary optimism and sympathy on the part of the papers
did not last long, however, as the number one story of the successful
revolution began to take shape. That story was not the revelations
of Cuba under Batista or the struggle for power between Castro's 26th
of July movement and the Communists. Instead the top story soon
became accounts of trials and executions 6f former Batista aides.
And this story soon negated the optimism for Cuba and the sympathy
2Miami Herald, January 9, 1959.
Orlando Sentinel, January 7, 1959.
22 sacola Journal, January 8 1959.
Pensacola Journal, January 8, 1959.
for the rebels which had developed in the early days after Batista's
The first news of executions appeared in the Miami Herald on
January 4 in a story by George Southworth. In a story discussing
the formation of the rebel government Southworth informed his
readers, "it was also reported that executions of some Batista army
officers had started in the provinces." Reports of executions of
Batista-men appeared in the papers sporadically until January 8 when
all five papers carried stories headlining the execution of more than
a dozen officers of Batista's armed forces.
This disclosure sparked the first editorials on the executions.
The Tribune was disturbed by the events and resumed its questioning
of the revolutionary movement. Castro had said the Cuban executions
were similar to the execution of German war criminals following
World War II, but the Tribune rejected this analogy as "singularly
ill-chosen" since the Cuban conflict had been a civil war and not a
war between nations. Pessimistically, the Tribune commented, "the
regime still has a long way to go before proving that Cuba has not
swapped one dictatorship for another."23
Another paper, the Florida Times-Union, didn't think the
analogy between the executions following the Cuban revolution and
World War II was ill-chosen. It said, "Americans should recognize
that.the Cuban trials are just an extension of the Nuernberg trials."
23Tampa Tribune, January 9, 1959.
Thus, for the Times-Union the most "disquieting thought of all" was
that the United States had contributed to the precedent for Cuban
Reports of continuing executions received increasingly prominent
attention until January 13 when all five papers carried accounts of
the execution of over 70 Batista supporters at Santiago. From this
day until the end of the month practically all the news from Cuba was
concerned with some aspect of the trials and executions of Batista's
The Santiago executions immediately sparked three editorials,
but two of the editorials were surprisingly moderate and only one
contained a bitter denunciation of the acts. The Times-Union ran a
light essay titled "Ah, the Guillotine, What/A Wonderful Way to Die,"
which discussed some of the various methods utilized throughout the
history for disposing of political enemies.25 At the other extreme
the Tribune charged "the 26th of July movement has degenerated into
an orgy of vengeance.'26 Somewhere in the middle was the Herald.
It admitted the executions were Cuba's business and said it was
unrealistic to ask Cubans to forget the torture and the terror of
the Batista regime. Nevertheless, the Herald cautioned, "no country
dedicated to the ideals expressed by Senor Castro and his followers
can endure half free and half vengeful."27
24Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, January 24, 1959.
251bid., January 14, 1959.
26Tampa Tribune, January 14, 1959.
2Miami Herald, January 13, 1959.
Later on January 16 the Pensacola- Journal and Orlando Sentinel
joined in the attacks on the executions. Again, however, the
Journal's response was mild criticizing the quickness and secrecy
of the trials, but admitting there might be some justification for
the executions. The Sentinel, though, allowed nothing--facts included
--to qualify its attack on the executions. It blithely said, "there
is no record of wholesale executions by Batista." This seed planted,
the Sentinel then added a qualifying statement providing an escape
route from this falsehood by saying, "there may have been some--
and probably were ... .." But still according to the Sentinel there
was one important difference, "at least Batista and his policemen
had the good taste not to gloat over human slaughter." Thus, as far
as the Sentinel was concerned, the secret terror under Batista was
morally preferable to the open, post-revolution executions under
Castro. To add the coup de grace the Sentinel forgot its earlier
brief heresy of denying Communist influence in the revolution and
said, "Cuba continues the stormy, dangerous, Communist infested
The protests in Washington and elsewhere over the summary trials
and executions created another point of contention between the rebels
and the American government. The revolutionary government claimed
all those killed had received fair trials, but temporarily suspended
executions and announced future trials would be held in Havana's
massive Sports Palace where they could be witnessed by all. In
addition American reaction sparked an ill-considered statement by
Fidel Castro that if the U.S. sent Marines to interfere in Cuban
affairs "200,000 Gringos will die." The remark, made by Castro on his
way to a speech before the Rotary Club, was obviously not intended for
publication, but its nature was such that its use by the press was
probably inevitable. And considering the nature of the remark it
was handled quite routinely on January 16 by the five papers. None of
the papers used the word Gringo in its main headline on the story,
and only two, the Herald and the Journal mentioned the threat of
200,000 deaths in the main headline. The other headlines were exceed-
ingly mild such as the Times-Union "Castro Warns U.S. Against
The executions soon resumed as Castro rallied impressive public
support for his policies. A massive public rally held January 21
demonstrated the solidarity of the Cuban people, and wire service
reports as well as stories from Buchanan of the Herald and Jim Powell,
an.associate editor of the Tampa Tribune, all emphasized the unanimity
of the Cuban people in support of the executions. While the newspaper
reports continued to keep score on the mounting number of executions,
they also left no doubt that Castro's actions had the enthusiastic
approval of the Cuban people. In fact, some stories indicated some
Cubans felt the rebels were too lenient.
There was more criticism of the executions than attempts to
understand them, however, and in the forefront of the critics were
many members of the American Congress including both liberals and
conservatives. Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon called the executions
28Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, Pensacola
Journal, Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel, January 22 and 29, 1959.
a bloodbath, while an Ohio Representative, Wayne Hays suggested the
banning of travel to Cuba and slicing the importation of Cuban sugar
as ways to force the government to end the executions.
Even the public trials which were initiated to silence foreign
protests backfired'on the rebel government as the trials served to
attract even more protests. Held in the gigantic Havana Sports
Palace before thousands of emotional and vociferous spectators, the
trials immediately won the designation "circus" in press reports on
January 23 and 24. So great was the reaction that once more the rebel
government changed its policy, halting trials in the Sports Palace
and initiating public trials held in more dignified surroundings.
Despite the criticism of the trials there was agreement in the news
reports that justice had been done by the courts.
The trials and executions continued throughout the month to the
dismay of American observers. Without a doubt the trials and execu-
tions were highly damaging to the image of the new rebel'government.
The brief period of optimism was destroyed and the papers once more
turned into skeptics if not critics. But the executions had to stop
eventually, and it remained to be seen whether they had permanently
damaged the image of the rebel regime.
EARLY 1959: CRITICISM GROWS
By February the executions had slackened and had pretty well lost
their newsvalue. Thus reports from Cuba increasingly gave attention
to other matters. A prime concern was the nature of the government
being established in Cuba. Early in February Castro announced a
program calling for general elections as early as possible, vast
public works programs, and early reform of Cuba's trade and tariff
agreements. Both the Miami Herald and the Tampa Tribune were some-
what disturbed by the latter aspects of the program. The Herald,
apparently believing such reforms would harm American interests,
said the program was somewhat anti-U.S. The Tribune, also worried
that Castro was considering eliminating the preferential treatment
of American businesses in Cuba, contended such moves would be
economically disastrous for the island nation.2
Generally, however, the papers handled the Cuban situation
delicately during February. In the middle of the month Castro
assumed the position of Prime Minister, technically the second
ranking office in the rebel government. There was no criticism of
this development. The Tribune said the move was probably inevitable
and called it "a healthy development for Cuba."3 The Herald said
Miami Herald, February 5, 1959.
2Tampa Tribune, February 6, 1959.
31bid., February 15, 1959.
"as long as he is calling the shots, Fidel Castro might as well wear
Still there were harsh treatments of Castro. In a syndicated
column in the Herald, Jim Bishop called him "completely incompetent"
and "a vengeful man."5 Edwin Lahey, chief of the Herald's Washington
Bureau, writing from Havana, charged that Castro had a messianic
complex and seemed to have no sense of compassion.
The early spring saw a blossoming of tension in the Caribbean
with allegations that Cuba was fomenting revolutions elsewhere in
Latin America, including one in Panama. More disturbing to many
Americans, however, were stories that Castro in a public meeting had
proclaimed that Cuba would remain neutral in any war between the
United States and Russia. At about the same time charges of enlarging
Communist influence in the rebel government increased significantly.
Senator George Smathers of Florida became one of Castro's chief
critics during this period, who called for a Latin American peace
force to prevent planned invasions of Latin American countries by
Nevertheless, opinion was still in flux when Castro made a visit
to the United States in mid-April. It is perhaps significant that
Castro came to this country not at the invitation of the United States
Miami Herald, February 16, 1959.
Ibid., February 20, 1959.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Tampa Tribune, April 16,
government, but in response to an invitation to speak before the annual
convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). That
act by the ASNE indicates that the American press had not, by this
time at least, arrived at a firm and final evaluation of the new
Cuban government. The Florida Times-Union, perhaps expressing a view
prominent in the ASNE commented, "everything about Castro is contro-
versial .. There are few facts available but many opinions."
The Times-Union went on to say that Americans would likely never fully
understand Castro "if for no other reason than that he is a profes-
sional revolutionary, something this country hasn't seen since
George Washington, and he was an amateur."
The news reports of April 18 on Castro's appearance before the
editors varied greatly on the vital issues of Communist influence in
his government and Cuban policy in the event of an American-Russian
war. The Sentinel said in its headline, "Castro/Dodges/Big Issues."
The story by Edward Sims of the paper's Washington bureau maintained
that Castro dodged the issue of Cuba's position in a'U.S.-Soviet war,
and "eluded a direct reply on the role the Communists played in
bringing him to power." Throughout, Sims painted an unflattering
picture of the Cuban leader saying he spoke too long, allowed only a,
brief questioning period, and abused that by using each question as
a springboard for a small speech.
In contrast, the Herald and the Times-Union ran headlines saying
Castro had denied being a Communist. Writing for the Herald, Edwin
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, April 17, 1959.
Lahey, who had shown himself to be no great admirer of Castro, reported
"Fidel seemed most eager to scotch the story that he is creating a
climate favorable to the Communists in Cuba," and said the audience
had applauded Castro "frequently and warmly." Somewhere between the
Herald and Sentinel accounts was the AP report in the Tribune. Accord-
ing to this version Castro had spoken out strongly against dictators,
had told the editors "we are not Communists," but had avoided a
direct answer when asked what Castro would do in the event of a war
between the United States and the Soviet Union. In addition the story
said the question of Communist influence in the rebel government had
not received much attention.
Despite the differing interpretations on what Castro had said,
there was general agreement that the Cuban leader had been impressive
in his appearance before the editors. Herald editors George Beebe
and Don Shoemaker reported the reaction of the editors was "generally
favorable." A later AP story in the Tribune said a spot check showed
10 of 12 editors favorably impressed, one unfavorably impressed, and
one sitting squarely on the fence.9 Publisher John Knight found
much that was impressive about Castro, but he also had some reserva-
tions. His conclusion on the rebel leader: "Idealistic, dedicated
and naive. Will bear watching."l0
The Orlando Sentinel planned to watch Castro for other reasons,
It knew Castro was "either a Commie or a nut," but had not decided
9Tampa Tribune, April 19, 1959.
10Miami Herald, April 26, 1959.
which. Whichever the case, the Sentinel concluded, "he sounds like
dynamite to -us.." Several days later the Sentinel apparently had
decided Castro was a Communist for it warned, "the communism of Latin
America has begun. It must be halted for the sake of freedom in the
The Sentinel was not alone in finding disturbing aspects in the
Cuban situation even in the wake of Castro's favorable appearance in
this country. Conservative columnist David Lawrence told of Communist
advances in the rebel government, although he said Castro was not a
Communist.13 The AP agreed with Lawrence's assessment reporting that
"Communists have been on the rise since the Castro revolution threw
out Batista Jan 1."4 Then too even after Castro's visit the Tribune
continued to express doubts about the relationship between the rebels
and communism. "Thinking Americans," the Tribune said, "will have
good cause to wonder about the professed friendship of a man who
takes such a casual, if not sympathetic, approach to the most des-
tructive force at large in the world today."15
The disturbing news from Cuba increased throughout the spring
and early summer of 1959. The situation in the Caribbean worsened
and Cuba was accused of fomenting revolutions throughout the area
110rlando Sentinel, April 18, 1959.
12bid., April 23, 1959.
13Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Tampa Tribune, April 20,
1959; Orlando Sentinel, April 24, 1959.
1Miami Herald, April 26, 1959.
15Tampa Tribune, April 20, 1959.
including one attempted invasion of Panama. A steady stream of
refugees poured into Miami from Cuba. There were increasing reports
of economic disruption and political discontent.
Much of the growing criticism was generated by Castro's agrarian
reform which had been announced in May, begun in June, but not really
pushed until much later. Nevertheless, by mid-summer it began to
look like Castro was prepared to put the program into effect, hurting
American interests in Cuba. American opposition to the program
centered on the provisions for compensation for expropriated property.
Americans particularly were upset that the compensation would be in
Cuban government bonds instead of dollars and would be based on very
low assessments of property value.
While these two provisions were constantly attacked by Americans
including the Tribune, Herald and Sentinel, it would seem that such
criticisms were on shaky ground, especially on the latter point.
Payment in dollars would probably have been very unsound for a Cuban
government worried about balance of payment problems. iAs far as
evaluation was concerned, the Americans really had little grounds for
complaints since they, themselves, had established the assessments.
Part of the affinity the American business colony in Cuba had for
Batista resulted from the preferential treatment they had received
from his government. Part and parcel of this preferential treatment
was a very favorable tax system. American properties were assessed
at phenominally low rates, and thus American businesses payed
16Miami Herald, July 13, 1959; Tampa Tribune, July 14, 1959;
Orlando Sentinel, July 19, 1959.
phenominally low taxes. When Castro took power he asked American
businessmen to assess their properties for tax purposes. Later when
the agrarian reform program was formulated these assessments were to
be used as the basis for compensation of expropriated property.1 If
the businesses were to be hurt by the low assessments if and when
their property was expropriated they had their original duplicity
While the agrarian reform program lay behind much of the
criticism of revolutionary Cuba, most attention was focused on
another problem, the extent of Communist influence in the government.
Accusations of Communist inroads in the government had grown through-
out the spring and summer, and reached a new peak in July, 1959,
when the chief of the Cuban air force defected and testified before
a Senate committee that the Cuban government was controlled by
Communists. As the highest ranking defector from Castro's government,
Major Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz gained widespread publicity for his
Those statements included accusations that Fidel Castro was a
Communist and was dedicated to giving Cuba a Communist government.
Speaking before a Senate Internal Security subcommittee headed by
James Eastland, Diaz quoted Castro as saying he was going to give
Cuba "a system like Russia has."8 With his revolutionary background,
Diaz's charges were the most telling indictment yet to be leveled
17Robert F. Smith, The United States and Cuba (New York:
Bookman Associates, 1960), p. 178.
18Miami Herald, July 11 and 15, 1959; Jacksonville Florida-
Times-Union, July 14 and 15, 1959; Orlando Sentinel, Pensacola
Journal and Tampa Tribune, July 15, 1959.
The immediate effect of Diaz's testimony was to widen the grow-
ing Cuban-American'split. Both the Orlando Sentinel and Pensacola
Journal carried an AP story saying Castro had called the committee's
hearing interference in Cuba's internal affairs.19 A later story said
"Castro was described by his associates as 'filled with bitterness'"
over the charges by Diaz.20 The Herald reported that Revolucion,
the paper of the 26th of July movement "accused the U.S. of planning
to attack Cuba."2 Similar information appeared in the Sentinel
and Tribune in a story which also told that Diaz's testimony got big
play in the Latin press.2
There was another important aspect to the Diaz testimony, which
to some extent mitigated the effect of his charges but was only
reported in the Miami Herald until late in the month. That was the
circumstances under which his testimony came about. On July 11
David Kraslow reported that Diaz had been "a pawn in an amazing cloak
and dagger tug of war." Diaz had fled from Cuba with his wife on
the first of the month, but neither the CIA nor the State Department
was informed of his arrival. Instead, one week later the Senate
Internal Securi.ty committee was informed of Diaz's presence and
hearings were set up. Kraslow noted that Eastland had been an.out-
spoken admirer of Dominican strongman Rafael Trujillo and reported
19Orlando Sentinel and Pensacola Journal, July 13, 1959.
20Tampa Tribune, July 15, 1959.
21Miami Herald, July 16, 1959.
220rlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, July 16, 1959.
Washington officials expected Castro would claim that Diaz's appear-
ance before Eastland's subcommittee was proof that the defection was
part of a plot arranged by American supporters of Trujillo. Several
days later Kraslow reported that President Eisenhower was dissatis-
fied with the handling of the Diaz case, and that the administration
felt that putting Diaz in Eastland's hands 'was like waving a red
flag in Castro's face."23 The Herald attacked the handling of the
case in a later editorial. The maneuvering had hurt the effectiveness
of the Diaz testimony, especially in Latin America. But not until
Drew Pearson repeated the story later in the month did the Times-
Ujnig.., Tribune or Sentinel present this aspect of the story to their
Even as the Diaz testimony was making headlines in the United
States an even bigger story was building in Cuba. On July 14 the
Tampa Tribune carried a small, three-paragraph UPI story reporting
that Cuban President Manuel Urrutia had charged Communists were gravely
hurting Cuba and trying to turn the country away from the U.S. and
to Russia. The story also said Urrutia called reports of differences
labeled "counter-revolutionary" reports of differences between him
and Castro. The implications in such a statement were pregnant with
meaning which were recognized the following day when a UPI story in
the Herald said Urrutia had charged the Reds with plotting treason
2Miami Herald, July 16, 1959.
2bid., July 17, 1959.
2Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Orlando Sentinel and Tampa
Tribune, July 24, 1959.
and thus "set the stage for an internal power struggle between the
right and left in Fidel Castro's revolutionary government."
The power struggle broke out in the open on July 17 as Castro
took to nationwide television, and in a dramatic speech submitted his
resignation from the government and leveled a devastating attack
against Urrutia. Castro charged the Cuban President, theoretically
his superior, with near-treason and comparedhim to Diaz for his
statements about Communists. Urrutia submitted his resignation before
Castro's television tirade was completed. The Cuban cabinet met
immediately and chose a new President, Osvaldo Dorticos Torado,
rejected Castro's resignation, and called for his return. To no
one's surprise the swift events still left Castro in the driver's
Both the Tampa Tribune and Miami Herald viewed Castro's resig-
nation as a sign of weakness. The Tribune saw the weakness as
more severe, however, and said it was an open question how much
longer Castro could last, while also indicating it would gladly
celebrate his downfall. But the Herald also carried a story by
Herbert L. Matthews of the New York Times who contended, "Castro's
position inside Cuba could not be stronger." However, somewhat
contradictorily, Matthews also pictured Castro's move as one to
increase his strength, feeling that a show of loyalty by the Cuban
people could "provide impetus for the revolution, put fear into his
enemies and impress skeptics and opponents abroad.27 The show of
26Miami Herald, July 18, 1959; Tampa Tribune, July 19, 1959.
27Miami Herald, July 18, 1959.
loyalty was a huge demonstration in Havana, held significantly on
July 26, featuring the campesinos, rural peasants who had flocked to
the capital to demonstrate their support for Castro's policies. To
no one's surprise Castro announced his return to office during the
Two papers saw the demonstration as a failure. The Sentinel
indicated the rally had not proved that Castro had the support of
the majority of Cubans. It would admit, however, that Castro could
count on unquestioned support from the little people and the "have-
nots."28 The Herald, ignoring its earlier interpretation of Castro's
move as a sign of weakness, said it was not impressed by the support
shown by the people since .there had never been any doubt that
Castro was the "supreme hero of the great majority of his countrymen"
who would follow wherever he led.29
The Pensacola Journal and Tampa Tribune, however, indicated
they were impressed by the show of solidarity by the campesinos.
The Journal called Castro's maneuver a success in showing the
popularity of his regime.30 The Tribune said, "the celebration
suggests that Castro's hold on troubled Cuba may be stronger than
recent events have indicated."31 Thus, although the Herald denied
it, its editorial and the one in the Tribune indicated that Castro's
maneuver had managed to convince some of the skeptics of his con-
tinued popularity in Cuba.
28Orlando Sentinel, July 29, 1959.
29Miami Herald, July 21, 1959.
30Pensacola Journal, July 21, 1959.
31Tampa Tribune, July 28, 1959.
Even though reports from Cuba by the summer of 1959 had become
almost entirely negative, emphasizing political and economic problems,
there were reports that pictured Castro in a favorable light. The
stories on Urrutia's successor, Osvaldo Dorticos, were generally
sympathetic. The danger of a possible Cuban-Russian link was
minimized by Walter Lippmann: "Cuba is our near neighbor and is far
beyond the reach of the Soviet Union."
Nevertheless, only readers of the Herald were exposed to any
significant information favorable to the Castro regime. For several
weeks during the controversies over the charges made by Diaz and the
political maneuverings of Castro the Herald carried a series of
stories from Cuba by staff reporter Juanita Greene. The series
focused mainly on the common people of Cuba, especially those in
rural areas, and indicated the revolution was improving the lot of
these people. A farmer was quoted as saying he had hope.for the
first time in his life.33 This hope was primarily brought about by
the land reform program which promised to free the campesinos from
generations of debt peonage. A priest was quoted as saying "land
reform is absolutely necessary for Cuba."3
But Juanita Greene also found disturbing aspects to the Cuban
regime. She found much resentment against the United States. The
Cuban people," she wrote, "are becoming convinced we are not their
32Miami Herald, July 24, 1959; Jacksonville Florida Times-Union,
July 26, 1959
3Miami Herald, July 12, 1959.
4Ibid., July 20, 1959.
friends, that we choose to believe only lies about the government and
their leaders."35 And there was still Fidel Castro, the major enigma
of the revolution. "Right now it is too early to tell whether Fidel
will be a Lincoln or a Hitler. But it looks like he'll turn out to
be one or the other."36
With few exceptions the news stories and editorials of late
spring and throughout the summer pictured Castro as a Hitler. And
as the year progressed the picture increasingly became tinted with
the red brush of communism.
351bid., July 24, 1959.
361bid., July 19, 1959.
LATE 1959: HOSTILITY PREDOMINATES,
Cuban-American relations continued to deteriorate throughout
the summer and early fall. They hit a new low late in October when
two planes flew over Havana dropping anti-Castro leaflets. Castro
claimed the planes had bombed the city killing two, and he blamed the
United States for the raid. A crowd marched on the American Embassy
in Havana in what was called in news reports in all five papers on
October 23 "the biggest anti-American demonstration since Castro
took power." The stories also termed Castro's speech the "bitterest
attack yet on the U.S." Castro called for a massive rally to protest
the air attacks.
The Tribune viewed Castro's antics as merely fodder for local
consumption,l but the Herald expressed much stronger feelings. The
Herald introduced a relatively mild news story with this diatribe:
WHO is wrecking Cuba's faltering economy?
WHO, besides the avowed Communist, is the
leading voice of anti-Americanism in the Caribbean?
WHO, after sweet-talking U.S. visitors,
scathingly denounces the U.S.A., all in a matter of
WHO has adopted the technique of the dicators--
Hitler, Mussolini, Peron--by endlessly repeating the
big lie for propaganda purposes?
FIDEL CASTRO, Cuba's revolutionary leader.
Here is a close look at him by a Miami Herald
reporter who observed him first-hand during last
week's violent events ..2
1Tampa Tribune, October 25, 1959.
2Miami Herald, October 26, 1959.
The massive rally came off according to the script. Castro
blamed the United States for the raids and said American officials LCf't C'p' o
were either accomplices to murder or helpless to stop planes from 1 ''f, '
leaving their country for bombing raids in spite of radar and other
advanced technological devices. Again reports in all five papers on
October 27 termed the attack the "angriest" or "bitterest to date."
Once again the Times-Union refrained from making any editorial
comment on the recent events, but the other papers took advantage
of Castro's anti-American outburst to present anti-Castro editorials.
The Miami Herald asked, "is the lad going loco?"3 Similarly, the
Tampa Tribune said Castro's antics were due "to the fact that the man
has an unstable personality." Both the Herald and Tribune said the
U.S. should remain calm and not be provoked by Castro's words or
actions. Even calmer than these two papers was the Pensacola
Journal which took the recent events in Cuba somewhat philosophically.
"The cycle continues," the Journal said. "Dictators rise and fall
and that appears to be the ultimate fate of Castro, no matter how
sincere he was at the outset."5
The Orlando Sentinel viewed the events as a sign of weakness.
"It is obvious, the Sentinel said, "that Castro's star is fading and
that he's grasping at straws to try to rebuild his popularity." The
Sentinel expressed a common belief that Cuba could not stand if the
31bid., October 27, 1959.
4Tampa Tribune, October 29, 1959.
5Pensacola Journal, October 29, 1959.
U.S. did not subsidize her- by buying sugar at prices above those on
the world market. The paper was sure "the U.S. could straighten Cuba
out in short order," and it advocated that the United States do so.
Furthermore, the Sentinel indicated it would not be disturbed if the
U.S. used military force to do the straightening saying, "we can do
it economically--or militarily if that is the way Fidel wants it."
Although the leaflet raid increased the ever widening Cuban-
American gulf and brought on more anti-Castro editorials, in the midst
of this crisis on October 23 the Herald carried an excellent analysis
of the Cuban regime by George Southworth. Southworth said Castro had
probably lost popular support, and said a good guess would place that
loss at "10 to 20 per cent of the 95 per cent that he had when he
took control of the government." He admitted leftist elements had
ridden Castro's coattails but denied they were running the government.
Southworth saw time and the agrarian reform program as the two
key elements to the understanding of Castro's regime. Castro,
Southworth said, had staked the future of the revolution on the
success of the agrarian reform program. That program was bound to
cause some temporary economic dislocation, however, until it was firmly
established. Castro's main problem, therefore, Southworth contended,
lay in pushing through the agrarian reform as quickly as possible
in order that the dislocation caused by its initial application would
not be a threat to his regime. Southworth said there was no doubt
Orlando Sentinel, October 27, 1959.
Castro could call an election and demonstrate decisively his popular-
ity but he wouldn't do so because it would slow him down and the
agrarian reform program would collapse.
Southworth had no illusions that Castro's Cuba was a paradise,
but he expressed a fear of what would happen if the rebel leader
Things are not good in Cuba now, but if Fidel
Castro is not able to carry out his plans things will
grow worse. Cuban politics can be violent and
usually are. It will be a long time before the people
will stand solidly behind any leader.
The most complete analysis of the Castro regime was done at the
end of the year by the Herald in a series of stories on the first
year of Castro's Cuba. The series, done by a team of Herald reporters,
delved into every aspect of the Cuban situation and came out with a
somewhat mixed appraisal.
The reporters found much to praise. Edwin Lahey called Castro's
educational program "the brightest spot in the revolution." He also
noted "there has been a sense of freedom under Castro." As far as
possible Communist domination was concerned Lahey wrote, "the facts
of political life assert that the Communists could not hope to
control Cuba unless they first figured some way to remove the island
several thousand miles from the shore of the United States."7
Another reporter, E. V. W. Jones noted the popularity of the agrarian
reform program. "It has the wholehearted support of the majority,
Miami Herald, December 18, 1959.
the acquiesence of most of the others, and the opposition of only a
few," Jones wrote. Jones also noted agrarian reform had long been a
goal of the Cuban people and was included in the nation's 1940 con-
stitution. This aspect had been ignored by Americans who liked to
see the agrarian reform program as evidence that Castro had betrayed
the revolution for communism.
The reporters also found serious drawbacks to the rebel rule.
Jones noted that "Castro uses many of the trappings of dictatorship."9
Lahey reported that subtle limits had been placed on freedom of
expression.0 Jones also expressed reservations about Communist
influences in the government.1
The Cubans themselves, however, provided the severest indictment
of all by their actions. They arrested Herald reporter James
Buchanan for allegedly giving aid to an escaped political prisoner.
After spending almost two weeks in a Cuban jail, Buchanan was tried
and given a 14-year suspended sentence. Upon his return to Miami
Buchanan wrote a series of stories based on his prison experiences.
These stories told of a nascent police state in Cuba and were carried
by all five papers studied. Buchanan said his visits to Cuba in 1959
had brought an increasing concern that Cuba "may have traded one
dictator for another, though a much more popular, one." He said,
91bid., December 23, 1959.
10Ibid., December 18, 1959.
11bid., December 24, 1959.
"Cuba isn't yet a police state, but the network of spies and jails is
being organized in a pattern that threatens to smash the hopes and
prayers of thousands of Cubans."12
Editorially, the Herald was the most optimistic of the papers when
assessing Cuba's first year under Castro. While decrying the Cuban-
American rift and certain other aspects of Castro's rule, it concluded
the revolution had helped Cuba's common people. "The common man, of
Cuba has gained much," the Herald said. "He has more money to spend,
a better standard of living, and better prospects for his children."13
None of the other papers shared this view, however. Even the
Times-Union, which had refrained from joining the anti-Castro editorial
chorus at many times throughout the year, broke its semi-silence and
called Castro's control "one year of rule by firing squad and near
anarchy."14 Harshest was the Sentinel, which nevertheless seemed to
have retreated somewhat from its advocacy of a showdown with Castro and
the use of economic or military force to straighten the island out.
It still maintained that Cuba was controlled by the Communists
("It is obvious to all that a 100 pct Communist regime governs Cuba,
unconditionally devoted to Moscow and Peiping."). But it rejected
the possibility of cutting the Cuban sugar quota saying "starving
six million Cubans to punish one man is not the answer." It was
left with the somewhat sterile alternative of trying to sell the
12Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, Pensacola
Journal, Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel, December 27, 1959.
13Miami Herald, December 30, 1959.
1Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, December 26, 1959.
Cuban people on the ideas of liberty and democracy in the hope they
would overthrow Castro.1
Castro's first year in power ended with U.S.-Cuban relations
seriously, if not irreparably, harmed. All five papers had assumed
an anti-Castro editorial stance, although the Herald still appeared
to be receptive of information favorable to the rebel regime and
seemed to have a greater understanding of the complexities of the
Cuban situation. Only the Sentinel claimed the regime was Communist,
but the other papers noted that Castro's actions were helping the
Those who did not view Cuba as Communist tended to feel that
Cuba's Catholic population and geographical proximity to the U.S.
would preclude any Communist control of the island nation. Another
general assumption was that the United States could quickly bring
Cuba to heel through threats to cut her sugar quota. This assumption
was based on the belief that Cuba's economy was wedded to that of
the United States and could not survive without American assistance.
The story of 1960 was to be the story of the shattering of these
15Orlando Sentinel, December 26, 1959.
THE COLD WAR ENTERS THE PICTURE
With Cuban-American relations at a dangerously low ebb, February,
1960, saw the opening gambit in the formation of a Cuban-Soviet link
as Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas I. Mikoyan made a visit to the island
nation. News reports speculated that the visit might lead to a
resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The
first concrete result of the visit, however, was the announcement
that Russia had agreed to buy 345,000 tons of Cuban sugar.
The Mikoyan visit again brought to the forefront the question
of the relationship between the revolutionary government and communism.
A UPI story on the eve of Mikoyan's visit reported that diplomats
we're unable to point out any Communist in the upper echelons of the
Cuban government.2 Yet there was the fear that the Mikoyan visit
might move the Cubans toward the Communist orbit. Senator George
Smathers of Florida, a long-standing critic of the Castro regime,
decried the trend of the events in the Caribbean but recommended the
United States take no action saying, "we can't stop a country if it
wants to go Communist."
Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, February 4,
2Orlando Sentinel, February 4, 1960.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Tampa Tribune, February 13,
All five papers expressed editorial concern over the potential
implications of the Mikoyan visit. The Herald was not concerned
with Cuba's commitment to sell sugar to Russia, describing it as a
trading agreement "reached by our neighbors, who are sovereign and
free to go about their business." But the Herald was concerned that
Mikoyan's visit and his warm reception by Castro indicated the rebel
leader was turning towards communism. "One wonders more and more,"
said the Herald, "whether Fidel is not a pledge in the fraternity."
The Pensacola Journal feared that Castro was emulating Nasser and
trying to play the United States against Russia. "It is bad to have
a dictator in the Middle East flirting with the Reds," commented the
Journal, "but it is far worse to have one right at our back door.,5
The Tampa Tribune, in an editorial entitled "Foxy Mikoyan in the
Henhouse," also expressed concern over the implications of the Soviet
leader's visit, but said Smathers' admonition to sit tight was the
The Florida Times-Union, however, indicated it would support
some American action directed against Castro. It applauded a proposal
being introduced into Congress that would permit the President to cut
the sugar quota of any nation when it was in the interest of the U.S.,
and said it was "encouraging to see this country considering a more
forceful policy toward the upstart Castro." But the paper urged
4Miami Herald, February 6, 1960.
Pensacola Journal, February 9, 1960.
Tampa Tribune, February 15, 1960.
great caution in the formulation of any such policy so that it
wouldn't drive Castro "further into the arms of the Reds." The
Mikoyan visit was proof, the Times Union said, that "the Communists
would love to exploit any rift between the United States and Cuba."
And the paper warned the Reds would be willing to buy Cuban sugar as
"an investment in international goodwill at America's expense."
The Orlando Sentinel viewed Castro's anti-Americanism and
agreements with Communist nations as final proof the regime was
dominated by Communists. With this established, the Sentinel then
began to express fears for American security. The key to this
argument was the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The Sentinel,
however illogically, argued that Guantanamo was our best insurance
against any attack launched from Cuba. "Should Castro attack the
U.S.," the Sentinel said without stopping to explain why this possi-
bi-lity was even remotely plausible, "our men at Guantanamo could
easily blow Cuba out of the water. It is clear, therefore, that we
must keep Guantanamo."
Thus all five papers showed deep concern over the implications
of Mikoyan's Cuban trip especially as it related to an apparent
Cuban-Russian rapprochement. And if the Sentinel appeared unduly
concerned with American security, it should be noted that there were
soon rumors of possible submarine bases in Cuba. Furthermore,
American official patience with Castro was on its last legs. The
7jacksonville Florida Times-Union, February 9, 1960.
8Orlando Sentinel, February 6, 1960.
Ibid., February 9, 1960.
proposal to allow the President to cut the Cuban sugar quota was a
manifestation of the beginning of a new attitude toward the Cuban
government. Not long after Mikoyan's visit to Cuba, President
Eisenhower took the first step toward the Bay of Pigs by deciding to
equip and train anti-Castro Cuban exiles.10
As the year progressed it became apparent that Cuban-American
relations were heading for a crisis. The rift between the two coun-
tries had in all practicality become irreconcilable. All that was
lacking was a series of events culminating in a showdown in which
this irreconcililability would be clearly illustrated. This occurred
in the summer of 1960 almost two years from the dates of the Cuban
Two events formalized the rift. One was the long-threatened
cutting of sugar imports from Cuba. On the last day of June the
House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing the President
to halt importation of Cuban sugar. The action had been taken after
strong pressure from President Eisenhower and amid reports Cuba was
planning to rush large shipments of sugar to this country before any
action could be taken. An AP story carried by all five papers on
July 1 said the vote came after angry denunciations of Castro with
at least one demand that the United States occupy Cuba.
The Senate was much more reluctant to conform to Presidential
wishes, but two days later both houses agreed on a compromise program
giving the President power to cut sugar imports from Cuba for the
1Matthews, p. 249.
remainder of the year. An AP story on the passage of the final pro-
posal reported that the complexities of the issues in the controversy
"left some of the members [of Congress] so baffled they confessed to
reporters they did not know what they were acting on."' Certainly
a UPI report on the final Senate vote lent itself to no easy analysis,
as such diverse figures as Barry Goldwater, Allen Ellender, Wayne
Morse, and William Proxmire all voted against the bill.12
Nevertheless, the Congress had granted President Eisenhower power
to slash the Cuban sugar quota and on July 6 he used this power
slashing the quota by some 700 tons. News reports on July 7 all
emphasized the seriousness of the act for the Cuban economy. There
was unanimous agreement the action would deal a severe financial
blow to the rebel government. The estimates on the value of the loss
in dollars to Cuba, however, varied so widely as to bring into ques-
tion the amount of real knowledge concerning the situation. For
example, a New York Times dispatch in the Herald said Cuba would lose
85 million dollars by the action. A story in the Sentinel compiled
various press services placed the cost to Cuba at approximately 70
million dollars. On the other hand an AP story in the Tribune placed
the loss at only 35 million. Another AP story in the Journal and
Times-Union covered all bases, saying the move was expected to cost
Cuban sugar growers from 35-85 million dollars.
Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Tampa Tribune, July 4,
12Miami Herald, July 4, 1960.
The sugar quota was termed in one news dispatch the "life blood
of the Cuban economy,"13 but news of the American actions to cut this
quota took second place to other events occurring at the same time
concerning the big American oil refineries in Cuba. Late in June the
Cuban government asked the Texaco refinery to process some Russian
crude oil. The refinery refused and was promptly seized by the Cuban
government. The response of the other refineries was immediate as
they quit supplying Cuba with oil. The UPI reported this move and
called it "the start of a huge squeeze play which could make expropri-
ation of foreign property boomerang against the Cuban economy."l
Herald reporter Dom Bonafede indicated the oil companies had made
their move with the encouragement of the U.S. government and quoted
one oil spokesman as saying the move to cut off Cuba's oil "has all
the earmarks of a diplomatic intrigue."l5
There was disagreement as to whether Cuba could operate the
refineries if they were seized. The UPI report said it was believed
that Russia couldn't rush in enough technicians to keep the refineries
operating. But Bonafede quoted a Miami oil expert as saying the
refineries could be operated by only a handful of Russian technicians
in addition to the native Cubans.17
O3rlando Sentinel, July 7, 1960.
14Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald,. Pensacola
Journal, July 1, 1960.
Miami Herald, July 1, 1960.
16Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, Miami Herald, Pensacola
Journal, July 1, 1960.
17Miami Herald, July 1, 1960.
Cuba didn't hesitate, immediately seizing the refineries. This
made the island nation dependent on the Soviet Union to supply the oil
needed for the functioning of the Cuban economy. Newspaper reports
were skeptical that Russia was up to the task. A July 2 Associated
Press report in the Times-Union, Sentinel and Journal reported that
"experts expressed doubts Russia can find 20-25 spare tankers needed
to shuttle crude oil to Cuba," and said the move "raised prospects of
an oil famine." UPI stories in the Herald and Tribune on the same
day painted a slightly less pessimistic picture saying oilmen didn't
expect an oil shortage for several weeks.
Both the showdowns over sugar and oil naturally accentuated the
rift between Cuba and America. In Cuba this was manifested by a
rising tide of anti-Americanism. UPI reported the seizure of the oil
refineries was "accompanied by a rising hate-America chorus in the
press and on the radio."18 In addition there were reports that the
Cuban government was preparing to retaliate by seizing large American
businesses in Cuba. The Cuban cabinet authorized the expropriation
of all property owned by American businesses or citizens, and the
Times-Union and Sentinel said Castro's government was expected to
take "drastic retaliatory action."1
Expectations of economic crisis and possible economic collapse
were expressed in editorials. The Herald said that without oil
"Fidel Castro's juggernaut will grind to a standstill."20 The
18Miami Herald and Tampa Tribune, July 2, 1960.
19Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and Orlando Sentinel, July 7,
20Miami Herald, July 1, 1960.
Sentinel'predicted that "a further fall in dollar income from Cuba
will soon precipitate a crisis."21 The economic hardships were also
expected to hasten a successful revolution against Castro. While the
Journal expressed dismay that many innocent Cubans might be severely
hurt by an economic crisis it rationalized that this might be neces-
sary to demonstrate that Castro "must be toppled before he preci-
pitates absolute chaos."22
But economic considerations took second place to political con-
siderations as the showdown over the oil refineries injected, as
never before, the cold war into the Cuban-American dispute, for it
made Cuba dependent on the Soviet Union for the oil essential to its
economy. Gerry Robichaud in the Miami Herald noted that if Russia
could bail Cuba out of a potential economic mess by supplying her with
adequate amounts of oil "it might go a long way toward enhancing
Russian prestige and influence in many sections of Latin America."2
Likewise a subsequent AP story in the Herald said that "Soviet affairs
experts in London" warned that Russia's move to supply oil to Cuba
might be "a turning point in the Kremlin's Latin American policy."
The move was compared to an arms deal with Egypt in the mid 1950's
"which opened the floodgates to Soviet influence in the stategic
2Orlando Sentinel, July 7, 1960.
22Pensacola Journal, July 3, 1960.
23Miami Herald, July 3, 1960.
Ibid., July 5, 1960.
With the Soviet Union underwriting the economic stability of
the Castro regime the Cuban-American dispute evolved into a Russian-
American dispute. Front page stories on July 10 told of a sharp.
exchange of words between President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev
over Cuba. Both the AP and UPI reported Khruschev had hinted Russia
might use missiles to defend Cuba against intervention by the United
States. In response Eisenhower had warned the Russian leader to
keep his hands off Cuba. According to both press services Eisenhower
had told Khrushchev the United States wouldn't stand for a Cuban
regime dominated by international communism.
The AP report underscored the explosive potential of the
situation saying the American government was concerned that
Khrushchev might "overplay his hand and perhaps try to make good on
some of his boastful threats--and conceivably start World War iii.25
This concern was not limited to government officials as Dom Bonafede
writing from Havana reported that "everywhere people discussed the
possibilities that the Cuba-U.S. dilemma may light the spark causing
World War 111."26
Adding further fuel to the fire news stories from Moscow
quoted Khruschev as claiming the Monroe Doctrine no longer had any
validity. At the same time Castro claimed that Russia's pledge of
military assistance was Cuba's only insurance against an American
251bid., July 10, 1960.
26Ibid., July 12, 1960.