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Nathaniel Weyl: Encounters With Communism


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A member of the forum, Nathaniel Weyl, recently published a memoir, Encounters With Communism. He has sent me a copy of the book and I thought it might be a good idea to discuss it on the forum. The book records Nathaniel’s political activities in the Socialist Party (Norman Thomas predicted he would become a future leader of the party) and the Communist Party in the 1930s. By the 1950s Weyl had moved sharply to the right and was a supporter of Joseph McCarthy. Nathaniel has some interesting things to say about John Martino and William Pawley, two significant figures in the events surrounding the JFK assassination.

He writes:

Alan Courtney, a commentator on Miami radio, introduced me to John Martino and persuaded me to help him write the story of his imprisonment for several years in Castro's prisons. John told me he had helped set up gambling devices in Cuban hotels under Batista and had been arrested for returning to Cuba to get his employers' money out. I knew that the mob had largely controlled Cuban gambling and assumed John worked for them in a minor capacity.

The Martino story seemed to me a fascinating account from the inside of the experiences of his fellow prisoners, mostly political dissidents, as they faced execution. John Martino turned out to be a mild, very likeable man whose ash-white pallor revealed years of deprivation and suffering.

Although he was an American citizen, Martino had received no help during his ordeal from the Embassy in Havana. Considering the long history of pro-Soviet infiltration of our Latin American foreign service, this did not astonish us. He felt bitter resentment toward the State Department and attributed its abandonment of him to pro-Castro American officials.

The book, I Was Castro's Prisoner, was published in 1962. The following year Martino once again entered the life of Nathaniel Weyl.

In 1963, John Martino came to me with a fascinating story. He had attended a meeting in Palm Beach at which a Cuban who used the nom de guerre of Bayo claimed that the Soviets had deceived President Kennedy and that Russian missiles were still in Cuba. Bayo said he knew tills because two of the Soviet officers guarding these clandestine missiles had defected, were being hidden and guarded by the remnants of the anti-Castro underground and were desperately anxious to tell their story.

I was told that this was an emergency. The Russians could be captured by Castro's forces at any time. John Martino said that their Cuban protectors could get them safely to the northern coast of the island and thence by boat to some agreed-upon rendezvous point in the Bahamas if we acted immediately.

Martino added that Bayo and the other Cuban patriots would have nothing to do with anyone from the CIA because they believed that the Agency had betrayed them at the Bay of Pigs.

Could I get a yacht, designate a time and place to meet on some remote Bahamas island, get there and bring the Russian officers to the American mainland? If it was to be done, it must be done immediately.

Nathaniel did this but later William Pawley and the CIA took control of the operation. They also brought in Henry Luce and the plan was for photographs to be taken of the Russians on board Pawley’s yacht, the Flying Tiger. These were to appear in Luce's Life Magazine. Nathaniel was eventually sidelined from the operation.

He admits that the “defecting Soviet colonels never existed, that there were no Russian missiles left in place in Cuba, that the Bayo story was a hoax.”

My question for Nathaniel concerns the real reasons for Martino telling him this story. Does he agree with Peter Dale Scott (Deep Politics) that the Bayo affair was linked to the Kennedy assassination?

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In his book, The Last Investigation, Gaeton Fonzi writes about an organization called the Citizens Committee to Free Cuba. The group was led by Paul Bethal, the United States Information Agency in Havana in 1960. For a while Fonzi believed that Bethal was CIA operative, Maurice Bishop, the man who recruited Antonio Veciana. Other members included Clare Boothe Luce, William Pawley and Nathaniel Weyl. Fonzi also claims that Bethal was a close personal friend of David Atlee Phillips.

Were you a member of the Citizens Committee to Free Cuba? Do you know the names of other members of this organization? Did you have any contact with Paul Bethal, Antonio Veciana and David Atlee Phillips?

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It seems that Alan Courtney was right in the thick of it. It is not Bayo-Pawley mission related but I have always found this account below interesting. The Davey referred to is Howard K. Davis. Steve Wilson was another present for the interview.

FWIW.

James

Edited by James Richards
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Here are answers to your queries.

(1) BAYO AFFAIR AND JFK ASSASSINATION. No linkage at all. Why should any sane man who planned a presidential assassination start with a high-risk attempt to kill the Cuban dictator? The theory seems to me nonsense.

(2) FREE CUBA COMMITTEE. Never a member, had nothing to do with them. Had never heard of Bethal, Bishop or Veciana prior to this correspondence. The anti-Castro people I dealt with were Hector de Lara, Emilion Nunez Portuondo, Carlos Marques Sterling, John Martino and Bill Pawley.

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The anti-Castro people I dealt with were Hector de Lara, Emilion Nunez Portuondo, Carlos Marques Sterling, John Martino and Bill Pawley.

A four page cable from SAC, Miami to Director and SACS, Dallas and San Antonio reads: "Ernest Aragon, U. S. Secret Service agent advised that about midnight Nov. 24-25 he received information from SS in San Antonio that a long distance telephone call had been placed by Jose San Antonio Cabaca in Mexico City to Dr. Emilio Nunez Portuondo in Miami. The conversation was in Spanish. The gist was 'plan of Castro carried forth. Bobby is next. Soon the atomic bombs will rain and they will not know from where.'"

Nathaniel, are you able to shed any light on this phone call?

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In his book, The Last Investigation, Gaeton Fonzi writes about an organization called the Citizens Committee to Free Cuba. The group was led by Paul Bethal, the United States Information Agency in Havana in 1960. For a while Fonzi believed that Bethal was CIA operative, Maurice Bishop, the man who recruited Antonio Veciana. Other members included Clare Boothe Luce, William Pawley and Nathaniel Weyl.  Fonzi also claims that Bethal was a close personal friend of David Atlee Phillips.

Were you a member of the Citizens Committee to Free Cuba? Do you know the names of other members of this organization? Did you have any contact with Paul Bethal, Antonio Veciana and David Atlee Phillips?

Declaration of Purpose

“The Citizens Committee for a Free Cuba has been formed in a response to a statement issued by Freedom House, on March 25, 1963, calling upon Americans to unite in a movement for a Free Cuba.”

Here are some of the members listed:

Hal Hendrix. Latin America Editor, Miami News

Jay Lovestone, Director of International Publications, AFL-CIO

Clare Boothe Luce

Eugene Lyons, Senior Editor, Readers’ Digest

Bishop James Pike

Virginia Prewett, Latin America Columnist, North American Newspaper Alliance

Edward Teller, Physicist

Adm Arleigh Burke (Ret)

Ernest Cuneo

John Fisher

Daniel James was the Executive Secretary and Editor in 1963. I’m not sure when in 1964 Paul Bethel became editor but he is on the masthead as early as Feb 1964.

Mr. Weyl’s name does not appear anywhere.

Dave

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FREE CUBA COMMITTEE. Never a member, had nothing to do with them.  Had never heard of Bethal, Bishop or Veciana prior to this correspondence. The anti-Castro people I dealt with were Hector de Lara,  Emilion Nunez Portuondo, Carlos Marques Sterling, John Martino and Bill Pawley.

Did you have any dealings with George Smathers, Clare Boothe Luce, David Atlee Phillips, David Morales, Ted Shackley, Desmond FitzGerald, William Harvey, Tracy Barnes, Manuel Artime, or Tony Varona?

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Here are answers to your queries. 

(1) BAYO AFFAIR AND JFK ASSASSINATION.  No linkage at all. Why should any sane man who planned a presidential assassination start with a high-risk attempt to kill the Cuban dictator? The theory seems to me nonsense.

(2)  FREE CUBA COMMITTEE. Never a member, had nothing to do with them.  Had never heard of Bethal, Bishop or Veciana prior to this correspondence. The anti-Castro people I dealt with were Hector de Lara,  Emilion Nunez Portuondo, Carlos Marques Sterling, John Martino and Bill Pawley.

Nathaniel, perhaps your memory can be jarred by the fact that Paul Bethel wrote The Losers, a 1969 book in which he defends you against charges made by Theodore Draper.

On the back cover, Bethel describes himself as "quite possibly the best informed man in America on the subject of Latin America. Press officer for the the U.S. Embassy in Havana until relations with Cuba were broken in 1961, he was not only an eyewitness but a PARTICIPANT in these events. Since then, he has served with the U.S, Information Agency interviewing Cuban escapees, monitoring Cuban radio and collecting other intelligence. In 1963, he became Executive Director of a private group with similar information-gathering functions, the U.S. Citizens Committee for a Free Cuba, and is editor of its knowledgeable publication, Latin American Report. Called the "outstanding expert on Latin American affairs" by a number of U.S. Senators, he has been a consultant for the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the prestigious Hoover Institution, and was the only man in his field invited to testify before the platform committees of both major political parties in 1968. Widely travelled in South and Central America, he literally landed with the Marines in Santo Domingo in 1965 to cover the story of the Dominican revolt."

With a resume like that, the thought occurs that he was CIA through and through. If so, then one must consider his probable ties to Phillips and his 1963 formation of a private group, as possible keys to understanding a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. As it is, just a quick glance over of The Losers reveals that the man was absolutely swimming in the anger he felt towards those who he believed sold out Cuba, especially, Stevenson, Schlesinger and Kennedy. They are "the losers" in the title.

Does anyone know what became of him or if he was ever interviewed about the assassination? His book ignores the assassination altogether.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Does anyone know what became of him or if he was ever interviewed about the assassination?  His book ignores the assassination altogether.

You can find out what I know about him here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKbethelP.htm

Bethel was of course a close friend of David Phillips (they were in the same theatre group in Havana in 1959). Gaeton Fonzi interviewed Bethel. See pages 320-21 of his book, The Last Investigation.

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I have had nothing to do with the Latin American political scene, Cuba or rehashing of my aborted partipation in Operation Bayo for several decades. Hence, my replies to member queries are almost always negative.

The first query was whether I had any dealings with any of 10 people, beginning with George Smathers. I met Smathers once; went to his office, as I recollect at his request. and had a talk about the collapse of the Bay of Pigs invasion and what action we thought JFK should take. Smathers said he had pressed JFK to read my book Red Star, but the President was apparently too busy. Said he would try to have me meet the President, as I remember, to urge him to take decisive action against the Castro regime.Nothing came of any such attempt.

I had no dealings with any of the other 9 people named. The only names that I recognize are Claire Luce, Artime and Varona. (Of course, I may have met some of the nine, but have forgotten the occasion.)

Greg Parker: A strange phone intercept. Who made this crazy remark: Portuondo or his Mexican friend? No sane person would have suggested atom bombing Cuba. I knew nothing about this.

Pat Speer: I am so much out of touch that I didn't know Ted Draper had made charges against me. I would appreciate the citation since I probably should find out what they were. Ditto re my defender Bethel.

The name Paul Bethel rings some distant bell of memory, but I don't know who he is or was or whether I ever knew him. Re his book, The Losers? Should I read it? Does it contain important info or just opinion?

Ted Draper and I were fellow Communists in 1932 and were both editors of the magazine of the CPUSA-run college student org. Never met him again. When he tried to present the Castro movement as a rebirth of (was it Robespierre?), I believe I made some critical comment, but don't recall where.

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I have had nothing to do with the Latin American political scene, Cuba or rehashing of my aborted partipation in Operation Bayo for several decades. Hence, my replies to member queries are almost always negative.

The first query was whether I had any dealings with any of 10 people, beginning with George Smathers. I met Smathers once; went to his office, as I recollect at his request. and had a talk about the collapse of the Bay of Pigs invasion and what action we thought JFK should take. Smathers said he had pressed JFK to read my book Red Star, but the President was apparently too busy. Said he would try to have me meet the President, as I remember, to urge him to take decisive action against the Castro regime.Nothing came of any such attempt.

I had no dealings with any of the other 9 people named. The only names that I recognize are Claire Luce, Artime and Varona. (Of course, I may have met some of the nine, but have forgotten the occasion.)

Greg Parker: A strange phone intercept. Who made this crazy remark: Portuondo or his Mexican friend? No sane person would have suggested atom bombing Cuba. I knew nothing about this.

Pat Speer: I am so much out of touch that I didn't know Ted Draper had made charges against me. I would appreciate the citation since I probably should find out what they were. Ditto re my defender Bethel.

The name Paul Bethel rings some distant bell of memory, but I don't know who he is or was or whether I ever knew him. Re his book, The Losers? Should I read it? Does it contain important info or just opinion?

Ted Draper and I were fellow Communists in 1932 and were both editors of the magazine of the CPUSA-run college student org. Never met him again. When he tried to present the Castro movement as a rebirth of (was it Robespierre?), I believe I made some critical comment, but don't recall where.

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I have had nothing to do with the Latin American political scene, Cuba or rehashing of my aborted partipation in Operation Bayo for several decades. Hence, my replies to member queries are almost always negative.

The first query was whether I had any dealings with any of 10 people, beginning with George Smathers. I met Smathers once; went to his office, as I recollect at his request. and had a talk about the collapse of the Bay of Pigs invasion and what action we thought JFK should take. Smathers said he had pressed JFK to read my book Red Star, but the President was apparently too busy. Said he would try to have me meet the President, as I remember, to urge him to take decisive action against the Castro regime.Nothing came of any such attempt.

I had no dealings with any of the other 9 people named. The only names that I recognize are Claire Luce, Artime and Varona. (Of course, I may have met some of the nine, but have forgotten the occasion.)

Greg Parker: A strange phone intercept. Who made this crazy remark: Portuondo or his Mexican friend? No sane person would have suggested atom bombing Cuba. I knew nothing about this.

Pat Speer: I am so much out of touch that I didn't know Ted Draper had made charges against me. I would appreciate the citation since I probably should find out what they were. Ditto re my defender Bethel.

The name Paul Bethel rings some distant bell of memory, but I don't know who he is or was or whether I ever knew him. Re his book, The Losers? Should I read it? Does it contain important info or just opinion?

Ted Draper and I were fellow Communists in 1932 and were both editors of the magazine of the CPUSA-run college student org. Never met him again. When he tried to present the Castro movement as a rebirth of (was it Robespierre?), I believe I made some critical comment, but don't recall where.

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Pat Speer: I am so much out of touch that I didn't know Ted Draper had made charges against me. I would appreciate the citation since I probably should find out what they were. Ditto re my defender Bethel.

The name Paul Bethel rings some distant bell of memory, but I don't know who he is or was or whether I ever knew him. Re his book, The Losers? Should I read it? Does it contain important info or just opinion?

Ted Draper and I were fellow Communists in 1932 and were both editors of the magazine of the CPUSA-run college student org. Never met him again. When he tried to present the Castro movement as a rebirth of (was it Robespierre?), I believe I made some critical comment, but don't recall where.

On pg. 66-70 of The Losers, Bethel attacks the journalists who were soft on Castro, particularly Herbert Matthews and Theodore Draper. He claims that Draper unfairly accused Sen.s James Eastland and Thomas Dodd, as well as author Nathaniel Weyl, of being "extreme right wing," for coming to critical conclusions regarding the responsibility of individual Americans for American policy. Bethel believes the Havana embassy in 1959-1960 was indeed "appeasement minded" and as such should be held accountable for their failure to recognize Castro for what he was.

The accusations against Mr. Weyl by Mr. Draper came in his book Castro's Revolution (1962). On pg. 34-44, he denigrates Weyl's book Red Star Over Cuba. He claims that much of the book is based on intelligence obtained from Batista's intelligence sources. He claims that "the implicit thesis of the book was stated by Senators James Eastland and Thomas Dodd...whom Weyl quotes, "Cuba was handed to Castro and the Communists by a combination of Americans in the same way that China was handed over to the Communists." In effect, this is the extreme right-wing case against Castro and those who allegedly put him into power." Draper proceeds to criticize Mr. Weyl for citing the testimony of Batista employees, and for playing "fast and loose" in his references to Communist money allegedly put at Castro's disposal in his early days. He sums up his attack on Weyl's book by stating "such blunders are inevitable in a book that accepts Batista's and Trujillo's sources uncritically. Communists, non-Communists, and opportunists are indiscriminately lumped together. Every bit of evidence that does not fit the book's thesis is ruthlessly suppressed or glossed over. All the hard problems of Castro's political developments are oversimplified and vulgarized."

In short, Draper didn't like the book and Bethel called Draper a "loser."

As for The Losers, it's a passionate and comprehensive book (over 600 pages) representing the views of a man who felt the U.S. was losing the war on Communism in Latin America. It's intriguing if for no other reason than it represents the chance to peer inside the mind of a man who was completely sure he was right, and yet ended up being wrong... Kinda like Nixon's memoirs....

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Greg Parker:  A strange phone intercept. Who made this crazy remark:  Portuondo or his Mexican friend?  No sane person would have suggested atom bombing Cuba.  I knew nothing about this.

Thanks for your reply, Nathaniel.

The person who allegedly made the phone call and the remarks was Jose San Antonio Cabaca. The call was to on of the 5 anti-Castroies you dealt with - Emilio Nunez Portuondo.

I agree - no sane person would have suggested bombing Cuba. What is most puzzling about the comment is that it names Castro as the lunatic ordering the assassination in order to ensure Cuba was nuked. Again, here is what the document said was the gist of the messsage (translated from Spanish): "plan of Castro carried forth. Bobby is next. Soon the atomic bombs will rain and they will not know from where."

My take on it is this: the "gist" of the message was altered by changing one or two words. What if what was said was actually, "Our (or the) plan was carried forth. Bobby next. Soon the atomic bombs will rain down and Castro (or Kruschev) will not know from where."

Since we agree, a sane man wouldn't want this... I'd have to say it was someone whose sanity could be questioned. Who was calling to drop the big bombs all through the late 50s and into the 60s? One that comes to mind: Curtis LeMay.

But he wasn't the only one. There were others in high office, or with influence in others ways, who also fit the bill.

It is great having someone who actually lived through all this history taking an interest in assisting those of us who didn't, but who nevertheless, want to understand what I think of as "the background noise" of the era.

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