Recovered History: America lured, drowned thousands of Cubans

Anti-communist propaganda kills.

Seems like everyone’s slamming Bernie Sanders for saying a few nice things about Cuba and Fidel Castro. Miami’s response topped them all, though. The city just announced it’s gonna hold a government-funded (yes, government-funded) anti-communist concert dedicated to the people who risked their lives escaping communism. Take that Bernie, you old Judeo-Bolshevik!

Speaking of escaping communism. Most people don’t know that America had a hand in killing an estimated 77,000 Cubans just in the 1980s and 1990s — that’s way more than the total number of Cubans than Castro is accused of killing.

America’s weapon of choice? Anti-communist propaganda. Cause of death? Drowning.

I stumbled onto this little chunk of forgotten imperial history while researching the CIA’s global psychological warfare and propaganda apparatus for my book Surveillance Valley.

These particular Cuban deaths had to do with Radio Martí, a US government propaganda outfit that targeted Cuba for regime change and destabilization.

In the 1980s, Radio Martí began running an extensive radio propaganda campaign that promoted and lionized Cuban “balseros” — people who set out to sea on makeshift boats and rafts in the hopes of reaching Florida.

The problem with this is that everyone knew that rafters had a 50-50 chance of survival. Many of these homemade floats would break apart midway and people would drown. But it didn’t matter. American propaganda planners kept beaming these programs into Cuba, whipping up excitement and trying to get people to raft to freedom.

How many people drowned because of America’s prodding?

Estimates vary widely on the number of deaths. It could be anywhere from several thousand all the way up to 77,000. Which, by the way, is higher than the body count racked up by Castro — even the inflated counts compiled by anti-communist outfits. That’s some low energy dictatoring, if ask me.

Here are some relevant excerpts from Daniel C. Walsh’s An Air War with Cuba:

Obviously not everyone decided to raft it to freedom because of one-sided CIA propaganda. But it’s clear that some — and possibly very, very many — did.

Producing disinformation that celebrated the people who made it across safely while being quiet about the ones who didn’t — the ones who drowned at sea? Not sure what the relevant legal classification here would be. But to a simple Soviet refugee like me, this is more than callous. It’s straight up murder.

Publicly, Radio Martí said it cared about the Cuban people. Privately, it knowingly led many to their deaths.

Of course the body count from these drownings doesn’t include the one racked up by the brutal colonial dictatorship that Fidel Castro overthrew — the one that America supported. But hey, can you really put a price on anti-communism? American history says, “No.”

—Yasha Levine

Immigrants as a Weapon is an investigative newsletter that looks at the weaponization of nationalism and immigrant communities. Check out this introductory post