The Day CIA Failed to Un-beard Castro in His Own Den

Fidel Castro arrives at MATS Terminal, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 1959. Scores of attempts were later made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen. Credit: public domain

Fidel Castro arrives at MATS Terminal, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 1959. Scores of attempts were later made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 7 2015 (IPS)

The controversial low-brow Hollywood comedy, ‘The Interview’, portrays the story of two U.S. talk-show journalists on assignment to interview Kim Jong-un – and midway down the road are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to poison the North Korean leader.

The plot, which has enraged North Korea, accused of retaliating by hacking into the computers of Sony Pictures distributing the movie, is patently fictitious and involves a racin-laced strip meant to poison Kim while shaking hands with the journalists.”It’s fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the U.S. has demonised. But imagine if Russia or China made a film about assassinating the U.S. president.” — Michael Ratner

But, as art imitates life from a bygone era, the plan to kill the North Korean leader harkens back to the days in the late 1960s and 1970s when scores of attempts were made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen.

The hilarious plots included an attempt to smuggle poisoned cigars into Castro’s household and also plant soluble thallium sulphate inside Castro’s shoes so that his beard will fall off and make him “the laughing stock of the socialist world.”

Some of the unsuccessful attempts were detailed in a scathing 1975 report by an 11-member investigative body appointed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from the state of Idaho.

The failed assassination plots are likely to be the subject of renewed discussion, particularly in the context of last month’s announcement of the resumption of full diplomatic relations between the two longstanding sworn enemies: the United States and Cuba.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “Sadly, and especially to the North Koreans and Kim Jong-un, the movie was not a comedy they could ignore.”

The CIA has a long history of often successful plots to assassinate leaders of countries who choose to act independently of U.S. wishes, he pointed out.

Numerous such plots were exposed in the 1975 U.S. Senate Church Committee report, including attempts against Fidel Castro of Cuba, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam, and others, said Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

The supposed ban on such assassination since those revelations is meaningless; the U.S. now calls it targeted killing, he added.

“Think about Colonel Qaddafi [of Libya] and others killed by drones or Joint Special Operations Command.”

Seen in this context, said Ratner, a North Korean reaction would be expected – even though there has not been substantiated evidence that it was behind the Sony hack.

“Think about this another way: it’s fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the U.S. has demonised. But imagine if Russia or China made a film about assassinating the U.S. president,” he said.

The United States would not simply laugh it off as a comedy.

“There is no problem as long as the target is small country that can be kicked around; let another country make such a comedy about our president, and I assure you, it will pay dearly,” Ratner added.

Dr. James E. Jennings, president, Conscience International and executive director at U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS new information from cyber security firms calls into question the doctrinaire assertion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was behind the Sony hack attack.

“The FBI’s rush to judgment – from which the agency may be forced to retreat – has raised protests from internet security experts and suspicions by conspiracy theorists of possible U.S. involvement in a bizarre plot to further isolate the Korean regime.”

They point out, said Dr. Jennings, that stranger things have happened before.

It would not be the first time that the CIA has used dirty tricks to cripple a foreign regime or try to assassinate a foreign leader.

He said folks are therefore entitled to be sceptical about FBI claims and to raise questions about possible CIA involvement in the fuss over the film “The Interview.”

“We only have to remember Iran in 1953, when the elected leader [Mohamed] Mosaddegh was overthrown; Chile in 1973 when President Salvador Allende was assassinated, and the Keystone Cops hi-jinks that the CIA pulled in trying to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro between 1960-75.”

The CIA’s own Inspector General as well as the 1975-76 Church Committee reported that a large number of crazy tricks were attempted in trying to get rid of Castro, including poisoned cigars and exploding seashells.

“One wonders what the top CIA officers were drinking when they came up with such silly notions–more like Kabuki theater than responsible policies of a great nation,” said Jennings. “And we all know by now about Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition, and the black sites.

“If it does turn out that the CIA is implicated in any way in this newest Sony vs. North Korea farce, as some are alleging, it’s high time for a new congressional investigation like that of the Church Committee to whack the agency hard and send some of its current leaders back to the basement of horrors where they belong,” said Dr. Jennings.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Organic Farming in India Points the Way to Sustainable Agriculture

Using bio-fertilizers, farmers in Tamil Nadu are reviving agricultural lands that were choked by salt deposits in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS

Using bio-fertilizers, farmers in Tamil Nadu are reviving agricultural lands that were choked by salt deposits in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
NAGAPATNAM, India, Jan 7 2015 (IPS)

Standing amidst his lush green paddy fields in Nagapatnam, a coastal district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a farmer named Ramajayam remembers how a single wave changed his entire life.

The simple farmer was one of thousands whose agricultural lands were destroyed by the 2004 Asian tsunami, as massive volumes of saltwater and metre-high piles of sea slush inundated these fertile fields in the aftermath of the disaster.

“The general perception is that organic farming takes years to yield good results and revenue. But during post-tsunami rehabilitation work […] we proved that in less than a year organic methods could yield better results than chemical farming.” — M Revathi, the founder-trustee of the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers’ Movement (TOFarM)
On the morning of Dec. 26, 2004, Ramajayam had gone to his farm in Karaikulam village to plant casuarina saplings. As he walked in, he noticed his footprints were deeper than usual and water immediately filled between the tracks, a phenomenon he had never witnessed before.

A few minutes later, like a black mass, huge walls of water came towards him. He ran for his life. His farms were a pathetic sight the next day.

The Nagapatnam district recorded 6,065 deaths, more than 85 percent of the state’s death toll. Farmers bore the brunt, struggling to revive their fields, which were inundated for a distance of up to two miles in some locations. Nearly 24,000 acres of farmland were destroyed by the waves.

Worse still was that the salty water did not recede, ruining the paddy crop that was expected to be harvested 15 days after the disaster. Small ponds that the farmers had dug on their lands with government help became incredibly saline, and as the water evaporated it had a “pickling effect” on the soil, farmers say, essentially killing off all organic matter crucial to future harvests.

Plots belonging to small farmers like Ramajayam, measuring five acres or less, soon resembled saltpans, with dead soil caked in mud stretching for miles. Even those trees that withstood the tsunami could not survive the intense period of salt inundation, recalled Kumar, another small farmer.

“We were used to natural disasters; but nothing like the tsunami,” Ramajayam added.

Cognizant of the impact of the disaster on poor rural communities, government offices and aid agencies focused much of their rehabilitation efforts on coastal dwellers, offering alternative livelihood schemes in a bid to lessen the economic burden of the catastrophe.

The nearly 10,000 affected small and marginal farmers, who have worked these lands for generations, were reluctant to accept a change in occupation. Ignoring the reports of technical inspection teams that rehabilitating the soil could take up to 10 years, some sowed seed barely a year after the tsunami.

Not a single seed sprouted, and many began to lose hope.

It was then that various NGOs stepped in, and began a period of organic soil renewal and regeneration that now serves as a model for countless other areas in an era of rampant climate change.

The ‘soil doctor’

One of the first organisations to begin sustained efforts was the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers’ Movement (TOFarM), which adopted the village of South Poigainallur as the site of experimental work.

The first step was measuring the extent of the damage, including assessing the depth of salt penetration and availability of organic content. When it became clear that the land was completely uncultivable, the organisation set to work designing unique solutions for every farm that involved selecting seeds and equipment based on the soil condition and topography.

Sea mud deposits were removed, bunds were raised and the fields were ploughed. Deep trenches were made in the fields and filled with the trees that had been uprooted by the tsunami. As the trees decomposed the soil received aeration.

Dhaincha seeds, a legume known by its scientific name Sesbania bispinosa, were then sown in the fields.

“It [dhaincha] is called the ‘soil doctor’ because it is a green manure crop that grows well in saline soil,” M Revathi, the founder-trustee of TOFarM, told IPS.

When the nutrient-rich dhaincha plants flowered in about 45 days, they were ploughed back into the ground, to loosen up the soil and help open up its pores. Compost and farmyard manure were added in stages before the sowing season.

Today, the process stands as testament to the power of organic solutions.

Organic practices save the day

Poor farmers across Tamil Nadu are heavily dependent on government aid. Each month the state government’s Public Distribution System hands out three tonnes of rice to over 20 million people.

To facilitate this, the government runs paddy procurement centres, wherein officials purchase farmers’ harvests for a fixed price. While this assures farmers of a steady income, the fixed price is far below the market rate.

Thus marginal farmers, who number some 13,000, barely make enough to cover their monthly needs. After the 90-135 day paddy harvest period, farmers fall back on vegetable crops to ensure their livelihood. But in districts like Nagapatnam, where fresh water sources lie 25 feet below ground level, farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture are at a huge disadvantage.

When the tsunami washed over the land, many feared they would never recover.

“The microbial count on a pin head, which should be 4,000 in good soil, dropped down to below 500 in this area,” Dhanapal, a farmer in Kilvelur of Nagapatnam district and head of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Association, informed IPS.

But help was not far away.

A farmer named S Mahalingam’s eight-acre plot of land close to a backwater canal in North Poigainallur was severely affected by the tsunami. His standing crop of paddy was completely destroyed.

NGOs backed by corporate entities and aid agencies pumped out seawater from Mahalingam’s fields and farm ponds. They distributed free seeds and saplings. The state government waived off farm loans. Besides farmyard manure, Mahalingam used the leaves of neem, nochi and Indian beech (Azadirachta indica, Vitex negundo and Pongamia glabra respectively) as green manure.

Subsequent rains also helped remove some of the salinity. The farmer then sowed salt-resistant traditional rice varieties called Kuruvikar and Kattukothalai. In two years his farms were revived, enabling him to continue growing rice and vegetables.

NGO’s like the Trichy-based Kudumbam have innovated other methods, such as the use of gypsum, to rehabilitate burnt-out lands.

A farmer named Pl. Manikkavasagam, for instance, has benefitted from the NGO’s efforts to revive his five-acre plot of farmland, which failed to yield any crops after the tsunami.

Remembering an age-old practice, he dug trenches and filled them with the green fronds of palms that grow in abundance along the coast.

Kudumbam supplied him with bio-fertlizers such as phosphobacteria, azospirillum and acetobacter, all crucial in helping breathe life into the suffocated soil.

Kudumbam distributed bio-solutions and trained farmers to produce their own. As Nagapatnam is a cattle-friendly district, bio solutions using ghee, milk, cow dung, tender coconut, fish waste, jaggery and buttermilk in varied combinations could be made easily and in a cost-effective manner. Farmers continue to use these bio-solutions, all very effective in controlling pests.

“The general perception is that organic farming takes years to yield good results and revenue,” TOFarM’s Revathi told IPS.

“But during post-tsunami rehabilitation work, with data, we proved that in less than a year organic methods could yield better results than chemical farming. That TOFarM was invited to replicate this in Indonesia and Sri Lanka is proof that farms can be revived through sustainable practices even after disasters,” she added.

As early as 2006, farmers like Ramajayam, having planted a salt-resistant strain of rice known as kuzhivedichan, yielded a harvest within three months of the sowing season.

Together with restoration of some 2,000 ponds by TOFarM, farmers in Nagapatnam are confident that sustainable agriculture will stand the test of time, and whatever climate-related challenges are coming their way. The lush fields of Tamil Nadu’s coast stand as proof of their assertion.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida