World Leaders

September 14, 1957 – Cuban President Fulgencio Batista Faces Internal Opposition

Batista’s army executes a rebel.

On September 14, 1957, the New York Times reported that Cuban President Fulgencio Batista had recently suppressed a revolt in the town of Cienfuegos in which officers and personnel of his own Navy had taken sides with Fidel Castro against his regime.  The previous day, Batista had announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection the following June (he was constitutionally forbidden to succeed himself) but that the suspension of civil liberties would be renewed for another 45 days.

The Cienfuegos revolt, crushed by Army tanks and aircraft, had been instigated by no more than 100 men, Batista claimed, including “a few dissident, illicit men in the Navy”.  According to the Times article there were three sources of opposition to Batista: Fidel Castro’s M-26-7 movement; adherents of former President Carlos Prio Socarras, who was deposed by Batista in 1952; and a group of Opposition parties.

On this day, the Times reported that the island “was an armed camp”.  Citizens were fearful of a breakdown of authority resulting in a state of chaos; merchants were losing business, tourism was down, businesses wanted to close but were not being permitted to do so by the government.  Soldiers patrolled the streets, rounding up opposition figures, and the jails were full of people accused of revolutionary activities.  Citizens had little faith in Batista’s government, but also little confidence that change could be achieved through peaceful means at the ballot box.  The Times concluded that “despite the bloody revolt, the terrorism and other efforts of the Opposition to force President Batista out of office, he will undoubtedly continue to control the island as long as his Army, the most powerful branch of the armed forces, remains loyal to him.”

Image Credit: Imagno – Museo de la Revolucion, La Habana, Cuba

September 8, 1957 – Pope Pius XII on the New Media, a “Wonderful Invention”

His Holiness Pope Pius XII

On September 8, 1957, Pope Pius XII issued the 39th of his 41 encyclicals, or circular letters, on that cultural doppelganger, the media.  At the age of 81 and midway through year eighteen of his almost twenty-year pontificate, Pius XII saw the need to give direction to church authorities and the Catholic faithful about motion pictures, radio and television – technologies that were entirely new creations during his lifetime.  Miranda Prorsus, which is Latin for “wonderful invention,” begins by claiming that television, movies, and radio “spring from human intelligence and industry,” but “are nevertheless gifts from God, Our Creator, from Whom all good gifts proceed.”  His Holiness continued with his reasons for writing his letter:

“Just as very great advantages can arise from the wonderful advances which have been made in our day, in technical knowledge concerning Motion Pictures, Radio and Television, so too can very great dangers.

“For these new possessions and new instruments which are within almost everyone’s grasp, introduce a most powerful influence into men’s minds, both because they can flood them with light, raise them to nobility, adorn them with beauty, and because they can disfigure them by dimming their lustre,  dishonour them by a process of corruption, and make them subject to uncontrolled passions, according as the subjects presented to the senses in these shows are praiseworthy or reprehensible.

“In the past century, advancing technical skill in the field of business frequently had this result: machines, which ought to serve men, when brought into use, rather reduced them to a state of slavery and caused grievous harm.  Likewise today, unless the mounting development of technical skill, applied to the diffusion of pictures, sounds and ideas, is subjected to the sweet yoke of the law of Christ, it can be the source of countless evils, which appear to be all the more serious, because not only material forces but also the mind are unhappily enslaved, and man’s inventions are, to that extent, deprived of those advantages which, in the design of God’s Providence, ought to be their primary purpose.”

Pius went on to declare that the Church had the sacred right and duty to further its mission to sanctify souls by using the new media to spread truth and virtue.  He acknowledged that governments had the responsibility to spread news and teachings for the common good of society.  Individual citizens could also use media to enrich their own and others’ intellectual and spiritual culture.  But Pius denounced people who used these new avenues of communication “exclusively for the advancement and propagation of political measures or to achieve economic ends,” or for anything “contrary to sound morals” that would put souls in danger.

Following specific sections addressed to both makers and consumers of television shows, movies, and radio programs, Pope Pius XII entrusted his new precepts and instructions to the Pontifical Commission for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television.  He expressed his “firm confidence in the ultimate triumph of God’s cause” and imparted his Apostolic Benediction on all within the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Image Credit: The Vatican

August 22, 1957 – Two Americans Tried in Cuban Court

Who was Russell Masker?

On August 22, 1957, two American men were put on trial in Cuba for carrying unlicensed arms, resisting arrest, and attempting to join the resistance movement of Fidel Castro.  The proceedings were held in the Urgency Court in Santiago, created in the 1930s to try terrorists.  Russell F. Masker and Thomas M. Miller of Miami, Florida had been arrested on August 9th in the town of San Luis, about thirty miles from Santiago in Cuba’s southeastern Oriente Province, the locus of Castro’s M-26-7 activities.  Masker and Miller denied the charges, asserting they had come to Cuba as tourists, had carried no weapons and had not resisted arrest.  The New York Times reported that the Urgency Court could sentence the Americans to as much as five years in prison, with no guaranteed right of appeal.

Little is known about Russell Masker and Thomas Miller, either before or after their arrest and trial.  Russell Masker makes an intriguing appearance in a Cuban Secret Service (G-2 MINFAR) document dated January 12, 1961.  In a report to the secret service department chief, Commander Ramiro Valdes Menedez, about “yanki” (United States) mercenary camps in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Florida, the following statement appears on page 25:

“Last November 22, the ‘Diario de las Americas’ reported the death of North American Russell F. Masker, victim of a stray shot from Cuban Rolando Martinez Capaneria during military instruction in a camp located in ‘Cayo Sin Nombre’, thirty miles from Cayo Hueso [Key West].”

The American-led Bay of Pigs Invasion against the Castro regime took place in April of 1961.  Whose side was Masker on?

August 13, 1957 – Syria Ousts American Diplomats

Afif al-Bizreh

Syrian Army Chief of Staff Afif Al-Bizreh, assassination target

On August 13, 1957, the government of Syria expelled three American Embassy officials, Vice Consul Francis J. Jeton, Second Secretary Howard E. Stone, and Army Attaché Colonel Robert W. Molloy.  The previous day, Syria had announced their discovery of an undercover plot by the United States to assassinate top government officials and overthrow their regime.  Jeton, Stone, and Molloy, they alleged, had contacted dissident members of the Syrian military and offered money in exchange for their assistance, including purging leading loyalist officers in the Syrian army.  They had also allegedly promised the US would block Israeli aggression, settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, end the arms race in the Middle East, and provide substantial unconditional economic aid.

Syrian Director of Intelligence Abd al-Hamid al-Sarraj, assassination target

Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, when Egypt’s attempt to nationalize the Suez Canal led to an invasion by Britain, France, and Israel, and hard on the heels of the USSR’s invasion of Hungary, President Eisenhower promulgated his Eisenhower Doctrine in January of 1957.  The Doctrine, in an effort to halt the spread of communism, offered American military and economic aid to nations in the Middle East who wanted help to resist the advances of nations dominated by “international communism.”  Developments in the Middle East had led President Eisenhower to fear that Syria was becoming a Soviet “outpost,” an escalation of the Cold War, and had acted accordingly.  Internal government reports informed Eisenhower that Syria was “more inclined to accept Soviet influence than any other country” in the Middle East and that “the Soviets are making Syria the focal point for arms distribution and other activities.”  He believed the Syrian government was dominated by a radical, pro-Soviet faction, that direct Soviet control was imminent, and ordered the CIA to execute Operation Wappen, spearheaded by Jeton, Stone, and Molloy.

On the day following the expulsion of the three embassy officials, Eisenhower responded by denying U.S. participation in an anti-Syrian government plot and expelling the Syrian Ambassador and his second secretary.  The American ambassador to Syria, home on leave, would remain in the United States.  Did the Eisenhower administration order Operation Wappen?  In The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, author Bonnie F. Saunders states, “Other documentary evidence indicates almost certain State Department knowledge of the plot and perhaps its cooperation with the CIA in perpetrating it.”  From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, offers the same conclusion by author Yaacov Ro’i.  “The fact of the establishment and maintenance of secret contacts by the American Embassy in Damascus with a number of Syrian military personnel as well as with political dissident groups, with the possibility in mind of overthrowing the regime, seems proven.”

Image Credits: syrianhistory.com

August 11, 1957 – Russia and Iran Sign a Treaty

Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi with President Eisenhower in 1954

On August 11, 1957, the Imperial Government of Iran and the Government of the United Soviet Socialist Republics signed an agreement “concerning the preparation of preliminary plans for the joint and equal utilization of the frontier parts of the rivers Aras and Atrak for irrigation and power generation”.

At the time, Iraq was a member of the Baghdad Pact, otherwise known as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), along with Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.  CENTO, formed in 1955,  was modelled after NATO to promote member countries’ mutual cooperation, protection, and non-interference in each others’ affairs.   The United States joined the organization in 1958 but was very interested in the region from an early date as a bulwark against the spread of international communism.  The CENTO nations shared borders with southwestern USSR, and it was hoped that a strong alliance among them would contain the Soviet threat.

The United States had cultivated a long and friendly relationship with Iran as of 1957.  Close relations existed with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who reigned from 1941 until the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  He followed a modernizing, secularizing policy which made him a very valuable asset for the US during the Cold War.  Iran was the largest, and possibly most powerful oil-producing country in the Middle East at the time, and over the next few years received more than a billion dollars in aid from the American government.  A 1953 coup to remove Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who threatened to nationalize the 85%-British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), was organized by the US and Great Britain and carried out through the CIA, code-named Operation Ajax.  Although initially unsuccessful, a second effort ultimately led to Mossadeq’s downfall.

So imagine the rise in Washington’s anxiety level on this day.  Russia and Iran had established hydro-economic agreements in the 1920s, and the Shah had visited Moscow in 1956.  Probably Russia hoped to weaken ties between Baghdad and Washington with this mutually beneficial treaty, but no significant change in relations resulted.  Analysis of the agreement concluded that the Soviets also stood to gain financially from the river projects contemplated; sizeable tracts of land in Soviet-controlled Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan would receive irrigation as a result.

Image Credit: National Security Archive/George Washington University

August 6, 1957 – The USSR and Syria Reach an Agreement

 

Syrian Defense Minister Khalid al-Azm with Chief of Staff Afif al-Bizreh, 1957

On August 6, 1957, a Syrian delegation led by Minister of State and National Defense Khalid al-Azm and a Soviet delegation led by Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers Iosif Kuzmin reached an economic (and possibly military) aid agreement.  According to The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, by Bonnie F. Saunders, the agreement included $570 million in Soviet bloc credits for weapons which Syria would pay for with future grain production.  President Eisenhower and the United States’ government were deeply concerned about the increasing influence of the USSR on the Arab nation.  “The Soviet Union had already given Syria about $60 million worth of military aid in 1956,” Saunders writes.  “Early in 1957, rumors about even greater Soviet military penetration into Syria circulated in London and Washington.  Supposedly, hundreds of Soviet technicians and military personnel were busy setting up and manning Soviet air and naval bases in Syria.  The Soviet Union was ostensibly providing the Syrian army with huge numbers of new Soviet weapons, furnishing the Syrian air force with two dozen sophisticated MiG jets and Soviet trainers, and creating a small Syrian navy armed with Soviet-built ships.”

A joint communique regarding the agreement was published on August 6, 1957, according to From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, by Yaacov Ro’i. Ro’i reprints the communique, signed by Azm and Kuzmin,  in his book.  It stressed the friendly, frank exchange between the delegations, the sympathy of the USSR for Syria’s efforts to escape colonialism, and the desire of the USSR to participate in the economic development of the Arab nation.  The USSR promised support in the areas of railroad and road construction, irrigation, hydroelectric stations, geological prospecting, research, and industrial plants.  The Soviets would supply specialists, equipment and materials.  Credit would be granted to Syria, in an amount to be determined, “without any conditions of a political or analogous nature, on a basis of equality and reciprocal economic advantage, of non-interference in internal affairs and complete respect for the national dignity and sovereignty of the Syrian Republic.”  The Soviet Union hoped to purchase grain, cotton, and other commodities, and both countries believed the amount of potential trade between the nations had yet to be fully exploited.  According to the communique, delegation visits and discussions would continue.

Image Credit: syrianhistory.com

August 2, 1957 – Dulles’ Dramatic Proposal in Open Skies Negotiations

President_Eisenhower_and_John_Foster_Dulles_in_1956

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1956

On August 2, 1957, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made a dramatic proposal at the U.N Disarmament Subcommittee conference in London. Negotiations over U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s Open Skies plan, first proposed at the July 1955 Geneva summit between leaders of the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, were bogging down over and hopes for a nuclear disarmament agreement were fading.

The original Open Skies plan included two stipulations intended to slow the arms race. First, the Western powers (primarily the U.S.) and the Soviets would exchange maps indicating the exact locations of each of their military installations. Next, each nation would be allowed to conduct aerial surveillance of those installations to verify compliance with any agreements on nuclear weapons stockpiles.

Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev rejected the proposal, refusing to allow Western surveillance of his country in what he termed an “espionage plot”. Eisenhower wasn’t surprised. He had never expected the Soviets to agree to the plan. By their non-cooperation, he hoped to paint the Soviet Union as the aggressor in the Cold War conflict. In truth, the Soviets didn’t want the West to find out how far behind they were in nuclear weapon development.

Negotiations continued and stalled. Then, at the U.N. conference in London, Secretary of State Dulles made a startling offer sweetening the deal. The Daily News-Telegram of Sulphur Springs, Texas ran the following from the Associated Press wire:

 “Secretary of State Dulles has submitted a new and far-reaching proposal in an attempt to break the East-West deadlock at the London disarmament conference.

“Dulles proposed in London today that all of the United Stated, all of Russia, and most of Europe be open to aerial and ground inspection against a sneak nuclear attack.

“Under the Western – and basically, American – plan, Russian planes would be permitted to fly over the U.S. and Western territory. Russian ground inspectors would be permitted to check U.S. seaports, rail junctions, main highways, and air fields.

“The Western powers would have similar rights throughout the Soviet Union.”

Khrushchev also rejected this new proposal for inspections on the ground. An Open Skies plan would remain up in the air until March of 1992, when a revived proposal spearheaded by President George H. W. Bush was approved by members of NATO and the Warsaw pact. The Open Skies Treaty took effect in 2002, with currently 34 nation-states participating in, as former President Ronald Reagan phrased it, a process to “trust, but verify”.

Image Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration