When Barbara Walters Was Charmed By Fidel Castro

Humberto Fontova Author of The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro
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Katie Couric hailed Barbara Walters this week in Vanity Fair, calling her “an early ballbuster, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. She rattled a lot of cages before women were even allowed into the zoo.” The occasion was her retirement this week from the popular television show “The View.”

Some women living in the U.S. today (and with long experience in literal cages) strongly differ with Couric.  They know — and from first-hand experience — that  far from “busting” any gentleman parts, the figurative description for Ms Walters’ services to a powerful man matches a famous performance by another woman in Vanity Fair this month. (Her name starts with an M and ends with ‘onica Lewinsky.’)

Barbara Walters “interviewed” Fidel Castro in 1977 and again in 2002. But the famous ABC Wicked Witch who interrogated Nixon, Reagan and Bush – when confronted by Fidel Castro — morphed in Ann Margaret in front of Conrad Birdie. No hint of the famous ABC News dominatrix in Washington was evident in the smiley and goo-goo-eyed groupie in Havana.

Instead this famous feminist shamelessly stroked one of the most brutal and insatiable male egos in modern history — and within walking distance of where hundreds of his female victims languished in filthy, rat-infested and sweltering torture chambers.

When feminist icon Barbara Walters sat quivering alongside Fidel Castro in 1977 cooing: “Fidel Castro has brought very high literacy and great health-care to his country. His personal magnetism is powerful!” dozens of Cuban (genuine) feminists suffered in nearby torture chambers. From exile today many of them recall the horrors:

“They started by beating us with twisted coils of wire recalls former political prisoner Ezperanza Pena from exile today. “I remember Teresita on the ground with all her lower ribs broken. Gladys had both her arms broken. Doris had her face cut up so badly from the beatings that when she tried to drink, water would pour out of her lacerated cheeks.”

“On Mother’s Day they allowed family visits,” recalls, Manuela Calvo from exile today.” But as our mothers and sons and daughters were watching, we were beaten with rubber hoses and high-pressure hoses were turned on us, knocking all of us the ground floor and rolling us around as the guards laughed and our loved-ones screamed helplessly.”

“When female guards couldn’t handle us male guards were called in for more brutal beatings. I saw teen-aged girls beaten savagely their bones broken their mouths bleeding,” recalled prisoner Polita Grau.

Fidel Castro’s regime jailed and tortured 35,150 Cuban women for political crimes, a totalitarian horror utterly unknown in Cuba until the regime Barbara Walters found “magnetic.” Some of these Cuban ladies suffered twice as long in Castro’s Gulag as Alexander Solzhenitsyn suffered in Stalin’s.

Their prison conditions were described by former political prisoner Maritza Lugo. “The punishment cells measure 3 feet wide by 6 feet long. The toilet consists of an 8 inch hole in the ground through which cockroaches and rats enter, especially in cool temperatures the rat come inside to seek the warmth of our bodies and we were often bitten. The suicide rate among women prisoners was very high.”

“Only minutes after my arrival at the Hotel Riviera in Havana, I was told to be in his (Fidel Castro’s) office within 15 minutes,” wrote Barbara Walters about her first interview with Fidel Castro in May 1977. “There I found a very courtly, somewhat portly Fidel Castro. He apologized for making me wait for two years and said that now he wanted to cooperate…On Wednesday, Castro himself came to our hotel to pick us up … Then, driving a Russian-made jeep, he took us to the Bay of Pigs, where we boarded an armed patrol boat. We thus became, according to Castro, the first Americans to cross the Bay of Pigs since the U.S.-supported invasion there in 1961.”

Barbara Walters’ crossing of the Bay of Pigs was probably more than a historical sight-seeing junket. On the other side and near the mouth of the bay sits Castro’s personal island-resort Cayo Piedra, that houses his luxurious get-away chateau. According to defectors, when younger, Fidel Castro often repaired to this remote but luxurious villa for spearfishing, among other recreational pursuits.

Juan Reynaldo Sanchez, a Lieutenant Colonel in Cuba’s Armed Forces who spent 17 years as Fidel Castro’s bodyguard/valet had just been promoted to the position when Barbara Walters visited Cuba for her first interview with the Stalinist dictator in May 1977. Sanchez defected to the U.S. in 2008 and explained to this writer how he was part of the Castroite entourage that accompanied Ms. Walters and Fidel to the latter’s island chateau. Ms Walters does mention that:

“We stopped at a little island for a picnic lunch of grilled fish and pineapple. During which Castro swapped fish stories with the ABC crew. It was here that we taped our first but brief and candid interview with him.”

Argentinian journalist Juan Gasparini writes in his Spanish language book Mujeres de Dictadores (Women of Dictators) that, “It is widely supposed that Fidel Castro had several amorous adventures with the North American reporter Barbara Walters who twice visited Cuba to interview him. It is said that she later visited Cuba more discretely for private visits.”

When Castro’s torturers were transferring his female prisoners from cell to cell — while Barbara Walters visited Castro’s Bay of Pigs’ love shack — the guards were forced to drag many of these Cuban women around like dead animals. They were simply incapable of walking. The constant beatings had incapacitated many of them. The excrement and menstrual fluid caked to their legs and bare feet made it more difficult still. Some of the cells called “Tapiadas,” were barely big enough to stand and walk in and were completely sealed except for a few tiny air holes. The women were confined completely underground in total darkness and suffocating heat for weeks at a time. These were tombs by any other name, except that their occupants were still alive, if barely and if only by ultra-human perseverance.

So you’ll please excuse these Cuban ladies (most of them U.S. citizens today) if they regard the “struggles” of Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinem – and yes, the “ballbusting” by Barbara Walters — as a trifle overblown.