Castro, Kennedy, and the FBI’s Tamale Squad
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An account of the early years of official anti-Castroism, forged in the certainty that “America was good, and America was good for the rest of the world.”

Working through books and articles on the period between Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959 and the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, and adding to them interviews with now-retired FBI agents and other cold warriors, novelist/journalist Pavia (Dutch Uncle, not reviewed) turns in a tale of spy-versus-spy that makes neither side look good. The Havana of the 1950s was a demimonde of brothels and casinos thoroughly under the thumb of American organized crime; on that point, Pavia’s account of movie idol and minor mobster George Raft would be touching were its subject not so loathsome, if less so than Errol Flynn, who “loved Cuba because he could act whatever way he wanted—usually badly—and not have to worry about Hollywood gossipmongers bloodhounding his tracks.” All that changed when the intensely moral-minded Castro rolled into town and threw out the corrupt government—and began executing its soldiers and minor functionaries on Stalinist charges of genocide. The U.S. responded with the formation of an FBI group called the Tamale Squad, a curious moniker given that tamales are a foodstuff of Mexico and Central America, but one that speaks to the agency’s renowned tin ear. Then CIA types like Howard Hunt started spooking around, dreaming up damage. Then came the formation of anti-Castro militias, well-funded by the Kennedy administration (anti-Castro activity first began under Eisenhower), though easily infiltrated by Castro’s agents. Pavia’s sometimes too-breezy tale (“Kennedy was all about youth and vigor and good looks and ambition”) continues with the catastrophe at the Bay of Pigs; Pavia’s account of that grim, useless battle is the best part of the book.

An uneven summary of a very strange history.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-4039-6603-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2006