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Wednesday, January 18, 2006 | I know a bit about Cuba having once spent several months on a so-called Navy spy ship that steamed slowly back and forth just a few miles from Havana. We could see the cars driving up and down the Malecon. A Cuban radio station called us a black cloud on the horizon. Cuba and the United States didn’t like each other at all. That was 1962.
That annoying little country just 90 miles from Florida is once again the source of consternation in the United States. This time it has little to do with the usual problems between our two governments. Furthermore San Diego, not Miami, is in the middle of it.
But such a romantic figure Fidel was! His beard! His military fatigues! And the idea that he overthrew a really bad guy. He even loved baseball and played a bit of it. He has something in common with our current president, who once owned a baseball team and aspired to be baseball commissioner.
But things got nasty between us and that little country. At a time when the world was divided between good (us) and evil (them) Fidel aligned himself with “them.” Now a commie government was just over the horizon. Castro appropriated American businesses of all sorts. First to go were the casinos, run by the American mobsters who had also helped turn Havana into a huge whorehouse. Then, the more legitimate businesses, especially sugar producers, became Cuban.
Soon diplomatic relations were broken and stayed that way. Things approached a crisis level in 1961 when Cuban expatriates abetted by our new president invaded the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron) in 1961. Then things reached a crisis level in 1962. The Soviets put missiles in Cuba and pointed them at us. That’s why my ship was down there doing spooky stuff. If we could find out that one of those missiles were fired we could warn millions of Americans they had a few minutes to live.
Many feel those 12 days in October were the closest mankind has come to virtual annihilation. The times were perilous. The big power players in the world had the ability to wipe each other out.
Over the years, our spooks in the CIA were said to have planned dozens of dirty tricks against the bearded commie dictator. They sent a former lover, by then a gringo spy, to Cuba to slip poison into his food. She later admitted that her passion to kill Fidel dissipated when he turned on the old charm.
Half-baked plots worthy of the Three Stooges would have had an exploding cigar do him in. Another would have caused his famous beard to fall out. An imaginative scheme would plant deadly explosive sea shells in the clear waters off Cuba where he went skin diving. Either fortunately or unfortunately (depending upon how you felt about it, or about your sense of humor) none of those things worked.
Now, not to be outdone by his predecessors, our current president has added even one more bit of silliness to our curious enigma. He has refused to relent and let Cuba – with one of the best teams outside the United States – play in what is called the World Baseball Classic. The finals will be held at Petco Park March 18 and 20.
Annihilation or silly tricks, I think it’s about time we knock it off and recognize that little country. Perhaps we could get along with them for a while. God knows we have few enough friends as it is.
But how? Let me suggest we follow the example of another hard-line right-winger, Richard Nixon. Back in 1971, he used Ping-Pong to open relations with the biggest country on earth, China. Not that anybody asked me, but I kinda liked the idea of being friends with a country of more than a billion people. If Ping-Pong diplomacy could work, baseball diplomacy might work. We just might end up solving more than a problem with a game.
Meanwhile someone ought to tell the man, who, ’tis said, wanted to be baseball commissioner rather than the job he now has, to exert his authority and invite the guy who, ’tis said, wanted to play for the Senators, that he should send his team up here to play baseball in March. The president would upset the half million Cuban expatriates living in the Sunshine State but he has a chance to make a start toward peace with the 12 million Cubans living in Cuba.
Maybe our new mayor could take advantage of his “new broom” popularity to urge the president to bend a little on this. It might work. Stranger things than this are happening in today’s Washington.
Keith Taylor has been a baseball fan since 1945 when he saw the Cubs win their last pennant. He can be reached at