Plotter of Bay of Pigs, Watergate conspirator: 'File and forget' Castro
BY CAROL ROSENBERG
Years before he hired some Cuban exiles to break into the Watergate complex for the president's men, E. Howard Hunt was on the CIA payroll plotting the downfall of Fidel Castro.
So was the soldier-turned-screenwriter, spy-master-turned-publicist, federal-convict-turned-thriller-writer glued to his television Saturday for reports on Castro's widely watched wobble?
Hunt says Washington should put Castro in the ``file and forget'' basket -- and make clear to Cubans still clinging to their dreams here that ``we didn't have the cojones to follow through. It's not your fault. It's our fault. And we aren't going to do a reprise.''
He would know. During his 20-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, he was an architect of the Bay of Pigs invasion under the Eisenhower presidency and saw it scaled down to disaster by the Kennedy White House.
Later, after he left the CIA and became a Washington publicist,
he took on a part-time consultancy with the Nixon White House that segued
into his most notorious
mission: Watergate co-conspirator.
He recruited the so-called ``plumbers'' to break in to the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate apartment complex in 1972.
OFF THE SUBJECT
Why? It's a chapter of his life that Hunt chose not to discuss the other morning over a breakfast of blueberry pancakes at a North Miami diner, leaning close to converse when his hearing aids didn't help.
``That was an incident in my life, a moment of history that means
much more to other people than it does to me,'' said Hunt, who was indicted
and pleaded guilty to
It got him a 35-year sentence that in the end lasted 33 months in 13 jails.
Since ``I sat in prison with them,'' he said, he has not seen the men who were caught by Washington, D.C., police outside the DNC office in suits and white gloves.
But, like many of the burglars, he considers Miami home.
Hunt, who says he is 83, raised two children in Biscayne Park with his wife, Laura, a schoolteacher.
Their youngest, a daughter of 17, is at a Maryland prep school.
So he uses e-mail to keep up with his six kids, four from his first marriage.
But he is no longer writing thrillers. At last count (and Hunt says even he doesn't have a copy of each of his paperbacks), he wrote ``about 80'' books, he said.
He quit the thrillers three years ago. A seven-week hospitalization for a gall bladder problem left him realizing he could no longer sit through six-hour writing stints, he said.
Instead, he is watching James Bond movies these days to borrow on his two-decade CIA career and co-write an upcoming survey of films about the fictional British spy with a Canadian writer.
He also sat recently for hours of videotaped interviews, recalling his 1940s career as a Hollywood screenwriter, for an upcoming TV documentary on AMC, the American Movie Classics channel.
Hunt, who had his voting rights restored by Florida's then-Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat, is still a devoted Republican.
His dismissed Janet Reno's record as ``a total disaster,'' but said he ``wouldn't mind'' if she unseated Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
``We need a colorful negative figure to throw brickbats on,'' he said.
Besides, he added, Bush might lose because of Florida's ``multicultural'' politics, which, Hunt said, made Bush look weak when Miami State Sen. Kendrick Meek and Jacksonville Rep. Tony Hill staged an affirmative action sit-in at the governor's office in January 2000.
``What's he got a bodyguard for? What's he got a state militia for? Get those geeks out of there!'' he said.
He doesn't talk about Castro that way anymore. He says Fidel is firmly in control of Cuba because of ``lethargy on the part of the Cubans and indecision on the part of the West.''
Hunt separately dismissed the embargo -- and talk of lifting it -- as ``nonsense,'' saying the only way to topple the regime would be to use the Cuban Missile Crisis as a model and ``ring the damn island and not let anything go in or out.''
There's no will for that.
He also scorned the notion that U.S. taxpayers should pay to jail,
some perhaps for life, five Cuban intelligence agents convicted of spying
in South Florida. Washington should trade ``those five klutzes'' for exiles
held in Cuban jails, he said, ridiculing the agents as ``capering around
and tiptoeing and doing mock espionage, not the real thing.''