Georgie Anne Geyer
Georgie Anne Geyer
Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro
ISBN: 0316308935
Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro
Ms. Geyer, a foreign correspondent and syndicated columnist based in Washington, DC, talked about her book, Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro. She said that she wrote the biography because of Castro's tremendous influence on the United States, the Soviet Union, and the Third World. She described Castro's early political influences, his time as a guerrilla in the hills of Cuba, his rise to power, and the effect of his policies on Cuba today. By investigating his personal life she said that she was able present a more complete picture of Castro. The book is based on 500 interviews conducted in 28 countries, including four interviews with Castro.
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TRANSCRIPT
Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro
Program Air Date: March 10, 1991

BRIAN LAMB, HOST:Georgie Anne Geyer, author of the book "Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro", why another book on Cuba and Castro?
GEORGIE ANNE GEYER, AUTHOR, "GUERRILLA PRINCE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF FIDEL CASTRO": Well, Brian, there really were almost no good biographies of Castro. That's why I started it, because here is this man who has had a most incredible influence on the United States and on the world -- on the Third World, on our policy, on the Soviets -- and yet having read almost everything on Latin American and on the charismatic leaders, I couldn't find anything that told me, "Who was Fidel Castro?" So I engaged in this search about seven years ago and started searching the world for people who knew him and books in Spanish and Portuguese and German and just about everything that could answer that question for me.
LAMB: Five hundred interviews?
GEYER: Five hundred original interviews in 28 countries. It's a lot of work.
LAMB: Can you pick one of those interviews that you'll remember the most?
GEYER: Oh, there are so many I remember. Looking at his personal life there was a young woman that he was engaged to in Mexico. Now, Fidel Castro did not often get engaged. That sort of institutional, respectable arrangement was not the kind of thing that he went for. He was married once between '48 and '53, divorced. This young woman, in one book, was called Lilia. So I said, "Who is Lilia?" I asked a Cuban who knew them in Miami and he said, "No, her name is Isabel Custodio. I knew her." I said, "Well, where is she?" He said, "I don't know, but her father was a Spaniard from the republic and he went to Mexico against Franco." So I found the Republican Club in Mexico City. They knew where Isabel Custodio's father was in Spain. When I went to Spain I went to see Mr. Custodio, a charming, elderly gentleman. He told me where Isabel was. I had friend then interview her because I was not in Mexico. But that kind of a search is very engaging and that kind of an interview, once you get it, is just priceless. You feel like you've just hit gold.
LAMB: Did you tape them all?
GEYER: Yes, we taped everything so there would be no question in people's minds.
LAMB: What did you do with all those audio tapes?
GEYER: I hid them.
LAMB: Are you going to keep them?
GEYER: I'm going to keep them at least until the book is several years into itself, into its printing. Or I may just give them to one of the universities in their libraries. But they will be kept so no one can ever question the information.
LAMB: Do you speak Spanish?
GEYER: I speak fluent Spanish, Portuguese and German. And some Russian.
LAMB: When was the last time you interviewed Fidel Castro?
GEYER: Well, Brian, I did not interview him since 1966, and I'm very clear about that in the book. I'm not trying to make it appear that this book had any collaboration because, although I tried very hard, it did not. It took me a little while to figure out that men like Fidel Castro -- leaders like him -- don't want to collaborate with anybody, and they never do because they have to remain secretive. In order to hold their power, they have to remain unknown. Once I understood that, then I didn't worry about the lack of collaboration.
LAMB: When was the last time you were in Cuba?
GEYER: 1966.
LAMB: How old is Fidel Castro?
GEYER: Fidel is 64 now, which is, as you know, not old today at all. That's an early picture of him in his Christlike early years when he took Havana. That's the way he looked. And then later, today, he has that crazy look, the white beard. His mannerisms have gotten crazy. He always waved his arms but now he's degrading the Cuban people. Before he used to be wooing them and loving them and teaching them and now he's berating them. He's blaming them because his grandeur was not fulfilled. And so who does he blame? He blames the Cuban people.
LAMB: How long is he going to last?
GEYER: My rough judgment, Brian, would be about two years. Nobody knows, of course. The man has been ill. He's had a heart attack. He's had some kind of cancer. He could be assassinated -- not easily, but he could be assassinated. But I would think that given the horrors of his regime today-- really, they're out of food. He buys sugar on the world market to fulfill his quota to the Russians. He can't even raise sugar on a sugar island. He is moving people back to the countryside. They are breeding rats to eat, for people to eat. Breeding them! I can't imagine even with his secret police and even with his intelligence that he could stay more than two years.
LAMB: Raœl, his brother, where is he?
GEYER: Raœl's there. He is the epigone brother -- little brother. He has been named his successor, but Raœl is not popular and Raœl has no charisma. There's Raœl when they took Havana. Remember those wonderful days. You know, it's so sad that this happens to revolutions.
LAMB: What kind of a guy is his brother and what does he do now? Do you know?
GEYER: Yes. Raœl is the defense minister. He's head of the army. He is the Soviet's man in Havana. Raœl is different. He's much more tight. He's much more intellectual. Fidel is not intellectual and not ideological. Raœl is ideological. He was a Communist Party member in the early days. Fidel was never a Communist and is not today a Communist. He is a Fidelista. He believes in himself. Raœl, interestingly enough, was much more of a family man. He cared about his children but his parents -- their parents. He cared about Fidel's children. Fidel doesn't care about anybody in the family. Fidel is a cold, austere, remote, disciplining, punishing type of man. I couldn't find in all of the work I did that he ever cared for any one person except perhaps the one woman in his life, Celia S nchez. She was a lover earlier in his life in the Sierra and later made herself just indispensable to him.
LAMB: You write up a lot about some of the interviews that have already been conducted on American television -- Maria Shriver's interview, Barbara Walter's, I think, Dan Rather and lots of others. Why do so many American television journalists make a path to Cuba and talk to him and why does he talk to them?
GEYER: That's a good question, Brian. It's the revolutionary hero 90 miles from our shores. It's the Fidel that came into Havana in the first week of January of 1959 riding on a tank with all of these barbudos who were supposed to be the pure men of the mountains. They were simple, good, pure men against the terrible old decadent men of Batista. He's endlessly innovative in terms of power. His mannerisms -- when I was with him, I'd watch his face because he'll be very ingratiating one moment and he'll kind of make faces and his eyes will roll, and he uses his hands in kind of odd ways and he'll punch you on the shoulder and eat your canapes and things like that. He's always good for a story and Fidel -- regardless of what anybody thinks of him -- was the "revolutionary hero" of the modern age. There is nobody that comes up to him. So naturally journalists like that kind of figure, and he is brilliant. I mean, he is on the media, manipulating the media in images and myths of the modern world. So he knows exactly whom he wants in Havana and where he can get the best display for his talents on American television. He should be studied.
LAMB: We're spending a lot of money in this country -- you can tell us the figure -- on TV Marti­ and Radio Marti­. What are those two and why are we doing that?
GEYER: Brian, Radio Marti­ went into effect about seven years ago with congressional authorization. It was amazing that it went through because we already have Voice of America, and we have Radio Free Europe toward Eastern Europe. But this was a radio directed only at Cuba, in Spanish, not in English, purportedly to bring news of the world -- another voice, if you will -- to Cuba, which has been tremendously isolated and tremendously cut off. It did very well until about a year ago when it got to be much more politicized by some of the Cuban factions in Miami. TV Marti­ is just in a trial stage. Congress just okayed $16 million for it, but it's not really reaching Cuba. It's reaching only the Havana area from about 3 to 6 in the morning. So right now TV Marti­ is not doing much at all.
LAMB: Do you think both those things work at all? Do they matter?
GEYER: Radio Marti­ certainly worked for a long time until, as I say, about a year ago. The Cuban community in Miami started to get even more politicized, particularly the more conservative elements -- thinking that Fidel, because he's failed so terribly, was going to suddenly go down very quickly and they were going to go back and take power. So they began using radio Mart­, which is really too bad, but it's also very foolish because there's no way that exiles or expatriates are going to be the ones who will rule Cuba in the future -- even in the post-Castro era.
LAMB: Why?
GEYER: Well, first of all, Brian, it never happens any place in the world. More important than that, Fidel's been in power for 32 years since 1959, and this is a very different Cuba. He's cut it off from the United States, from the Western world. He's faced it toward the communist world but they don't belong to it. These are very different people. It's much more of a black country. It was about 20-25 percent black Cuban in '59. Now it's closer to 40-45 percent. The Cubans today who have been on the island are not going to welcome upper-class white Cubans from Miami who haven't been there for 30 years as their next political ruling class. It just doesn't make sense.
LAMB: Ten million people?
GEYER: About 10 million today -- a few more.
LAMB: And you say that over a million, in one way or the other, are at least reachable to be under arms with the reservists and all that?
GEYER: Even more than that. I thinks it's about a million and a half. Fidel is a military man, you know. He and Franco were great friends. Nobody knows that. Everyone thinks Francisco Franco's fame was a fascist dictator of the right and Fidel is a collective Marxist strongman of the left. But actually they were two guerrilla fighters with the Spanish blood of the conquistadores and the Inquisition in there. So that is where Fidel belongs in the whole spectrum.
LAMB: We chatted before we went on. You've been on the tour. Where have you been?
GEYER: Well, so far I've been just to New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Washington. Then I'm going to Boston, back to Washington, Miami, Chicago, Indianapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles, and if I survive all of that, Brian, you may see me back again.
LAMB: What's the thing people first ask you about?
GEYER: Well, it's interesting because they ask me what I was asking when I was starting the book. They ask me, "What is he like?" Always -- one of the first questions, and interesting -- they ask, "Was he ever married?" That's a perfectly natural question. That's what you want to know about people. What is his or her personal life like? Cubans, Brian, do not know that he was married. There's an extraordinary picture of him with his wife. Look at how handsome they were, how beautiful. That was taken at the United Fruit Company town where she was from -- she was upper class; her father was a lawyer for United Fruit -- and on Puerto Rico beach which he hated because it was Americanized. But look at that -- how happy and, of course, how miserable they were later and how miserable he made her life.
LAMB: And her name was Mirta?
GEYER: Mirta Diaz-Balart.
LAMB: Where does she live now?
GEYER: She remarried. They were divorced in '53. She remarried a very conservative Cuban, and they live in Madrid and have two daughters. Fidel is a study, though. When he wanted to get rid of Mirta -- they were married in '48, and in '53 he was in jail for his attack on the Moncada barracks. I talked to eight or nine men who were in the political prison with him, and they all said to me, "One of the things we really knew in prison was you don't write to your wife and your mistress on the same day because there's a censor. He's a very nice man, but he would get letters confused." And so what did Fidel do? He wrote to his wife and mistress on the same day, the letters were confused and Mirta got the mistress's letter and that was the final thing. They got divorced.
LAMB: Who is in this picture?
GEYER: That's his one legitimate son Fidelito by his marriage to Mirta.
LAMB: Where is he?
GEYER: He is in Cuba now. He's head of the nuclear facility. He was Russian trained. Lived in Russia for a long time. Had a pseudonym as he studied. Married a Russian woman and they have three daughters. Even he, Brian -- even until five years ago no one knew Fidelito publicly and only then for reasons that we don't know did Fidelito come out in the press, did Fidel allow him to come out.
LAMB: Who's this?
GEYER: That's his daughter Alina by his beautiful paramour and mistress Naty Revuelta. She was his mistress. She was the one that he wrote the other letter to in the jail. Alina, his daughter by Naty, is, as you can see, a real counterculture daughter and she does not like her father and she raves at him and she wants to leave the island. He's had a lot of trouble with his children. LAMB: How did you get this information? Is it readily available or did you have to scrap for it?
GEYER: You have to really scrap for it, Brian. There are people all over the world who have known Fidel at different points -- neighbors of his when he was growing up, neighbors of Mirta, his wife, people who were with him at the Jesuit high school, who were with him afterwards in the political fights, people from the press in Cuba, people who are coming out -- defectors. I just went doggedly from one to the other and interviewed them in great depth. And then you'd hear suddenly someone -- a young man came out a couple of years ago who was a good friend of Alina's. I talked to him. Then one of the Spanish papers did an article on her, and there were pictures of her and for the first time I saw her. It's like putting an incredible puzzle together, and you never feel like you've got enough, but you've got so much more than anybody had before that it makes it worthwhile.
LAMB: Tell us about this picture, and when was it taken?
GEYER: That was taken in the spring of '88 when Mikhail Gorbachev went to Havana. They're ostensibly signing one of the treaties then, but that's a misleading picture because they did not get along at all on that trip. In fact, Fidel already hated Gorbachev because he was liberalizing, because he was a tremendous threat to Cuba and a threat to continued aid to Cuba within the Soviet Union.
LAMB: Mr. Gorbachev gave a speech while he was there? As I remember you write that he said some things that Fidel Castro just as soon he not say to the Cuban people.
GEYER: Both of them just insulted each other, but Fidel was much worse because Fidel introduced Gorbachev and took more time than Gorbachev even had for his speech. This was in the National Assembly. In introducing him, Fidel talked about Stalinism all the time. Of course, Gorbachev just hates to hear talk about Stalinism and reminders of Stalin's days. Then when Gorbachev spoke, then he talked about an end to aid for Central America and for the guerrillas, and, of course, that was before changes in Nicaragua. Of course, that was Fidel's baby. So you had the two of them insulting each other to a point at which when Gorbachev left, he came into Havana in an open car with Fidel, he left in a closed car with even the curtains closed so no one could see him. When Fidel was asked afterwards, "Why did Mr. Gorbachev leave in a closed car?" Fidel said, "He was afraid he would catch a cold."
LAMB: How much money does the Soviet Union provide Cuba today?
GEYER: Six billion dollars a year.
LAMB: Still.
GEYER: Still. They're cutting back but we don't have exact figures yet. They're going to cut back. There's no question. The relations are very chilly. But, you see, the Soviet military still has a great interest in Cuba as a listening post for Soviet intelligence about the United States. So Cuba will indeed be the last colony surrogate of the Soviets in the world. They're abandoning Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Vietnam. But Cuba will be the last one. This gives Fidel a little more time, too.
LAMB: How many Soviet military personnel in Cuba?
GEYER: It changes from minute to minute but probably about 3,000 now, and they do control the missiles.
LAMB: What kind of armament is there?
GEYER: They have a lot of electronic listening posts, they have a big base in Cienfuegos, they control the missiles which they have given him for protection -- a whole lineup of things which are not that obvious to the Cuban people.
LAMB: You have a rundown of the number of Cuban soldiers that were in these different countries -- 57,000 troops in Angola; 5,000 to 7,000 in Ethiopia, hundreds and thousands from South Yemen to Libya, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Syria, Equatorial Guinea -- it goes on and on. Why Cubans all over the world?
GEYER: Well, Brian, that's what's so extraordinary about Castro. I don't mean extraordinary in a desirable way, but as a power study, Fidel Castro took this little island with basically no economy except sugar -- he's destroyed that -- and he created power out of this powerlessness and power on a world stage. Those were the figures in those countries at the height of his guerrilla power, his imperialist power, if you will. When he went into Angola in 1974, he moved thousands of troops across the Atlantic. For the first time in history, troops were going across the Atlantic not from the United States but from this little island in the Caribbean. He's an incredible military man, but he can't do anything else. Everything in Cuba is so militarized. It's not communist, it's not collectivist, it's not Marxist. It is pure Third World military. If you admire military power and the mind that goes behind that, then Fidel Castro is a very interesting man.
LAMB: Where are there Cuban troops today? Anywhere?
GEYER: They're basically all coming home. The 57,000 or 58,000 troops that were in Angola are mostly home now, and that's his big problem. The other countries are also clearing out. His big problem, Brian is these 57,000 or 58,000 Cubans come home from Angola, and there is no economy to absorb them. There are no jobs. Two years ago he executed the hero of Angola, Gen. Arnoldo Ochoa -- this very excellent military officer, a quintessentially honorable man, handsome long-beaked nose, had served in Ethiopia, Angola, Nicaragua. Very loyal to Fidel, but you see, Arnoldo Ochoa did something terrible. He became a competitor to Fidel, and he never, ever allows anyone to become a competitor. He moves them out, he kills them, puts them in prison, puts them under house arrest -- whatever is the appropriate thing. The only appropriate thing in Fidel's mind for Arnoldo Ochoa was to be executed. If you see those films of that trial of Ochoa which was now two years ago this spring, it's just chilling because you could see the men -- there were four of them that were executed together -- in this Moscow-type of trial from the '30s. They looked down, they wouldn't look up. Some of them just broke down on the stands. You could see how false the whole thing was. It's a very chilling, surreal kind of place.
LAMB: Let me ask you some things about the book. Why the name Guerrilla Prince?
GEYER: Well, there was a lot in there about the guerrilla movements because that's been an interest of mine. I've traced that over the years in the book. I lived the mountains in Guatemala once with the Marxist guerrillas for a week. So we wanted "guerrilla" somewhere in the title. I played with it and I wanted something jarring, something dissident, and I thought "prince" because "guerrilla" and "prince" don't go together and yet it brings in Machiavelli and Fidel is an incredibly Machiavellian thinker. People seem to like the title because it's different. It's strange.
LAMB: Where did the photo come from and did you shoot it?
GEYER: No, I didn't take that. The publisher got that. I don't know where they got that.
LAMB: On the back they have praise for Guerrilla Prince from four individuals -- Zbigniew Brzezinski, William Colby, Paul Duke and Major Florentino Aspillaga. Did you have anything to do with that, and why were those four chosen?
GEYER: Well, I chose them. I thought Brzezinski is one of our foremost political thinkers of the time. Paul Duke is the moderator of my show "Washington Week in Review." Bill Colby was head of the CIA during much of the Castro years. In many ways, Brian, the most interesting one is Florentino Aspillaga and what he says, because he was the highest level Cuban intelligence defector -- head of the whole Czechoslovakian-Cuban intelligence of that time. When I met him out in a CIA station house in the western suburbs, I introduced myself and he said, "Oh, I know who you are." I said, "Well, how?" He said, "We used to have whole meetings of the Cuban intelligence about you and your book." I said, "What did you discuss?" He said, "Oh, how to steal it, how to copy it, how to get it, what was your mindset." That was kind of chilling, too. I went home that day and got a couple of boxes at the bank and put everything in the safety boxes.
LAMB: Where is he now?
GEYER: He's around. He is pretty much in hiding or just not in public. But he's around Washington.
LAMB: How long has he been in the United States?
GEYER: He's been here, oh, about five years now.
LAMB: What was his reason for leaving?
GEYER: The usual. They couldn't stand the system anymore, he wanted to get his children out.
LAMB: How did he get out?
GEYER: He walked out from Czechoslovakia, literally, to Vienna.
LAMB: This book is published by Little, Brown. You've written a number of books. Why did you choose this publisher?
GEYER: Well, I think Little, Brown is unquestionably one of the very, very top publishers in this country. In a very strange publishing market, Brian, as you know, where everything is consumer oriented and the big companies are taking over the publishing houses, Little, Brown is one of the more old-style houses that cares about good writing. They did the Manchester biographies, for instance. They know biography. I'm very proud of Little, Brown.
LAMB: Have you always published your books through Little, Brown?
GEYER: No. The first two were Doubleday, then an educational publisher and then Delacorte.
LAMB: The other books include "The New Latins"; "The New One- Hundred-Year's War"; "The Young Russians"; "Buying the Night Flight: The Autobiography of a Woman Foreign Correspondent". Which one of those other books did you enjoy the most?
GEYER: I think I enjoyed the last one because it was about me.
LAMB: When did you write it?
GEYER: It was written seven years ago.
LAMB: You dedicated this to your brother Glen, "whose own rich, creative spirit, love and support over so many years gave me the confidence and security to write this book." Tell us about your brother Glen.
GEYER: Well, he's a wonderful, wonderful guy. He's 10 years older than I am and was always sort of a surrogate father to me in addition to our own wonderful father. But Glen always taught me creative things. He's a very fine artist. He still lives in Chicago and was a clothes designer for many years -- a wonderful talent. When I was a little kid, he taught me how to hula dance and to sing. I used to follow him around like a little puppy, and he'd say to my mother, "Does she have to go with me all the time?" You know, those terrible little sisters -- that was me.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
GEYER: The South Side of Chicago.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
GEYER: I went to public schools, to Calumet High School and then I went to Northwestern, journalism and history, and then I had a Fulbright to the University of Vienna.
LAMB: When did you first get into the writing business?
GEYER: I started right after that with the Chicago Daily News as a society reporter because that's the only place women could start, and then I became one of the first women regular reporters and then the very first woman foreign correspondent in our times. There were a couple much earlier.
LAMB: Do you have any idea where you got the interest in being a foreign correspondent?
GEYER: Well, yes I do, Brian. There were a lot of creative people in our family -- not educated. Like my grandfather who came from Germany when he was 16 really had a lot of artistic talent. He was never educated into it, but it was there in a lot of members of our family and my mother particularly encouraged that. She also encouraged me to read a lot when I was a child. Our family was very adventuresome in a very limited way because we didn't have money or anything. My father had a small dairy business. But we traveled around the United States, and I remember we would always be looking for things, my brother and I, but also my parents.

You know, the Corn Palace in Iowa or some little battleground. They gave us tremendous little passions for seeing everything in the world. I really think that's where it started. I saw it in this country and then I read maps. I remember once I was looking at the Holy Land as it was called then and I saw Jerusalem and I was breathless because I thought Jerusalem was something my Sunday school teacher had made up. There it was! It was really a place. It was a kind of innocent but impassioned background about trying to know the world which my parents encouraged. I think later they got a little nervous about it. They didn't realize I was going to carry it so far.
LAMB: If you had to pick a foreign spot that you'd go to that has the most interesting story, where is it today?
GEYER: You know, I have a special favorite which most people wouldn't know. There's no reason they would know about it. It's the Sultanate of Oman at the bottom of Saudi Arabia -- a wonderful, wonderful country. I wanted to go there for a long time because Sultan Qaboos, the present sultan who has done a magnificent job -- the country is just beautiful; beautiful Oriental architecture, boulevards, parks, beautiful beaches. He took over from his father. He overthrew his father in 1970. The father was an old curmudgeon. He had slaves, he kept people in absolute medieval poverty. The place was the most backward place on earth, and today it is one of the most advanced. I love the romance of places like that. I love the history and I love good leaders like that who have brought their people -- not like Saddam Hussein; just torture and torment and punishment -- but really brought them into the best of the 20th century.
LAMB: Did you ever have any close calls?
GEYER: Oh, yes. I was held by the Palestinians once in Beirut. They thought I was the Israeli blonde who had led the raid on Beirut in 1973. They didn't have any other blondes so I was it. That was about six hours. I was held overnight in Angola in '76 because they thought that I knew about a Soviet coup against the Marxist MPLA government there. I didn't, but it was a perfect shot-while-trying-to-escape situation. I was in the mountains in Guatemala in '66 with the Marxist guerrillas for a week surrounded by Guatemalan troops all the time -- a brutal army who would just as soon shoot you as look at you. I was in the Nicaraguan airport in '82 when the early Contras blew it up, and we were about two steps away from going into the main part of the airport where everybody was killed. So, yes. But it's never when you think it's going to be. I didn't go to Salvador that time because there was terrible fighting. I thought, "I've seen enough of this. I'll go to Nicaragua," and then they blew up the airport in Nicaragua.
LAMB: Did you ever say, "I've done this once too many times. I'd better get out of this business?"
GEYER: Yes, I've said it many times.
LAMB: Why are you still doing it then?
GEYER: Well, there's nothing in the world that's as exciting and as fun and as intellectually stimulating and, I think, idealistically fulfilling because if you can write something about another place and another people and make your own country and your own people understand better and have an awful lot of fun as you go along, it's an ideal way for crazy people to live. Not for nice people. Not for normal people.
LAMB: When did you start your column?
GEYER: I started the column 15 years ago in 1975.
LAMB: Now when you write a column -- and this may be too personal and if it is just tell me to bug off -- but when you write a column, do you have to pay your expenses when you run around the world?
GEYER: I pay.
LAMB: So it all comes out of the . . .
GEYER: Out of my earnings. I can do anything I want, but I've got to pay for it. No, that's not personal at all.
LAMB: Is the business of writing remunerative enough? Can you make enough money today to make it worthwhile?
GEYER: Yes, but only with a lot of planning. I live nicely. I don't make a fortune. I have to work all the time. With this book it's been six years of 16-hour days, seven days a week. That's too much. I have a wonderful syndicate, Universal Press Syndicate, and they're very generous, but in order to do these travels, which is very expensive, you have to do a lot of other things. What most of us do, Brian, is make additional money through speaking -- give speeches to a lot of wonderful groups and people around the country. It's perfectly legitimate. It's perfectly legal. It's perfectly wonderful because without that you couldn't have these independent voices, which I think the syndicated columnists are, and I think are valuable voices because literally nobody can tell me what to write. I must say, I was absolutely right on this war from start to finish.
LAMB: The Gulf War.
GEYER: The Gulf War, yes. That kind of independence, I think, plays a real role in journalism.
LAMB: What do you mean, you were right?
GEYER: Well, I took the president's side in the beginning because it seemed like absolutely the right place -- not like Vietnam, which was just a foolish, wanton, wasteful conflict. It was the sin of a rich country. But this made sense because the reasons were right, that we can't let one country take over another small country and two-thirds of the world's oil, terrible weapons that Saddam had, etc. Then I said from the very beginning, there's not going to be an uprising of the have-nots in the Arab world. I was right because if there had been, this would have turned out very, very differently. I brought to it 22 years of working in the Middle East. If you don't have that, you can't go over there and find those things out. I said, "The Iraqi army is going to collapse in just a very few days." Well, how did I know that? Because I was out with the Iraqi army on the front lines in '84. When people were building them up into these supermen, I said, "Hey, wait a minute. This is still a very primitive country. They're completely defensive, they're completely passive. They never strike out, and Saddam can't count on them, particularly the ones in the south." That's exactly what happened. I said our Army looks terrific and they were going to do a wonderful job.
LAMB: How did you get picked up -- I don't know if that's the right word -- for "Washington Week in Review"?
GEYER: Well, actually it was through my dear late friend Peter Lisagor. Peter and I had been on the same paper, the wonderful old Chicago Daily News for years. Peter was head of the Washington bureau. When I moved here in '75 he talked to Paul Duke -- it was his idea -- and asked Paul to try me out. So we did and it was a very happy marriage and it's a wonderful show. Paul keeps us all very honest. I've been on it since '75, actually.
LAMB: How do you rotate? We see you some weeks, don't see you others.
GEYER: Well, I'm problematical, Brian, because I'm out of the country and I'm out of the city so much. You have to be here on Friday night, first of all, and I haven't been here much, and I've been working on this book. But it depends upon what story you're covering that week. If I'm covering, say, the Gulf politics from here or if I've just come back from somewhere, that's when I'll usually be on. Paul will say, "Well, G. G." -- that's my nickname -- "G. G.'s back from Nicaragua," or "G. G.'s back from the Gulf." That's sort of my role. I'm the one that comes back from places.
LAMB: When you go out to speak, you're working on the book, it's about Fidel Castro that a lot of people aren't talking about right now and you're writing all these columns about the Gulf, how do you keep it all straight and what's your approach to an audience when you go out to speak to them?
GEYER: Well, to keep it straight, that's been a problem the last six years because it's very different writing a column which you can write in a couple of hours. Of course, the research, as you know, lots of things go into it -- research over years sometimes. But it's a piece of journalism that's here and it's finished in a couple of hours and you're free of it. With a book you're never free. It's a totally different mindset. I sometimes felt I was just being torn in so many directions. Then I'd go out and I'd get on a plane and I'd be working on the book on the plane and then I'd get, say, to Oklahoma City and I've got a speech there before some nice group of people at town hall or a foreign policy group, sometimes men's groups, which is interesting. They want women speakers these days. Then you have to turn your mind around again and mix with people and socialize and learn about them and try to give them a speech that's not boring, that's humorous, that's serious, that doesn't insult their intelligence because these are intelligent people or they wouldn't have speakers. And be up. You've got to be up. You've got to have energy. That was the problem when I was doing this book. The energy levels were not that high, so you've just got to force yourself to have energy. You know. You do it all the time.
LAMB: In the book -- we'll go back to it. Time really goes fast on this thing. You're writing this: "Since this book was intensely psychological . . ." What's psychological about this book?
GEYER: I think a lot of the book, most of the book, is very psychological. I talked to a lot of psychiatrists about Fidel. I put quotes from them in. I never made a judgment, though, on what kind of a psyche this man has because that's much too complicated. I'm a journalist, I'm not a psychiatrist. But what I tried to show above all was how he wove this spell over the Cuban people, also over individuals, as you say, like American journalists, American activists, Europeans. I was trying to go into what is the spell, the exchange of power? It's that picture of the masses in the plaza in Havana. That's where he gets his energy. That's where he gets his love. There's a tremendous exchange going on there. When they shout for him, that's where he gets his sustenance and his love, and when he teaches them and talks to them, that's where they get it.
LAMB: Ten hours? I mean, you stood there in '66 and listened to him for 10 hours?
GEYER: Exactly.
LAMB: Why would anybody do that?
GEYER: Well, that's what started me on this. I was up with the foreign guests. We were in a comfortable place. We could go in and out. We could talk. We could chatter. We could go out and get a beer. But the masses of Cubans in the plaza couldn't leave at all. They stood there for nine, 10 hours listening in the hot sun all day. That was what I wanted to figure out -- why was that going on?
LAMB: Does he keep talking constantly for 10 hours?
GEYER: Constantly.
LAMB: Does he have a script?
GEYER: No, he doesn't. When he was younger -- and I traced this -- he spoke from notes. But by the time he came to power, it's like something gets going in him, like this passion gets going, and he gets up there and he's just telling people everything and teaching them and admonishing them and sometimes amusing them. They would say to me over and over, "Well, Fidel would start to talk and suddenly he was saying what I have always thought." This is the exchange. It's like he's defining the world for them. Now that exchange, Brian, I am convinced is diminishing.
LAMB: When was the last time you know that he had a major speech like this?
GEYER: Oh, he has them all the time, but what we see in the films from Cuban television and what people tell us is that people aren't paying attention anymore. See, that's the Fidel of today -- berating the people, telling them they've disgraced him, they haven't followed him. That's the Fidel of today, unlike the Fidel of yesterday
LAMB: Anybody else in the world do that kind of thing? Ten hours at a time?
GEYER: Absolutely, absolutely. That was one of the most interesting things for me. Hitler -- a lot like Fidel. I'm not saying Fidel is a Nazi. We're talking about tactics and about the tactics, the mechanisms, that these kinds of charismatic leaders use. Hitler was very similar in that mass psychosis, if you will. Mussolini -- Fidel got an early tape recorder, one of those ones with a single wire, and he would give Mussolini's speeches for hours in front of a mirror, standing there so he could learn the way that Mussolini created the crowd. There's a quote in there somewhere from Mussolini which is very telling. He says he loved talking to the mobs, the masses, in the plaza because "they were like clay in his hands." That's what these men live for is to take this clay of the people and not to free it or not to make it more, but to make it less, to make it their clay and to put their stamp on it. That's what really horrifies me.
LAMB: You say in the book and you just mentioned how one of the liner notes talks about how they tried to get this book and all the contents away from you. Are you aware that they purchased in a Miami bookstore all this and had it shipped it over to them or they've got it now?
GEYER: I certainly hope so. I can use every sale I can get.
LAMB: Did you have any idea what the reaction is on the part of Fidel Castro's people?
GEYER: No, no. I know some journalists here -- I mean, they have nothing to do with me, but I have been calling the Cuban interest section here and they will not make any comment whatsoever. I'm sure they had it last fall because once it got into the bound galleys, I gave a couple of the galleys to Cuban friends of mine. Within a week I heard from different people. They said, "Everybody in Miami has read it."
LAMB: There's no other book like this.
GEYER: No. There's no book like this.
LAMB: What's different about this book and all the other books that have written about Fidel Castro?GEYER: Well actually, Brian, in 1986 in the fall, there were two biographies of Fidel published, both respectable, good books. I'm not putting them down at all. But those are the first biographies. There really were no biographies, which is why we all sort of started on them together. But neither of those books has any of the personal material, neither of those writers went to individual people. They're more of a compilation of the other books that were published about Cuba and about the revolution and so on.
LAMB: You mentioned the Cuban interest section here in Washington. Where is that?
GEYER: Well, it was in the Czechoslovakian embassy until very recently, and then when the Czech liberals, when President Havel took over, they asked the Cubans to leave the Czech embassy. Now, I don't know where it is. It's moved to one of the other embassies and I'm not sure which one it is, but only a month ago or so. It's always been in the Czech embassy.
LAMB: How does that work? Do we legally recognize them somehow, that they can come here?
GEYER: Yes. We give them permission to come, but it's below the level of an embassy because we don't recognize the Cuban government. We have an embargo. We don't have direct relations. So, an interest section is below the level of general diplomatic recognition. We have an interest section in Havana, too, and it means you can do government-to-government business, but not on the same level as a country where you have total diplomatic relations.
LAMB: Is that like the Swiss embassy in Cuba?
GEYER: Well, we go through the Swiss embassy, yes.
LAMB: So our people would be located there.
GEYER: Exactly.
LAMB: Did I remember reading that you said that you took out members of the Cuban interest section here to lunch to try to talk them into helping you with some information?
GEYER: Yes, Brian. That was one of the most interesting stories, I think, of this whole book because I was trying to woo them in a nice way to help me get into Cuba -- three nice young diplomats, perfectly pleasant people. We were starting lunch and they said, "Well, you know, we're not interested. Cuban people are not interested in your book because you're interested in Fidel's personal life and what kind of person he is and his parents, etc." They all said, "No, we're not interested in that. We Cubans are not interested." Well, I plied them -- we had about three bottles of wine, the four of us, in a few hours. That's not my usual lunch hour, I can tell you. At the end of it, they were saying to me, "Did you say his father was from Spain? Did you say he had a wife? Did you say he had children?" The father from Spain, Angel Castro, got very rich on land. They said, "Did you say he had other children?" Did you say this, did you say that? I thought, "My God." A chill went over me and I thought, Fidel Castro rules every moment of their lives and they don't have the faintest idea who he is.
LAMB: What's this picture?
GEYER: That's Fidel on a speedboat.
LAMB: Is he in the back?
GEYER: He is in the back, in the middle. I picked these pictures. These pictures took me six years to put together because they're hard to get. I wanted pictures of him as a human being, not up there on the plaza in a military uniform and marching up and down like a martinet. I wanted to show Fidel Castro as a human being -- pictures that would jar people to think about these kinds of leaders.
LAMB: This picture?
GEYER: That's his young wife-to-be Mirta in the center with the flowers at her wedding shower just before they were married in '48. Look what a sweet, beautiful girl she is -- both innocent and sensuous somehow.
LAMB: Now, his father Angel and mother were born in Spain?
GEYER: His father was definitely born in Spain. I went twice to Galicia in the northwest. I met some of Fidel's uncles, cousins, and so on. Very impoverished part of Spain, so the father left and fought for Spain in the War of 1898 -- one of the first roots of Fidel's obsessive anti-Americanism. Angel was very upward striving. He was married. There's Angel with the cane and the hat and Lina, his wife, Fidel's mother, next to him. Lina was the family maid. Angel was married, had two children, and he started sleeping with Lina and they had a whole brood of children illegitimately and then got married when Fidel when to the Catholic school. They lived in a very simple house. Lina was sort of an Annie Oakley type. A terrible housekeeper. There would be chickens and pigs all over the house. They were so primitive that they had a table, but they would eat standing up. They didn't have any chairs. Lina would slap all the food on the table and the kids would come in and they would all eat standing up. In later years people would say to me, after Fidel became president of Cuba, "You know, Fidel is so busy that he can't pause to sit down at the table. He eats standing up." I thought, yes, I know why he eats standing up. The whole story of the family was just quite incredible.
LAMB: The parents are dead?
GEYER: Yes, they're long dead. Fidel went to the Jesuit high school. Again, Angel was pushing his children into the upper-class Cuban society, but they were not. They had money, but they were lower class. Fidel, when he went to the Jesuit high school -- very tony Spanish Jesuits, very conservative -- Fidel's heroes were Hitler, Mussolini and Primo de Rivera, the Spanish Falangist. He would chart the victories of the Axis across a map in World War II in his room at the Jesuit high school because he was looking for ways to power. He would take up the sports, for instance, when they became fashionable, like basketball. He was always a good athlete -- strong but undisciplined -- but a good athlete. This came from his basketball coach who was literally on his deathbed in Florida when I talked to him.

He said, "Well, Fidel was a great sportsman but totally undisciplined. He'd be playing basketball on one side, and if the other team was winning and making baskets, he'd go over and play for the other team." His Jesuit mentor, a wonderful priest named Father Armando Llorente, who was in Miami and I had a long talk with him, and I finally said to him, "Father, did you ever see Fidel praying?" He smiled and he said, "Once in a great while I would see him praying in a chapel. I know what he was praying for. He was praying to win." So those fathers had his number early on.
LAMB: After your book tour is over and this book's been out there long enough, what's the best thing that somebody can say to you about this whole experience?
GEYER: I think the best thing somebody could say to me was, "But, of course. That's the way it was and I didn't know that before."
LAMB: Early in book, on page 4, you say this: "Without Fidel Castro's advice and support there would have been no Nicaraguan Sandinistas, no invasion of Grenada, no guerrilla movements from El Salvador to Uruguay to Chile, no destruction of democracy in the Southern Cone, no Marxist Angola, Mozambique or Ethiopia." I kind of want to say, "Really?"
GEYER: Absolutely, Brian. When you think about it, I'm not saying -- and I'm very clear about that -- that Fidel caused all those. The causes were long there. But Fidel defined them. He defined them ideologically because he was the cat's paw of the Soviets. See, the Soviets could never have done any of those things because the Soviets are persona non grata in most of those countries. The people don't like the Soviets, but they like the Cubans and they like Fidel. He trained 20,000 guerrillas from all over the world. They went back to those countries, became the leaders of the guerrilla movements. His hand was the defining hand and the deciding hand in all of those and many more conflicts.
LAMB: Then you also say this: "He was in substantial part responsible for the fall of Nikita Khrushchev, for bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war in the Missile Crisis" -- the Cuban missile crisis -- "for John Kennedy's death, for the massive and threatening Central American immigration to the Texas borders, for America's humiliation at the Bay of Pigs." There's more. And then you say -- I've got to read the last sentence -- "Hell, he once even overthrew the government in Zanzibar." One person is responsible for all this?
GEYER: I know it sounds extravagant but believe me, it is not. Nikita Khrushchev was overthrown within the Kremlin by his own people because of his failures in the missile crisis. There's no question. All the historians say that. Who got him into the missile crisis? Who got missiles into Cuba? It was Fidel Castro. He was telling Khrushchev right after the Bay of Pigs constantly, "The Americans are going to invade again. This time it's going to be American soldiers. You've got to protect me." Khrushchev wanted to put missiles in Cuba to make this geopolitical leap to the Western Hemisphere. After the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy brothers, particularly Bobby, could never give up. They had to go on trying to assassinate Fidel. The whole thing became such a bag of worms. Without Fidel Castro, believe me, none of that would have happened.
LAMB: The death of John Kennedy?
GEYER: I can't prove anything and nobody can, Brian, but when you look at the evidence, I don't see how any discerning or discriminating person cannot come away without saying the evidence points to Fidel Castro's involvement. Lyndon Johnson told four people -- including my dear friend Marianne Means, the Hearst columnist -- he told them outright that Fidel Castro was behind the Kennedy assassination. Again, I'm not saying that Fidel personally could have caused all these, but he was the deciding hand. He was defining the guerrilla movements, he defined their ideology. He made it possible for them by giving them arms, by giving them sanctuary, by giving them training. That is the Third World genius of this man, that he created this world of military tactics and guerrillas and irregular warfare in our time.
LAMB: By the way, in acknowledgements you say, "There are a lot of things that didn't get in this book," and then you say, "like Jos Pepe Figueres's 1959 trip to Cuba," and you don't tell us what it's about. There's no space here. We've got three minutes. What is the story about Pepe Figueres?
GEYER: Pepe Figueres was the great democratic president -- revolutionary and then president -- of Costa Rica, a very different country from Cuba. Middle class, free enterprise, etc. When he came to Cuba right after Fidel had taken over in '59, Fidel just insulted him so terribly. He got up in a meeting -- he was supposed to be able to speak -- and Fidel insulted him. The Cubans shouted him down at Fidel's insistence, of course, and that was the kind of thing he did in those early days with all of the democrats. He did it with R›mulo Betancourt in Venezuela. The important thing about that story and about the others is that Fidel was never a democrat. Fidel was an autocrat. Fidel is an autocrat. Fidel is a totalitarian personality. Fidel is no democrat and he's no communist. That's what those stories show.
LAMB: A minute or two left. Journalism -- column, speeches, books. Look into the crystal ball for the future. You have somebody sitting out there right now thinking about all this. It looks pretty good to them. What's the future for somebody like you, younger, who wants to get started in this business? Is it a positive future?
GEYER: Oh, it's a positive future, Brian. There's plenty of space in the foreign field for ambitious young people who have very good health and very good feet. But I would say to the kids today, don't go in it for upward mobility. Don't go in it for your ambition. Go in it for the adventure. Go in it for the fun. Go in it for the excitement. Follow what you love. I always say to young people if they say, "Should I be a foreign correspondent?" I say, "If you have to ask the question, you shouldn't be it. It's like being a nun or like being a voodoo doctor. If you don't have to do it, don't do it, because it's a calling and it's something that you have to love. You have to love the life. You have to love the loneliness. You have to love the exhaustion, being in other countries, the sheer fun of it."
LAMB: Best preparation?
GEYER: Going over there, learning languages, learning other cultures.
LAMB: Best degree in college?
GEYER: Journalism doesn't hurt, a journalism degree. Lots of history. Lots and lots of history so you know where you are, you know why you're where you are, you know why they're where they are. That was the problem in the Gulf. There weren't enough journalists there who really knew the area.
LAMB: This is the book. Georgie Anne Geyer is the author. "Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro". Thank you very much.
GEYER: Thank you, Brian.
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