Friday, October 30, 2009

Juanita's World

In this photo (courtesy of Libre magazine) Salvador Lew holds up a picture of a young Juanita Castro, sister of Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro. I'm sure you've heard the news by now: two years after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Juanita Castro worked with the CIA helping opponents of the Revolution. Juanita soon went into exile in 1964 after her brother Raul revealed that the Cuban government already knew about her secret activities.

Once exiled in Miami, Juanita Castro and Salvador Lew*, began a propaganda campaign against the Castro government. According to historian Don Bohning, the campaign tour was "secretly arranged by JMWAVE," the CIA headquarters in Miami. Juanita was mostly driven by a sense of betrayal against her brother Fidel Castro:

"He betrayed the thousands of us who suffered and fought for the revolution that he had offered, one that was generous and just and would bring peace and democracy to Cuba, and which, as he himself had promised, would be as 'Cuban as palm trees.'"

Before her departure to Miami Juanita wrote "various letters" to Salvador Lew asking him to head her public relations once she arrived. According to Ann Louise Bardach, Lew was a fellow classmate and student activist with Fidel Castro before the Revolution. Lew also became disillusioned with Fidel Castro and was exiled in 1961. Both Lew and Juanita met for the first time in 1964 when Juanita arrived in Miami.

According to Lew, both he and Juanita traveled to many cities and universities in the U.S. where Juanita would give speeches (in Spanish) against the Cuban government. Lew recalls how Juanita "amazed audiences" with her "extraordinary" oratory. Lew and Juanita even made it to Capitol Hill.


June 11, 1965, Juanita Castro and Salvador Lew appeared before the controversial House Committee on Un-American Activities. In her submitted statement to the sub-committee, Juanita emphasized the dangers of communism:

"Communism is, and will always be, aggressive by its very nature. So are those who act as its tools... For this reason we affirm that no one can be a revolutionary, a democrat, a liberal, a pacifist, and a believer in progress if one is not an anti-Communist also. Communism is the exact opposite of a progressive democracy. By the same token, one cannot be good if one is not against evil and those who represent evil."


"I want to make a humanitarian appeal to save my people and the other endangered nations. Communist imperialism and its instrument in the Americas, Fidel Castro, are planning to take over this entire hemisphere. This is no secret."

During this period, with the help of the CIA, Juanita Castro was given a radio program that aired on shortwave inside Cuba and founded the Marta Abreu Foundation. After Juanita ended her relationship with the CIA, the agency cut all funding to both activities. According to her revelations for Univision, Juanita gave whatever money was left from the Marta Abreu Foundation to Alpha 66, the militant Cuban exile organization that was heading terrorist operations against Cuba. After the death of Vicente Mendez in 1970, one of Alpha 66's most admired leaders, Juanita Castro says she stopped supporting such operations.


But, Juanita's militancy was more nuanced than others in Miami. Where most wished death upon her brother Fidel Castro as the only solution, Juanita only wanted an overthrow.

This nuanced position became apparent in 2006 when the news of Fidel Castro's surgery made headlines. Amongst the celebration in Miami at the possibility of Fidel Castro's death, Juanita stressed that "[t]his is a spectacle, all this happiness." She seemed to disapprove of how people took joy at the suffering of her brother. "The ties of blood are strong," she told the Herald. More specifically:

"To me, Fidel has always been two distinct persons. On one hand, the oldest brother that I love, and suffer knowing that he is sick and, on the other hand, the political Castro with whom I want nothing to do with and would be happy if he hadn't assumed power."

Juanita got a lot of negative criticism for these comments, especially from Radio Mambi. But, Juanita didn't care. She told the Herald: "I never listen to the radio. There is so much hatred in this community. And they will say that all Castro's are the same... And that is a lie."


Because of her more nuanced opposition against the Cuban government Juanita was never accepted by the larger Cuban exile community. Furthermore, Juanita sees her brother, Raul Castro, more favorably than Fidel and believes that Raul can bring about democratic changes in Cuba. This is a position that is also viewed poorly by hard-line Cuban exiles, and generally ignored by the local media.

The story of Juanita Castro and the CIA shows how drastically Miami and the U.S. government have changed in its opposition to the Cuban government. Ironically, the militancy that Juanita once supported, is now her most vocal critic. It's been an interesting half-century of hostilities, but more changes are still required from both governments if we are all to finally live in peace. One should wonder though, how many more secrets are still out there to reveal.

*[Salvador Lew, was former general manager of WRHC-Cadena Azul, founded in 1973 and one of Miami's most anti-communist Spanish-language radio stations. In 1984, the radio station told listeners to boycott Burdines for selling sports clothing by Jane Fonda. Lew at the time called Fonda a "leftist communist." Burdines conceded after receiving several calls from angry customers, including bomb threats.

Salvador Lew was also appointed director of Radio and TV Marti in 2001 (he beat out Radio Mambi's Ninoska Perez-Castellon), until he resigned in 2003 after tensions with employees and a critical U.S. government report. In 2008, he described working at Radio Marti like working in a "branch of hell here on earth."

In a 2008 radio interview, Lew stated: "We have to do away with all the labels. All Cubans are equal. We have all made errors and we all have to fight to free Cuba and so that freedom arrives without blood, without hate and to rebuild the country."]

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