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What's Going On at Pacifica? | The Nation

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What's Going On at Pacifica?

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Barely a month after the board meeting, on March 31, the last day of Sawaya's one-year contract, Chadwick told her she was being let go. The only reason stated: She was "not a team player." Whether or not Sawaya's firing was a good management decision--Berry says she agreed at the time but thinks in retrospect it was a mistake--the reaction that followed approximated a volcanic eruption and a six-month flow of sulfurous lava. A management dispute was about to become a battle for control of KPFA and the future of Pacifica. KPFA staff rose up in open rebellion, which continues today. Here are just some of the main events:

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John Dinges
John Dinges has been writing for many years on Latin America. His latest book is The Condor Years: How Pinochet and...

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After three foreign correspondents are decertified, is Cuba sending a message to the international press corps?

Two senior citizens of the
cold war are chatting amiably over small cups of thick, sweet Cuban
coffee in a Havana hotel. Bob Reynolds, tall and erect in his
mid-70s, made clandestine trips to Havana for the CIA in the early
years of the Cuban Revolution. And in Miami, as CIA station chief, he
was in charge of recruiting thousands of tough young Castro-haters
and turning them into a fighting force to invade Cuba. Comandante
Ramiro Valdes, shorter, a few years younger than Reynolds, has a gray
goatee reminiscent of Trotsky and an iron handshake. One of the most
feared and respected men in Cuba, he was at Castro's side at all the
major events of the revolution and became chief of state security
after the 1959 victory.

Their encounter, counterspy and
spy, was one of many head-turning vignettes at a historic meeting
here in Havana, March 22-25, in which Americans and Cubans from
all sides reconstructed and relived the April 17, 1961, Bay of Pigs
invasion. On the Cuban side for three days of intense discussions
were Fidel Castro and sixty of his top military leaders; the US
delegation included five Cuban veterans of the CIA-trained 2506
Brigade, which carried out the invasion, and White House advisers
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Richard Goodwin.

"We talked as
professional to professional," Reynolds said of his first-ever
meeting with Valdes. "I congratulated him on the effectiveness of
their system." Valdes had only a few months to organize islandwide
security before the Bay of Pigs invasion. He rejected the notion that
it was a draconian secret police system that doomed the effort. "I
told [Reynolds] it was the total support of the people for the
revolution," said Valdes.

Valdes disclosed that his
security network quickly rounded up 20,000 suspected dissidents in
the hours after the invasion began, squelching the US expectation
that the invasion would set off mass rebellion and sabotage on the
island. Valdes also revealed that Cuba had no intelligence from
inside the 2506 Brigade itself. The Cubans knew from secondary
sources and partly from US press accounts that an invasion was
imminent but did not know the date or landing site. Security on the
island, however, was so tight that according to Samuel Halpern, the
other CIA official at the meeting, the CIA found it virtually
impossible to plant agents anywhere but in rural areas. Halpern was
the CIA's point man on Operation Mongoose--the Kennedy Administration
special project against Castro that included intelligence collection,
sabotage and assassination missions inside Cuba.

Castro sat
across from Halpern and Reynolds, showing no sign of lingering
hostility to the Americans and Cubans who had plotted his overthrow,
even his death. On the contrary, the atmosphere was jovial,
respectful. Castro--who missed not one minute of the presentations
and himself talked in long half-hour and hour stretches--remarked at
one point that it was more than respectful, it was friendly. At a
final banquet, Castro used the word "family" to describe the
conference participants and the frank, intimate exchanges. Once,
José Ramon Fernandez, the Cuban battlefield general at the Bay
of Pigs, called the anti-Castro troops mercenarios, and Fidel
pointedly corrected him. "They're brigadistas," he
said.

During a break, Castro rushed over for a private
conversation with CIA official Reynolds after an exchange in which
the Cuban side had been adamantly skeptical about Reynolds's denial
that the CIA saboteurs had blown up a ship unloading weapons in
Havana harbor in 1960. He shook hands and put his hands on Reynolds's
shoulders, saying, "I don't want you to think we are trying to settle
old scores."

The five members of the 2506 Brigade
delegation were also frequently engrossed in deep conversation with
Cuban officials, although Castro himself seemed to make a point of
keeping them at arm's length. One brigade member, Roberto Carballo,
who runs a hotel in Cancun, Mexico, has a long record of anti-Castro
activities, including being named in newly declassified US documents
as a suspect in terrorist activities in the 1970s.

The
strongest disagreements at the meeting were among the members of the
US delegation over the actions of President Kennedy and his
Administration. Kennedy adviser Schlesinger presented a picture of
Kennedy as trapped--inheriting an ill-conceived invasion plan from
the previous Administration. There was the implication that CIA
officials sold Kennedy a bill of goods: Schlesinger said Kennedy
consistently refused to approve the direct use of US soldiers, but
the CIA strategy seemed premised on the conviction that Kennedy would
change his mind in the heat of battle and send in the Marines rather
than allow the invasion to go down to ignominious
defeat.

There was no disagreement on the US side that the
invasion was ill conceived. Brigade member Alfredo Duran said the
United States not only failed to invade but also abandoned the troops
on the beach when it was clear that the invasion had failed. Duran
said privately later that some of the brigade soldiers were so angry
they fired their weapons at the US Navyships waiting
offshore.

CIA official Halpern vigorously rebutted
Schlesinger's scenario. The Kennedys were not so innocent, he
insisted. He described a time shortly after the failed invasion when
Richard Bissell Jr. was called to a meeting with Robert and John Kennedy. "Get rid of
Castro, the Castro regime," Bissell said he was told. Halpern recounted, "I said what does
'get rid of' mean? And [Richard Bissell] said, 'Use your imagination.'"
The result, Operation Mongoose, proposed thirty-two different
measures, including assassination, to get rid of the
regime.

The National Security Archive, a sponsor of the
conference, presented a declassified document that refuted the idea
that the CIA led Kennedy to believe that all would not be lost if the
invasion failed, because the anti-Castro forces could melt into the
mountains and continue guerrilla warfare. The document described a
meeting in which a CIA official told Kennedy explicitly that in the
event of a failure, the only alternative was to evacuate the invasion
force.

Perhaps the most bitter exchange came from brigade
member Luis Tornes, who said he became convinced that the United
States intentionally sent the soldiers to their death in the hope
that world opinion would blame Castro for mass murder. But Castro
didn't cooperate, and instead took the surviving invaders prisoner
and gave them medical treatment. About 120 of the 1,400 troops were
killed in battle. Cuba eventually released all the prisoners after
long negotiations.

For Castro and his men, Playa Giron (as they prefer to call the battle) was an unalloyed David and Goliath victory. But in the United States the battle is still construed as just another episode in a dictator's undemocratic
survival. It is like much else in the tortured conflict between the
United States and Cuba. History and common sense point to ending a
standoff that has outlasted nine US Presidents and become an
increasingly absurd post-cold war footnote. As they did at the
meeting, Castro and his men couldn't proclaim more clearly their
desire for respect from, if not friendship with, the United States.
But it won't happen--not as long as the US Presidents who control the
writing of that final chapter remain tangled in a trap of their own
making, as was Kennedy when he launched the invasion forty years ago.

§ On the day Sawaya was fired, Chadwick ordered KPFA's news director not to report the firing on the air--applying a longstanding Pacifica rule against using the air to discuss internal business or "dirty laundry." News director Alfandary defied the order and aired the report. Protesters arrived outside KPFA.

§ Late that night, a .38-caliber pistol was fired into Chadwick's unoccupied office.

§ A few days later, Pacifica national correspondent Larry Bensky devoted seventeen minutes of his Sunday show to denunciation of Sawaya's firing. Chadwick fired him. "I bear the stigma of being fired for speaking freely on free-speech radio," Bensky said later. (The dirty-laundry ban--rechristened the "gag rule"--was unevenly applied. Station news personnel recorded a short statement of protest against Pacifica's board that was played as a disclaimer before almost every show for six weeks. Then, suddenly, in late June, Chadwick took volunteer music DJ Robbie Osman off the air for commenting on his show about the Sawaya firing.)

Protests got nastier, and eventually guards were hired. Protesters called an African-American Pacifica staffer an "Oreo" and "house Negro" as she walked to work through the protest, and they took to jostling Chadwick as she walked into her office. A poster showed Chadwick with bloody fangs hunched over the prostrate female body of KPFA. In late June, as the board was meeting in Washington, according to Berry, a staff member warned the board that an occupation of KPFA was imminent. Management ordered new, tougher guards into the station--and this time they were armed.

Rumors began to circulate that Pacifica intended to solve the problem by selling the station. An e-mail mistakenly sent by a board member to a wrong address confirmed that selling had indeed been discussed and was favored by at least that board member. Berry had denied such reports before, and she denied them again. But the incident set off another outburst. (That the idea of selling a Pacifica frequency should occur to board members was hardly surprising, given the commercial value of the stations. Berry says one board member frequently brought up the idea of selling KPFA and possibly WBAI--swapping them for cheaper stations in the area--to bring in a cash windfall that would put the network on a financially stable footing for decades. But she says the idea never enjoyed more than a small minority of support.)

A San Francisco organization, Media Alliance, called a press conference July 13 to make public the wayward e-mail message. Berry was ready with a denial she expected would be included on the air with any discussion of the issue. In a bewildering example of atrocious timing, however, Pacifica chose the same day to announce to KPFA that it was going to start seriously enforcing the dirty-laundry rule. Predictably, the rule was defied. An afternoon-talk-show host, Dennis Bernstein, devoted a portion of his one-hour show to a long excerpt of the Media Alliance press conference--with no reference to Pacifica's denial.

As he finished his program and walked to his office, Bernstein was met by interim general manager Garland Ganter, who had been brought in from the Houston station to run KPFA. Ganter told him he was being put on paid leave and was to leave the station, for violating the dirty-laundry rule. Instead, Bernstein took refuge in the control room of a studio that had just started broadcasting the KPFA nightly-news program. Ganter followed, accompanied by two burly guards. Bernstein protested that his rights were being violated and that he feared for his physical safety. Newscaster Mark Mericle, watching through the glass divider separating the on-air space from the control room, began to narrate the confrontation over the air. The control-room mike was switched on by a sympathetic radio technician, and the melodrama was live at 59,000 watts for all to hear. (Later erroneous reports of the scene said that armed guards had dragged a newscaster off the air, but Mericle's and Ganter's accounts agree that no force was used and that Bernstein's own show had ended before the confrontation.)

Faced now with total on-air rebellion by a unified KPFA staff, Ganter walked to another studio. He killed the feed from the newscast studio where Mericle and Bernstein were speaking and switched the station to archive tapes of past Pacifica broadcasts. With protesters already pouring into and occupying the first floor of the station, Ganter called the police. Six hours and fifty-two arrests later, the station was empty and quiet, except for the chatter of the archive tape playing from the main control room.

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