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Cuba is not important. . . . We might as well start a dialogue. —Henry Kissinger, June 1975 9 MUTUAL HOSTILITY AS A FACT OF LIFE THE NIXON-FORD YEARS The war in Vietnam dominated the 1968 election. With half a million U.S. troops already in Indochina, the year began with LBJ’s call for three hundred thousand more soldiers and, to suggest how close the Pentagon had come to scraping the bottom of the barrel, with the suspension of draftdefermentsforgraduatestudents.WhenthedeeplydividedDemocrats convened their disastrous convention in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley’s police surrounded the hall with barbed wire and used tear gas and attack dogs in an unsuccessful attempt to clear the streets of antiwar protesters. The supporters of Senator George McGovern and the other peace candidate , Senator Eugene McCarthy, asked for a two-week recess so that some semblance of order and civility could be restored, but their request was refused and the party instead nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who faced an exceptionally steep uphill battle: not only did many people dislike the war, but others disliked paying for it. LBJ’s record fiscal year 1969 budget proposal included a 10 percent income-tax surcharge, which a Democratic Congress enacted just before the campaign began. Republican conventioneers at Miami, in contrast, were on their best behavior , nominating Richard Nixon to run on a platform promising both fiscal restraint and “a progressive de-Americanization of the war.” “Not every international conflict is susceptible of solution by American ground 242 Mutual Hostility as a Fact of Life forces,” they said. Neither major party said much about Cuba. The Republicans simply promised not to forget “the Cuban people who still cruelly suffer under Communist tyranny,” while the Democrats admitted that “Castro’s Cuba is still a source of subversion” but congratulated themselves because “the other Latin American states are moving ahead under the Alliance for Progress.”¹ With these vague references as the only hints, no one knew what the next administration’s policy would be—the best bet was a continued neglect of Latin America, including Cuba. So no one was surprised when President Nixon failed to mention the region in his 1969 inaugural address, and many attributed the appointment of Nelson Rockefeller to lead a study mission to the region—one of the new president’s first official acts—as an effort to find a useful but peripheral role for a leader of the eastern Republican establishment. Grandson of the founder of Standard Oil, Rockefeller’s first government job had been as director of FDR’s Office for the Coordination of Commercial and Cultural Relations between the American Republics, and over the ensuing years his interest in the region had been fueled less by his family’s substantial investments than by a commitment to market-based development strategies and by an intense fascination with both pre-Columbian and modern Latin American art. By 1969, Rockefeller was the most prominent Republican with experience in Latin American affairs and the logical choice to help set the tenor of the new administration’s policy. But he was also the governor of New York and unable to devote much time to Nixon’s assignment, and the report he delivered in late August ranked low on specifics and high on banalities: “We went to visit neighbors and found brothers,” it began. “We went to listen to the spokesmen of our sister republics and heard the voices of a hemisphere. We went to annotate , to document, and to record.We did so; and we also learned, grew, and changed.” They did not learn anything about Cuba, which was not simply left off the itinerary but completely absent from the document’s twenty pages of graphs and charts; the country’s name was even left off the maps. But Cuba was mentioned occasionally in the text, where its principal role was to serve as a sword of Damocles hanging over the hemisphere: “There is only one Castro among the twenty-six nations of the hemisphere; there can well be more in the future. And a Castro on the mainland, supported militarily and economically by the communist world, would present the gravest kind of threat to the security of the Western Hemisphere.”² This statement led directly to one of the report’s central recommendations : more military aid. “Many of our neighbors . . . have been puzzled by Mutual Hostility as a Fact of Life 243 the reduction in U.S. military assistance grants in view of the growing intensity of the...


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