Book: Castro gave POW ransom plan to Vietnam
Cuban dictator taught Hanoi how to capture U.S.
POWs to squeeze $$ from U.S.
By C.J. Raven
U.S. Veteran Dispatch
May 24, 2007
book due in stores May 29 charges Cuban dictator Fidel Castro with
providing the communist North Vietnamese government a strategy to capture
and trade for money American prisoners of war.
"An Enormous Crime; The Definitive Account of American POWs Abandoned
in Southeast Asia," from St. Martin's Press, details how Castro won the
confidence of Ho Chi Minh and convinced him and North Vietnamese military
leaders to implement the so-called Cuban Plan during the earliest days of
the Vietnam War.
Authors Bill Hendon, a former U.S. Republican congressman from North
Carolina, and Elizabeth A. Stewart, whose father was shot down and remains
missing in North Vietnam, have assembled more than 60,000 pages of
previously unpublished U.S. documents. The information clearly illustrates
that the U.S. government has always known about hundreds of American POWs
who were never released.
Hendon and Stewart reveal that long after the Vietnam War ended and the
Nixon Administration reneged on its promise to pay $4.75 billion in
reconstruction aid, North Vietnam continued to hold a second, "secret"
group of American POWs, to be used in a future trade for aid.
Fidel Castro's influence in communist circles was deep, and even
penetrated the officer level of the North Vietnamese Army:
Thirty two years ago, just after the fall of Saigon in April 1975 and
the complete takeover of Vietnam by the North Vietnamese, communist
Colonel Le Phuong whispered a state secret to an old friend: "We still
keep about 800 America pilots alive. We will exchange these pilots with
His old friend was shocked. He said to the colonel, "I believe we have
released all the American pilots two years ago in the exchange of war
prisoners after the Paris Peace Agreement."
The colonel shook his head and explained, "We are not so stupid to do
that. Cuba suggested to us to keep them back for future negotiations, just
as Cuba itself had done previously."
"An Enormous Crime" reveals that indeed, 14 years earlier in the
aftermath of the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco Fidel Castro had successfully
forced President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy
into paying $53 million for 1,200 captured Bay of Pigs soldiers. He taught
Hanoi a valuable lesson: America values captured soldiers and will pay big
money to get them back.
The story was simple: after the 1,200 U.S.-trained and equipped, anti-communist
soldiers were captured by Castro's military forces, Fidel immediately
stated he would be willing to exchange them for "indemnification" or "war
reparations" for the "damage" caused during the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Specifically, Castro demanded 500 Super D-8 Caterpillar tractors worth $28
The Kennedy brothers, reeling from their first major foreign policy
failure, jumped at the opportunity to recover these freedom fighters. An
all-out national campaign, known as the Tractors for Freedom
Committee, was launched and led by former first lady Eleanor
Roosevelt, Milton Eisenhower, the former president's distinguished brother,
and famed United Auto Workers union leader Walter Reuther.
President Kennedy urged all Americans to contribute to the purchase of
the tractors. Calling the prisoners "our brothers," the president
expressed confidence that "every American would want to help." He even
pledged to make the first donation himself.
upon thousand of Americans contributed by sending their donations to the
Tractor Committee's Post Office Box Freedom near the UAW headquarters in
But then Congress stepped in to stop the deal. Senators labeled it
"tribute" and "ransom" and threatened to stop the exchange. Sen. Thomas
Dodd said, "The American people will, for the first time to my knowledge,
be making use of ransom and tribute as an instrument of policy. If we
start to pay tribute now for 1,000 of the 1 billion communist hostages,
where will it stop?"
Former Vice President Richard Nixon declared the exchange plan "morally
wrong." Nixon declared that America had "decided 100 years ago that human
lives are not something to be bartered on the slave block." To continue
with the trade, the former vice president and Kennedy rival said, "would
encourage every tin horn dictator around the world to try to take
advantage of America."
Opponents of the tractors-for-hostage plan then raised the possibility
that Castro would use these tractors to build military installations and
missile sites. So, under mounting media and Congressional pressure,
Kennedy pulled the deal off the table and all hope for the 1,200 hostages
The next year Castro, even more desperate for money, tried a new
approach: He put all 1,200 prisoners on trial and levied fines on them
totaling $62 million.
As soon as President Kennedy heard about this, he jumped at yet another
opportunity to recover these prisoners. Using New York lawyer James
Donovan, who had negotiated the release of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers
from the Soviets, Robert Kennedy opened a new dialogue with Castro. They
quickly made a new deal: $53 million payable in medicines, powdered milk
and baby food in return for all 1,200 prisoners.
As US News & World Report reported at that time: "The
first shipment of the Castro Ransom, 32,000 pounds of medicines, was flown
from New York to Miami during the night of December 17. … Eight domestic
airlines began flying 600,000 pounds of supplies to Florida; 19 railroads
soon had 80 boxcars on this special run; eight trucking firms were moving
420,000 pounds of supplies from distant points, and 15 shipping companies
had put up a ship and the money to move its cargo to Havana ... it was a
logistical operation almost without parallel except in wartime."
Castro released all the prisoners before Christmas. They were flown to
Miami where President Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy greeted them at a huge
Orange Bowl Rally.
While JFK basked in the glory of fulfilling his obligation to recover
these pro-American fighters, 90 miles away another event was underway.
Communist leaders from all across the globe flew to Havana to celebrate
the fourth anniversary of Castro's Revolution.
Castro rose to speak to thunderous applause for having, in effect, "taken"
America and Kennedy for $53 million. Castro derided Kennedy as a "vulgar
The Cuban dictator then boasted, "For the first time in history
imperialism has paid war indemnification. They call it ransom. We don't
care what they call it. They had to agree to pay indemnification."
Sitting nearby, and listening carefully,
was the delegation from North Vietnam.
On the other side of the world, the war in Vietnam soon escalated. Less
than two years after that meeting in Havana, the North Vietnamese
Communist Party Central Committee ordered the training of all North
Vietnamese military personnel and civilians. They were to capture American
military personnel alive and use them "as hostages to compel the U.S., in
the event of a cease-fire, to pay war reparations for the destruction
inflicted upon NVN by the United States."
"An Enormous Crime" reveals that North Vietnamese
instructors taught their subordinates how to capture American soldiers and
keep them alive so that the United States would have to "exchange
equipment for them and build up the country."
Clearly, Castro's example taught Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese
leadership a valuable lesson: American POWs had great value for future
Enormous Crime" recounts numerous instances where Castro's Plan
was evident even after the Vietnam War:
• A US Joint Casualty Resolution Center report of 180 U.S. POWs sighted
in 1976 -- three years after the return of POWs following the Paris Peace
Accords -- stated, "The objective in holding them after 1973 was to follow
the 'Cuban' style of holding Americans after the conflict in order to
obtain an advantage in future dealings with the U.S."
• A Defense Intelligence Agency report of a 1977 sighting of American
POWs stated that North Vietnamese soldiers "explained that U.S. leaders
had signed an agreement in Paris to provide reconstruction aid to Vietnam
when the POWs were returned, but that even after some of the POWs were
returned there was no aid, so they continued to hold these POWs."
• A Defense Intelligence Agency report of U.S. POWs held in Haiphong's
Tran Phu Prison in 1977 quoted a source who said, "The reason I know they
were American pilots is because the communist security people told me that.
They also let me know that each American pilot was worth two-three
factories, so they had to keep them for trade."
"AN ENORMOUS CRIME" also reveals for the first time a
series of "distress" signals from captured U.S. pilots, all long after the
war ended, ranging from laundry carefully placed on building rooftops to
grass cut in fields next to remote POW camps.
These U.S. pilots are using E&E (Escape and Evade) codes they were
given before their missions began. The message is clear: "I am alive!
Please come and rescue me!"
Fidel Castro, who taught and inspired the North Vietnamese, shares the
blame for the plight of these men as POWs still held against their will
years after the war has ended.