In just twelve hours one day last week, Fidel Castro boldly and brutally crushed his puppet President, Manuel Urrutia. With an expert and cynical maneuver, Strongman Castro set a mob on the Presidential Palace, then went on television to denounce Urrutia as a "traitor." Not since the time in the 1930s when Dictator Fulgencio Batista went through five puppets in two years had a President of Cuba been treated with such contempt.
Urrutia of late had been trying to act like a President. He vetoed some minor Castro decrees, held up others. He favored going slow with land reform. But to Castro, his most maddening act was his denunciation of Cuba's Communists as "criminals" just when Castro was making common cause with the Reds in a bitter tirade against a committee of the U.S. Senate.
"Fidel, Himself." The U.S. link to the Cuba furor was the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, chaired by Mississippi's Senator James Eastland. Eastland's witness was Major Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz, former head of Castro's air force, who says he was fired for fighting Communist influence in the armed forces (TIME, July 13). Cuba's No. 1 Communist, Díaz Lanz charged, "is Fidel himself." He added that on a trip to Venezuela, he saw Castro go into a hotel bathroom for a private, two-hour talk with Venezuelan Communist Boss Gustavo Machado. Castro exploded in rage at the committee"those political simpletons who seek to put a premium on treason"and did not visibly cool off at President Eisenhower's statement that "the U.S. has made no such charges."
In such an atmosphere, a puppet President was expected to join in the chorus. But Urrutia, a slow-moving former city judge, has a stubborn streak of independence. (He caught Castro's eye and got elevated to the presidency because he once defied Batista and declared from the bench that Cubans have the right to rebel against tyranny.) Even while Diaz Lanz was testifying in Washington, Urrutia called a television press conference and said: "I reject the support of the Communists, and I believe that any real Cuban revolutionary should reject it openly."
Page from Perón. To fire Urrutia with maximum dramatic effect Castro borrowed a trick from another expert demagogue, Argentina's ex-Dictator Juan Perón, who once "quit" office to provoke an outburst of public support. The news hit Havana one morning by way of 5½-in. type in Castro's mouthpiece newspaper, Revolución: FIDEL RESIGNS.*
The show went according to plan. Radio announcers frantically urged the country to "stay ralm." Labor unions went into emergency session. Students abandoned classes. Mobs gathered and marched on the Presidential Palace shouting: "Do not resign, Fidel! Do not resign!" Urrutia tried to save his skin. "Fidel Castro is our maximum leader!" he yelled down from a palace balcony to the mob.