Monday, August 28, 2006

The Raleigh Spy Conference

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of attending the 4th annual Raleigh Spy Conference. This was the second year in a row I had the opportunity to go to this event, and both times it has been excellent. As one of the foremost events dealing with the history of intelligence operations, it is not just interesting but relevant to both my civilian and military jobs.

By either sheer good fortune or incredible vision, the topic for this year's event was Castro's Cuba. You can see a list of the speakers here, but suffice it to say that they provided some fascinating revelations and analysis. While I haven't had the chance to read the various works of this year's presenters in detail, here are some of the main insights:

-Contrary to what many Castro apologists claim, Cuba was anything but an impoverished backwater in the 1950's. Before the Maximum Leader took power, Cuba was one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America, with an average per capita income higher than many European nations and a large, prosperous middle class. As for Castro's vaunted health care and literacy programs, Cuba already had one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America and a solid public school system before Fidel turned the country into East Germany with palm trees. In the 1950's, Cuba had the world's 13th lowest infant mortality rate. Today, it is 38th.

-Castro's driving force, beyond megalomania, is a pathological anti-Americanism inherited from his father, just about the only thing they agreed on. This is what led Fidel to seek out the Soviets, and made the idea that he could ever have been an American ally extremely unlikely.

-Far from being the jovial peasant who visited Disneyland, Nikita Khrushchev was a bellicose believer in the spread of Marxism-Leninism, to the point where he was willing to risk nuclear war to do it. The Soviet decision to deploy nuclear missiles to Cuba in 1962 had nothing to do with defending Cuba from the U.S. Rather, it was part of a plan to erase the USSR's strategic nuclear disadvantage and force the U.S. to abandon West Berlin among other concessions. Ironically, the more the Kennedy Administration called Khrushchev's bluffs, the more aggressive he became. This is worth keeping in mind when dealing with a soon to be nuclear armed, expansionist Iranian regime.

-While much is made of the CIA's often ridiculous, often tragic covert campaign against the Castro regime, few people know that Cuban intelligence has been intimately involved in the terrorist activities of Puerto Rican separatists right here in the United States.

-In the opinion of Brian Latell, former CIA Cuba analyst and author of After Fidel, Fidel's brother and heir Raul Castro is likely to seek some sort of rapprochement with the U.S. In Latell's view, Raul will pursue a Chinese style campaign of economic liberalization while preserving the one party dictatorship. I hope Latell is correct, because even this would be better than the present totalitarian dead end that Cuba faces.


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