Castro Outlives Another American President

Admire him or despise him, it's tempting to think Fidel Castro keeps a piece of polished Cuban Mahogany in his office with, as of yesterday, six marks on it -- one for each American president he has defied and survived, beginning with Dwight Eisenhower. Every president starting with Ike has presided over plots of various levels of nefariousness against Castro's Cuba, the most notorious being the Kennedy era's botched invasions, exploding clam plots and beard-melting conspiracies. But even the more benign U.S. administrations have maintained the embargo and participated in various other forms of economic subterfuge against the hemisphere's only socialist isle.

It has long been a parlor game guessing how many of his American nemeses Castro will bury before finally going to that great sugar-cane farm in the sky. Unless Jimmy Carter chokes on a peanut or Bill Clinton gets in bed with an athletic 22-year-old, the final number looks like it is going to be six.

As he nears his own death, one wonders if the newly God-fearing Castro doesn't find less satisfaction than he used to in the passing of an American President, especially this one. Gerald Ford once called Castro an "international outlaw" and threatened "appropriate action" against Cuban troops in foreign countries, but it was also Ford who forbade government-sponsored assassinations in a landmark 1976 presidential directive. True, it was applied under enormous public and Congressional pressure led by Senator Frank Church. But it was still Ford's signature that removed the large CIA-sponsored bulls-eye from the center of Castro's forehead. The flurry of restrictions on black-ops and oversight rules signed by Ford didn't mean we stopped assisting rogue anti-Castro elements in Miami-Dade, but officially we weren't in the assassination business anymore. That was something. It was a big something, actually, and for a long time.

Alas, not anymore. The current administration was the first to turn its back on Ford's executive orders banning state-sponsored assassinations and establishing intelligence oversight, and it's worth remembering that Ford's most important legacy died a violent death several years before he did. With at least two more years of Bush-Cheney lawlessness to go, we can at least be thankful for that other major Ford legacy: The rehab clinic.

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