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All the Wrong Questions, All the Wrong Answers BY ROBERT KAHN CONTESTING CASTRO: THE UNITED STATES AND THE TRIUMPH OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTION. By Thomas G. Paterson. 352 pp. Oxford University Press. $30. WHERE THE BOYS ARE CUBA, COLD WAR AMERICA AND THE MAKING OF A NEW LEFT. By Van Gosse. 270 pp. Verso Books, 1993. $18.95, paper. THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT is always ready with answers for Latin America. The problem is those damned countries won’t ever ask the right questions. Contesting Castro is a well-written diplomatic history of U.S.-Cuba relations from the Batista era to the triumph of Castro’s revolution. With background provided by a wealth of declassified State Department cables and documents, Paterson asks, `Why did these once close neighbors and allies become such inveterate enemies,” even before Castro’s turn to Marxism? Though Paterson draws no parallels to U.S. policy in the rest of Latin America, the lessons leap from the page. Indeed, they are so obvious, one wonders why no one with policymaking power In Washington has learned them yet.. Though the question, “Who lost.. lent of reactionary know-nothingism, Paterson says it’s a reasonable question to ask of Cuba, whose 1903 Constitution gave the United States the “right” to intervene in Cuban affairs. Despite Yankee paternalism, Cubans had real affection for Yankees and U.S. culture until the Eisenhower Administration’s support for the Batista dictatorship inserted a wedge that Castro drove home. Why couldn’t the United States get it right? Better yet, or worse yet, how could the United States get it so wrong that the U.S. Robert Khan, who formerly worked as an editor at the Brownsville Herald, currently works as an editor for a Temecula, Calfornia, daily. Ambassador could report as late as August 1958 that Castro had little support and was doomed to defeat, while Batista was fuinly in control? Paterson provides three answers: The State Department’s penchant to ask The Wrong Question, to search for The \(mythCrisis. Eisenhower “left policymaking to his subordinates, apparently comfortable with a management style that often kept him ignorant of details and that presented him with problems usually only when they reached a point of severe crisis.” With the recent exception of the North American Free Trade Agreement, this pretty well summarizes U.S. policy in Latin America. For more than a century, the United States has regarded the Caribbean Basin as a bowl of client states. For Washington, the answer to the oft-asked question, “When is U.S. intervention justified In Latin America?” has always been, ‘Whenever we pay attention.” WITH CUBAN DEPENDENCY assumed, the State Department concluded that its job was to shore up a client state rather than analyzing the country’s social, economic and political problems. ‘Their failure was that they dwelled on the wrong question, and thus they never fully understood why Cubans so detested Batista and why Castro was emerging triumphant…. American officials searched more for signs of any Castroite flirtation with Communist dogmas than for the profound sources of Cuban discontents.” Typical was U.S. Ambassador Arthur Gardner’s warning that Cuba could become “a breeding place for real starvation and misery, giving the Communists a foothold they never had before.” Cuba’s problem was not starvation and miseryit was communists, who hadn’t yet arrived. Ideology was more important than reality. Thus right-wing Republicans criticized Gardner’s successor, Earl E.T. Smith, for meeting with New Yotk Times reporter Herbert Matthews before Smith assumed his post presumably because the Ambassador might learn something. And once south of the border, Smith accused the Havana CIA sta tion chief of being pro-Castrofor disputing the Ambassador’s lame-brained assessment of Cuba. It takes a supreme effort to make the CIA look good in Latin America, but in this case the State Department pulled it off. After losing touch with reality, when crisis hit and Reality marched down from the sierra with guns, the State Department searched for a Third Force, someone who was anti-Batista and anti-Castro. Less than 12 hours before Batista fled Cuba, Acting Secretary of State Christian Herter was still looking for a Third Force, “because once identified it will serve as a rallying point,” Herter told a top-level State Department crisis meeting late in the afternoon of December 31, 1958. This is diplomacy by wish-fulfillment, and though Paterson doesn’t dwell upon it, it hasn’t stopped. Paterson is no fan of Castro, and the book is in no way tainted by a political slant. The State Department documents are damning enough in themselves. The last, brief chapter covers the past 35 years of U.S.-Cuban relations. The book ends with, but never addresses the question: “When Israelis and Palestinians could begin to settle their profound differences at the negotiating table and Vietnam and the United States could take steps toward normalizing Cuba and the United States could also reach an accommodation?’ p ATERSON NEVER TRIES . to answer the question, though Van Gosse gives us a few hints, in Where the Boys Are. Gosse cites Michael Harrington’s statement that U.S. policy toward Cuba has been governed by the same “psychopathic and vengeful” attitude that Stalin had for Tito. Ally ally out can’t get in ever againand don’t even ask. Less successfully than Paterson, Gosse eventually makes some good points. His first 30 tendentious pages read like a rewritten doctoral thesis. which the book is. But Gosse or his editors recover their senses and the book improves with each chapter until its final, embarrassing panegyric to CastroGosse’s hero. Where the Boys Are is a history of the THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19