Wednesday, February 08, 2012
JFK's Cigars and the Cuban Embargo
I was in high school when the Kennedy brothers damned near blew up the world after their idiotic assaults and reckless policies on Cuba and Fidel Castro culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
History has shown that we were very close to nuclear catastrophe during those 14 harrowing days. That is, we were even closer than had been assumed at the time, which was plenty close, because (unknown to the White House at the time) there were a fair number of armed and ready-to-go tactical nuclear missiles already in Cuba at the time, and the signal to launch them could have been given by the chief Russian officer on site, without prior clearance from the Kremlin. One unsteady hand on a hair trigger, and it would have been off to the races with a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Those particular small tactical missiles, not to be confused with the crisis-precipitating medium-range ballistic missiles that were en-route to Cuba on Soviet ships that ultimately turned back with the blockade, had a range of 1,100 miles. You don't need Google Maps today to see that that put them within range of Washington D.C.
That crisis came eight months after the U.S. began a strict embargo on trade with and travel to Cuba and persists to this very day.
What has 50 years of the Kennedy-ordered Cuban embargo brought us? Absolutely nothing, unless you count the craven pandering to wily Cuban exiles in South Florida who manipulate (along with their children) U.S. presidential politics to this day from their cosseted position in the Miami area in a key electoral state.
It's well known that John Kennedy, he of the 19-year-old intern among his numerous mistresses, thought to secure himself a nice supply of Cuban cigars before signing the order that began the embargo against trade and travel with and to Cuba.
The full details, like the details on that poor 19-year-old intern who Kennedy abused, have been available for years, but the media tend to highlight them only sporadically. Like now, on the 50th anniversary of the embargo, which to date has (like the wily Fidel Castro himself) outlasted nine presidents (not counting President Obama) and four popes (not counting the present one).
John F. Kennedy, being a person who never let ethics, prudence, or even the law get in the way of his own personal gratification, made sure he was taken care of, as usual, before putting the embargo into effect.
Pierre Salinger, the Kennedy press secretary, originally told the story of the Cuban cigars to Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1992, and it resurfaces today in some detail on the Web site of the Daily Mail, the UK newspaper that is making major inroads in the U.S.
Salinger recounted that Kennedy called him into his office and said he needed help obtaining 1,000 Petit Upmanns, which are premium Cuban cigars. He said he needed them by "tomorrow morning," wrote Salinger, who died in 2004.
Salinger dutifully set to work cornering as many Cuban cigars (which were at that moment still legally available in the U.S.) as he could get. As usual, the Kennedy aide delivered. He obtained 1,200 cigars.
The next morning, Kennedy was delighted when his lackey delivered the goods to the Oval Office. Wrote Salinger, "Kennedy smiled and opened up his desk. He took out a long paper which he immediately signed. It was the decree banning all Cuban products from the United States. Cuban cigars were now illegal in our country."
They remain illegal, another legacy of the very strange time of the early 1960s.