Monday, June 10, 2013

La Barba Roja

In the 1969 Alfred Hitchcock movie Topaz, set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the actor John Vernon played a villainous character named Rico Parra.  Who, somewhat disconcertingly to viewers who didn't know the reason for it, has a reddish beard. Which characteristic identified 'Parra' as, in real life, Manuel Pineiro.  From the New York Times in 1998;
Manuel Pineiro, the ruthless but urbane spymaster who for more than 30 years led Cuba's intelligence apparatus and directed its efforts to export revolution to the third world, died in a car crash in Havana early today, the Cuban state news agency Prensa Latina reported. He was 63.
Known as ''Barba Roja,'' or ''Red Beard,'' because of his chief identifying feature as a young man, Mr. Pineiro served as Cuba's main liaison and dispenser of weapons and cash to grateful and admiring Latin American guerrilla groups. His adversaries at the Central Intelligence Agency, however, regarded him as a cunning and dangerous foe, the Cuban equivalent of the East German espionage wizard Markus Wolf.
''This is the man who knew all the secrets of the Cuban Revolution and was on a first-name basis with two generations of Latin American revolutionaries and leaders,'' Jon Lee Anderson, the author of ''Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life,'' said in a telephone interview from Spain today. ''In conversing with him, you were very much aware that he was intimate with and an important part of the whole nether world of the cold war.''
He was someone also well known to Georgie Anne Geyer when she lived in Cuba in the 1960s.  Someone who wanted to know her even better, and when she rejected his advances, found out that he had ways to retaliate, as he was probably the third most powerful person in revolutionary Cuba behind Fidel and Raul Castro.  She tells the story in Buying the Night Flight; he was a former lecturer in literature at Columbia University, married to an American ballerina, comrade in arms with Fidel in the Sierra Maestra, and who directed all the Cuban training of guerrilla movements in Latin America...and who later godfathered the entire Cuban adventure in Africa and in Central America.

Another who had his run-ins with Pineiro was the Chilean diplomat Jorge Edwards. He mentions him several times in his Persona Non Grata: A Memoir of Disenchantment With the Cuban Revolution. They meet the first night Edwards is in Havana as Chile's Charge d'Affaires, sent by Salvador Allende to re-open the Chilean embassy in December 1970. That same night he meets Fidel Castro, who tells him to tell Allende that whenever he needs help, just ask.  He'd sent an entire ship filled with troops and weapons to Algeria for their war of liberation with the French; We may not be much good at production, but we really know about fighting!

Edwards has that reinforced three months later, on his last night in Cuba, March 1971.  Fidel summons him to the Foreign Ministry to browbeat him and tell him he's persona non grata, apparently because he's insufficiently militant in his support of revolution.  He warns that Allende will have to fight for his revolution in Chile. Edwards, diplomatically, tells him that in Chile they intend to avoid the 'errors' (the failures) obvious to anyone who looks around in Cuba. That Chile will be different.

Not too surprisingly this greatly annoys Fidel. know nothing about the difficulties Cuba has had! Don't you know we have been subjected to an implacable blockade with the most ferocious imperialism in the whole of history eighty miles away from our coast?

Fidel says it will be the same in Chile; Up to now Allende has only taken control of the Government, but that only means approaching the outer ramparts of power. When it come to seizing power, then the confrontation will be inevitable...

It was La Barba Roja whose job it was to see that Allende succeeded. To that end, he was already sending arms and men to Chile to set up a parallel military force that would be needed to establish a Marxist state there.  The man who eventually had to confront that force was Augusto Pinochet, begining on September 11, 1973.

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