Out of the Humidor

| By CA Readers | From The Sopranos, Mar/Apr 01

Dear Marvin,

Crowing over his contribution to toppling Guatemala's democracy in 1954, and blaming JFK for the CIA's rout at the Bay of Pigs, Howard Hunt (December 2000 issue) proves his moral compass is as skewed as is his judgment.

Ironically, Hunt's proud product, a "liberated" Guatemala, provides perhaps the best contrast for the relative merits of emancipation by U.S.-directed anti-Communists versus liberation by his bete noir, Fidel Castro. Although it is horrid and indefensible, Fidel's record shines compared to the succession of U.S.-approved totalitarian dictators who have tortured Guatemala, killing an estimated 200,000 since Hunt's "victory" in '54. Both the United Nations and the Catholic Church credit the Guatemalan government with over 90 percent of those murders (compared to a paltry 3 percent for the rebels), and the U.N. has concluded that the United States shares the blame.

And what rubbish is his claim that, but for JFK's refusal to approve additional air strikes, the Bay of Pigs invasion "would've been a fete champetre." The recently declassified 38-year-old report by the CIA's own inspector general, Lyman Kirkpatrick, reveals that, after 300 CIA interviews, he came to the same conclusion as other credible authorities: that the problem wasn't insufficient air cover. It was the CIA's own "bad planning," "poor" staffing, faulty intelligence, "fragmentation of authority," mistreatment of the exile forces, the "failure [of the CIA] to advise the President that success had become dubious," etc. What's worse is that the CIA charged ahead even after it learned that the Russians had advance knowledge from a leak of the exact date of the planned invasion, a fact the agency apparently kept from JFK.

Having failed to succeed in smearing JFK by falsifying cables to link him to the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, the patriot Hunt is at it again -- falsifying history to blame Kennedy for the agency's "perfect failure" at the Bay of Pigs. It's likely that not only would Cuba and Guatemala be better off today without the amoral derring-do of patriotic scoundrels like E. Howard Hunt, but so would the United States.

Gary L. Aguilar
San Francisco, California


Dear Marvin,

David Giammarco's article on E. Howard Hunt was superb. It's about time a magazine sheds some light on the truth. The brief mention of Hunt vs. Liberty Lobby, that little trial down in Florida, is a rarity among news reports or magazine articles. Yet it is one of the most compelling and concrete cases implicating Mr. Hunt and his cronies at the CIA for the murder of JFK. Lawyer Mark Lane's book on the trial, Plausible Denial, is without a doubt the best case against Hunt. Why doesn't anyone ever talk about this?! So glad you did!

As for Hunt's interview, we see a truly bitter man. It's amazing that he calls himself a patriot when in reality he's a right-wing fascist. How can he justify his black-bag jobs? The man shows no remorse or contrition. Does he realize what he's saying in this article?! I love the part where he says he should have taken out the guard during the Watergate break-in! Then he would have been a murderer instead of a two-bit thief. This guy's out there. Great piece. Mr. Giammarco got him to really open up. I found myself feeling a bit sorry for the man.

Hunt should remember this Kennedy thing is not going to go away as long as gutsy reporters and investigators keep chipping away at it. Hunt had the motive for wanting JFK out of the way. If you're such a patriot, how about the truth about JFK, Mr. Hunt?

Thank you, Marvin and Mr. Giammarco, for doing your patriotic duty in exposing this man for what he is and talking about that little trial in Florida that should have shocked the world.

Drew Johnson
Studio City, California


Dear Marvin,

I've been a regular reader of your magazine from almost the beginning. But your editorial in the February 2001 issue made me a little angry. I felt, as an American, I was being lectured to.

So new legislation was introduced in late October, right before an election, that would loosen the trade embargo with Cuba, allowing direct sales of foodstuffs and medicines to Cuba. But I understand from your editorial what really upset Castro was the last-minute change in the bill prohibiting any direct U.S. financing for those deals. To that I say: let Castro be upset. Cuba already does business with the rest of the industrialized world.

You point out that Castro has once again used this action to make the United States the root of all Cuba's troubles. Come on; even if we ended the embargo tomorrow and gave Cuba all the food and medicine it needed, Castro would still spit in the face of the United States. I believe Castro's anger at the United States is deeper than the anger of the anti-Castro exiles we saw during the Elián González fiasco. Instead of trying to negotiate with us, Castro immediately took to the streets to once again condemn this country, a country that has bailed out many other countries with untold billions of taxpayer dollars.

I think it's time for Castro to drop some of his anger and propaganda and try meeting the U.S. halfway. Why is the United States to blame for all of this? And why does Castro have to have it all his way? You had some pretty strong words to describe the Cuban-American anti-Castro faction in the United States, words like narrow-minded and selfish. I think those same words could be used to describe Castro.

Walter Darocha
Long Beach, California


Dear Marvin,

Amen!!! Your February editorial reflects my exact feelings of the past six years. As a Cuban-born former refugee, now an American citizen, I echo your sentiments that the small but powerful Cuban political lobby of Florida is on the brink of turning the Fidel issue into an irreparable issue much like the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

I was not of this sentiment until October 1994, when I returned to Cuba after 32 years. The light bulb went on; it was blatantly obvious that the embargo had switched courses, much like a river. Now, instead of hurting Castro, it was keeping his own people from having the means to bring him down.

The overwhelming majority of Cuban people would revolt, but with what? Horse-drawn vehicles, machetes, rakes and hoes? That didn't even work in the 1890s against Spain; we still needed help. The Cuban people have no gasoline or vehicles to run around in, no means to buy arms, no means of mass communicating with one another (try making a phone call in Cuba to a neighbor, assuming you each have a phone).

The Cuban people need money to arm themselves and to bribe the military. I know the argument that if you drop the embargo you are giving Castro money. Here's a news flash: he's already got the money!!!

If the embargo is dropped, while Castro will get richer, there will be no way to stop even a trickle of money from getting to the people. There will be too many leaks in the dike; the Cuban people will sniff out the sources of money and get to them. And then, when Castro's continuing failing policies keep the country in poverty, and when he can't point his finger to the north and blame the evil Americans and their embargo, the Cuban people will drive Castro out so fast, he won't know what hit him.

Thank you, Mr. Shanken and Mr. Mott, for continuing to surface this issue. Take note that without much fanfare, Castro recently stopped incoming calls from the United States and later welcomed the new Russian president for a visit. He's doing it again, and we are doing nothing about it because our hatred is blinding our ability to think this through. The same tool we rightly used against him in 1962, we can now use against him by dropping it.

Raul Gomez
Simi Valley, California


Dear Marvin,

I've enjoyed your magazine ever since I picked up the August 1999 issue covering the centennial birth of Ernest Hemingway. Neil Grauer's writing was skillful, his reporting absolutely thorough, and the analysis didn't hold any punches. However, I find exception to the "Wild Wild Web" column by James Cramer [cofounder of TheStreet.com] in your February 2001 issue. Mr. Cramer's snobbery is atrocious. According to the story, the geeks Mr. Cramer is referring to are software programmers and other Web professionals. Just so you are aware, I know many programmers who enjoy a good smoke. If Mr. Cramer is trying to make a point that sophisticates -- your readers, I presume? -- shouldn't be afraid of the Internet, I'm sure he can build a better case than belittling others. It's very "high school" and an embarrassment to your otherwise fine publication. I also find it amusing that Cigar Aficionado decided to uphold Mr. Cramer as an expert, of sorts, on the new economy. Mr. Cramer rode to financial heights on the Internet wave that he talks so simply about. Now that the wave has crashed, those of us in the industry know that TheStreet is crumbling beneath him.

Tom Kaneshige
San Francisco, California


Dear Marvin,

Every now and then, while passing through the pages of Cigar Aficionado, I happen across a photograph of George Hamilton and I can't help but smile. As an actor, Mr. Hamilton may have received some mixed reviews at various points in his career, but as a "spokesmodel" for cigar lovers everywhere, he is unsurpassed. In my opinion, he embodies the epitome of elegance and refinement. So, please allow me to tell you my own personal story about George Hamilton.

At the time, I was living in Palm Beach, Florida, and the winter social season was in full swing. My wife and I were returning home from a black-tie charity ball, at which George Hamilton had been an attendee. As we were driving along Ocean Boulevard, we happened to see Mr. Hamilton pulled over at the side of the road where he was receiving a traffic citation from a local police officer. My wife, who could sell Hanukkah dreidels in Vatican City, insisted that we stop to assist. To Mr. Hamilton's amazement, she talked the officer out of giving him the ticket. Graciously, he asked us how he could repay us for this assistance. Cleverly, she insisted that he drop by our house for a glass of Port wine and a cigar.

Well, as often happens in Palm Beach, an odd assortment of characters in formal attire were soon assembled in my living room, including George and his brother David, Roxanne Pulitzer, and Deborah Couples (then recently divorced from golfer Fred).

I was honored to present my guests with a very nice Taylor-Fladgate Port (whose vintage now escapes me) and a box of Cuban Romeo y Julieta cigars (the "Prince of Wales" variety, as I recall).

George was absolutely charming, as you would expect; intelligent, witty, and possessed with a personal style that set everyone at ease. Needless to say, a marvelous time was had by all, and I -- in one of my better bargains -- was able to exchange some truly superb cigars and an equally memorable Port for treasured memories of a wonderful evening.

William Lanting
Lanting Hotel Group
Palm Beach, California