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03 December 2016 - Reflections on Fidel and Cuba

The death of Fidel Castro late last month brought back several Cuban memories for me, dating all the way back to the early 1960's, when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was part of our daily life. That was when Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban government and established a Communist government just 90 miles off our shores.

That event was followed by the Soviet Union loading ships with missiles, shipping them to Cuba to put Soviet missiles 90 miles from our shores.

At that time, President John F. Kennedy said “No way.” The President sent the U. S. Navy out to blockade those vessels loaded with the missiles. The Soviet vessels turned around and returned to their home base. There was at least one night during that stand-off when many of us went to bed not knowing if we would be at war the next morning with the Soviet Union.

The radio station where I was employed, WGN-Radio Chicago, played a role in the incident because President Kennedy asked our station and three other clear-channel radio stations to carry a message from him to the Cuban people, five times a night - every hour on the hour - for five nights saying we were not angry with the Cuban people, we were angry with their leader. He also said diplomatic relations would be cut and a full trade embargo would be put in place until Fidel Castro was removed from office.

We did what our President asked us to do and within two months, Fidel Castro installed two-hundred-fifty-thousand-watt transmitters on the frequencies of the four stations, causing tremendous interference. For WGN Radio listeners living on the south side of Chicago, all they could hear at night on our frequency was Cuba.

Now, let me fast-forward to 1999 when I went to Cuba with then Governor George Ryan of Illinois on a Humanitarian Mission. We had the opportunity to visit with agricultural producers and importers and quickly learned the embargo wasn’t working because we didn’t control all of the commodities. Other countries quickly stepped in to provide them to Cuba; wheat from Canada, soybeans from Brazil, rice from Vietnam and pork and poultry from France.

Other memories of that trip to Cuba...the 1957 Chevrolets on the streets with half a dozen different paint colors, but still running despite not getting parts from the U.S. for forty years, broadcasting our WGN morning radio show from the studios of Havana Radio, visiting several schools and farms, AND meeting and shaking hands with Fidel Castro! Some memories of Cuba.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.