I-Team Report: The Cool War

Pope Benedict XVI, left, and Cuban President Raul Castro meet upon Pope's arrival in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Monday, March 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

April 5, 2012 7:44:26 AM PDT
Even though Pope Benedict spoke out forcefully against Cuba's continuing human rights violations, political prisoners and the U.S. trade embargo, ABC7 saw no evidence of anti-American sentiment in Cuba -- at least not out in the open or in view of world news cameras. But the United States' "cool war" with Cuba has a strong undercurrent, if you know where to look.

In the tourist plazas where street performers hustle a peso or two; along the picturesque Malecon; even deep into Havana's neighborhoods where time is measured by dominoes, there are no protests against America even as Cuban flags stamp Havana and there is ample evidence on the streets that the U.S. trade embargo has been in place for more than 50 years.

It started with missiles aimed at America.

ABC7 found a Russian-made R-12 medium ballistic missile on the grounds of a former Soviet base near Havana. Cut wires still hang from the guts of the one-time nuclear weapon among dozens that brought the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war.

Why the missile - and other cold war relics - are there, unmarked and off the tourist grid, no one could answer.

The 1961 Missile Crisis did trigger the trade embargo that still exists. It's an embargo that still angers some Cuban-American families in Chicago.

"We're criminalized for going to Cuba," said Peggy Valdes, Chicago Cuba Coalition. "It only affects the families. The policy that the U.S. has maintained over the past 50 years has done absolutely nothing to change any politics in Cuba. All it has done is really separated the Cuban families. It's hurt the Cuban families."

And in Cuba, there is a vein feeding the cool war.

In the Museum of the Revolution, ABC7 found a wall mural on the first floor called the "Cretin Corner." It features the U.S.-backed President Fulgencio Batista, who was overthrown by Fidel Castro, next to disparaging caricatures of Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush and the second, George W., wearing a Nazi helmet.

"That's something that they do, propaganda. Brainwashing is number one," said Prof. Antonio Morales-Pita, Depaul University. "I disagree with Bush's policies in many ways, but I couldn't compare Bush with Hitler, I mean, this is ridiculous."

Professor Morales-Pita fled 16 years ago and contends that to this day the ailing Fidel Castro is still calling the shots in Cuba.

"So now, he's very sick but he doesn't die," said Morales-Pita. "He's got a sort of agreement with the devil. They don't want him up there [points to Heaven]. So he, boom, sends him back."

Fidel's brother Raul is little more than a figurehead president, according to many Cuban observers. A recent Fidel Castro book and other writings ABC7 found in Havana seem to prove that. Fidel analyzes the Obama presidency - mostly with praise; he writes about Rahm Emanuel, chiding Emanuel as having "a strange surname!" and predicting Emanuel and Obama will fail to solve the nation's economic ills. And Castro says when Chicago lost the 2016 Olympics it was a setback for Obama.

Castro's writings and appearance last week seem aimed at showing that the old revolutionary still has influence.

"While he's there, he's like a wall, a huge wall that nobody can crumble," said Morales-Pita. "After this generation of wicked Cubans finally passes away, nobody knows what's going to happen."

There is similar uncertainty when it comes to prisoners held by both Cuba and the U.S. after they were convicted of espionage-related crimes. The cases constitute the latest diplomatic skirmish in the cool war. In Miami, "the Cuban Five" are in prison and Havana wants them freed. In Cuba, American aid contractor Alan Gross is in prison and the U.S. wants him released.