Raul Castro's 1958
Kidnaping of 50
News Tribune, Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie, Florida Friday,
June 24, 1988. From the Tom Dunkin Papers]
Politically-inspired kidnaping an old story
By Tom Dunkin
Raul Castro's 1958 kidnaping of 50 American and Canadian
personnel and civilians in Cuba, 30 years ago this coming
26, gave the sputtering Castro rebellion the spark needed to
That example has been copied profitably by political
dissidents in the
ensuing three decades, including the Mideast, where U.S.,
German, Indian, Italian and Irish citizens still are being
Release of three French citizens last month in Lebanon
leaves "16 to
23" hostages still being held there, according to varying
And Cubans on the other side of the fence, exiles ruled
by U.S. authorities, recently used hostages taken in prison
gain reconsideration of plans to send them back to Fidel
IN THAT instance, the contentious point was U.S. Cuban
announced last November to deport 2,746 "excludable"
Most were "Marielitos", exiles who swarmed to Florida in the
exodus from the Cuban port of Mariel.
Some 7,000 more in detention as questionable immigrant or
sentences for crimes committed after coming here, plus
Marielitos who had been released to families or "halfway
to be subject to deportation.
Resultant riots, and taking of more than 100 prison guards
employees hostage by Cuban prisoners, joined by some
in two federal prisons, changed the schedule.
Casualties for the prison hostage venture were reported as
one inmate shot to death and 30 persons injured.
The incidents at the Atlanta Penitentiary and a detention
Oakdale, La. last November, won a moratorium on immediate
plans and an individual review for each potential deportee.
FOR THE 1958 Cuban incident, the major casualty was a broken
collarbone. Chicago Tribune Latin America
DuBois received that when his jeep overturned en route to
In Raul Castro's profitable use of hostages also is found a
example of astute use of propaganda. His venture in
late June of
1958 helped to the war six months later. Raul's caper
focused world attention on the heroic underdog struggled of
Cubans against a cruel dictatorship.
The kidnaping, considered a quixotic publicity ploy by many,
several jaundiced newsmen themselves held hostage by the
U.S. Navy, was
a valuable asset to the Castro cause. Reporters who
Navy's invitation to cover the kidnaping found the Navy
do if from the Guantanamo Naval Base.
ELEVEN newsmen, however, either ignored the Navy's
hospitality or rules of dutiful guests, and took to the
The scene of action, much inactivity and a bit of tedium,
was in the
Sierra Cristal mountains, about 50 miles northeast of Fidel
Sierra Maestra area of operations. Raul Castro had
his brother Fidel's bailiwick three months earlier to
"Second Front of Frank Pais," named for a young Santiago
the Castro followers.
Fidel said nothing, even in his nightly rebel radio
the incident until almost two weeks after it happened.
Communications were poor between the command posts, and he
captives' release at the earliest possible moment, Fidel
explained. That took almost three weeks.
Most of the hostages were U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. (next
enlisted men whose bus was hijacked while they were on
liberty from the
OTHERS included mining engineers and other employees at U.S.
business installations in northeastern Oriente Province.
The hostages and valuable equipment such as bulldozers,
jeeps taken from mining and agricultural operators, mostly
Canadian, were taken to two small villages 45 miles
Guantanamo and its nearby U.S. Navy base.
Raul and his aide-de-camp Vilma Espin, who later became his
maintained a headquarters at Calabazas, which had a
population of about
400 persons, and another small village, Pruriales, a short
Calabazas was the evacuation point for the hostages and
for U.S. Consul Park Wollam Jr. and his principal aide, CIA
Robert Wiecha who was operating in the public role of a vice
consul. Both had been based at Santiago de Cuba.
The publicity admittedly gave new impetus to Castro
renewed vigor in arms-smuggling gave the rebels a needed
THE kidnaping also brought a two-week cease-fire which
rebels to bring in badly needed weapons and supplies to
"Territorio Libre de Cuba", Free Cuba Zone, in easternmost
Province. Fear of injuring hostages caused the Batista
to halt all military operations against the rebels.
himself said the hostages' presence was as valuable as 50
Bombing and staffing attacks by government air forces had
and disheartened many of the hill country residents in the
sugar farming area of Raul Castro's "Second Front."
defense was passive, refuge in dugout earth-and-coconut-log
Raul's kidnapings took place from June 26 through July
1. The last hostages were freed July 18.
THE three-week lull in combat activity greatly improved
Castro's insurgents and their often-indistinguishable
(farmer) on-the-scene supporters and renewed the faith of
organizations in the U.S. and other foreign areas.
The rebels' methods were impressive to most of the guests,
voluntary and involuntary. The best possible medical
care was in
evidence for both combatants and the men, women and children
domiciles had been turned into a war zone.
An estimate of the rebel arms and troop strength would have
as accurate as their reports on the same subject. Not
potential combatant had a weapon, and a wide variety was
firearms in evidence. The more fortunate rebels had
ranging from various small-caliber pistols and revolvers to
highly-favored U.S.-military .45 caliber pistols, Thompson
machineguns, U.S.-made d.30 caliber rifles and carbines and
carbines produced in the Dominican Republic. Food
appeared adequate for all, even though boiled green
were not appetizing.
ARMED bodyguards accompanied the reporters and cameramen
everywhere, but the newsmen were free to go where they
The Robin Hood aspect of the hostage situation created a
sympathy among newsmen on the scene and among some
There were some skeptics among the reporters among them
freelance photographer George Skadding, who was in the hills
magazine. "This war," Skadding erroneously observed,
just about as long as these (mostly battered) jeeps."
Among the hostages, one old hand in Cuban revolutions,
George Sargent, a sugar mill official, was prudently
"It's their country", Sargent said of the Cubans in
later transferred his sugar production activity to Belle
victim of the Castro victory.
OTHERS were more demonstrative. One sailor, Thomas
Iowa, sported a .45 caliber pistol while touring the rebel
After reading a letter from his wife, delivered by Navy
to ferry hostages out of and diplomats into the hills,
Mosness gave the
weapon back to his hosts and boarded the chopper for a
domestic felicity and Navy tranquility.
One newsman, Robert Taber, a CBS television cameraman on his
tour of the Castro insurgency, six months later forsook
to become a propagandistic co-founder of the pro-Castro
"Fair Play for
Hostage sympathy also was engendered with a tour of battle
show you how American weapons are being used by Cubans to
A WIDELY-published photograph showed U.S. made aircraft
being delivered to Batista forces, after being flown from
the U.S. to
the Guantanamo Naval Air Base.
The diplomatic account was that the weaponry was replacement
defective arms delivered for mutual hemispheric defense
cessation of arms to Batista was declared. The photo
was taken by a Castro sympathizer on the base in late March,
official Washington declarations had said no more weapons
made available to Batista.
The rebels also complained that Batista's bombers were being
refueled at the Guantanamo base for air strikes in rebel
Raul termed the hostages "invited guests," who could leave
at any time
they so desired. This was true of the 110 newsmen who
the hills on their own, but not of the hostages. They
released in dribbles during the three-week period.
EVEN the final liberation was a minor propaganda coup for
"We're sending them back because their country needs them,"
declared when the last group was freed July 18. That
pointed out, was due to President Dwight Eisenhower having
Marines ashore on a peace-keeping mission in Lebanon, where
two-months'-old rebellion was threatening President Camille
Another political innovation materialized from the Castro
three months later. that innovation also has
mushroomed in use
over the ensuing 30 years--aerial hijacking by both pilots
Cubana Airlines pilot Carlos Villamar, who later went into a
exile after disillusion with Castro, was in the
vanguard. He flew
his plane and unwitting passengers to Miami instead of
October, 1958. A short time later, another Cubana
disappeared over Oriente Province, with all aboard -- rebel
suspected. Then four rebels commandeered a propjet
forced the pilot to try to put it down on the too-small
airport at Moa
Bay, near Raul's headquarters. There were few
survivors, and the
hijackers were not among them.
Freelance writer Tom Dunkin made a dozen trips to Cuba as a
covering Castro and anti-Castro revolutionary activities
through 1964. The kidnap story was covered for the St.
Times, in 1958.
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