Castro Apologist Saul Landau Dead at 77 Reply

Documentary filmmaker Saul Landau dies

By John Rogers, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Saul Landau, a prolific, award-winning documentary filmmaker who traveled the world profiling political leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Chile’s Salvador Allende and used his camera to draw attention to war, poverty and racism, has died. He was 77.

Landau, who had been battling bladder cancer for two years, died Monday night at home in Alameda, Calif., with his children and grandchildren, said colleague John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, where Landau had worked for many years.

The director, producer and writer of more than 40 documentaries had continued to work almost until his death. He regularly submitted essays to the Huffington Post and elsewhere, sometimes writing from his hospital bed, according to his son, Greg. He was also working on a documentary on homophobia in Cuba.

Even in his final weeks, as his health was failing, Cavanagh said, Landau would become energized whenever the conversation turned to how people could improve humanity.
“He knew he’d made a contribution and he was happy about that, he was happy, but he wanted to talk about how to make the world a better place,” Cavanagh said Tuesday, recalling an hours-long discussion the two had earlier this year. “When we got into that is when he really got animated and full of life, it was fascinating to see.”

Landau authored 14 books. While most covered issues like radical politics, consumer culture and globalization, one of them, “My Dad Was Not Hamlet,” was a collection of poetry.

His documentaries tackled a variety of issues, but each contained one underlying theme: reporting on a subject that was otherwise going largely unnoticed at the time, whether it was American ghetto life, the destruction of an indigenous Mexican culture or the inner workings of the CIA. “We tried to take on themes that nobody else was taking on and that were important,” Landau told The Associated Press in July.

His most acclaimed documentary was likely 1979’s “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang,” which examined the effects of radiation exposure to people living downwind from Nevada’s above-ground nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s. The film received a George Polk Award for investigative reporting and other honors.

It took its name from Landau’s friend Paul Jacobs, who contracted cancer that he believed was caused by radiation exposure. He died before the film was completed.

Landau told the AP one of the documentaries he was most proud of was “The Sixth Sun: Mayan Uprising in Chiapas,” which looked at the 1994 rebellion by the impoverished indigenous people of southern Mexico. Landau traveled to Chiapas to interview, among others, the masked revolutionary leader known as Subcommandante Marcos.

His 1968 documentary “Fidel” gave U.S. audiences one of their earliest close-ups of the revolutionary leader who installed Communism in Cuba. It came about after a brief meeting with Castro, who told Landau he had seen a news report he had done on Cuba the year before. “He said he liked the film very much and asked me what my next film was going to be,” Landau recalled. “I said, ‘I’d like to do one on you.'”

In 1971, Landau and fellow filmmaker Haskell Wexler traveled to Chile for a rare U.S. interview with Allende, who had just been elected his country’s president and who would die two years later in a military coup.

Although he made more than three dozen films, Landau said he never set out to be a filmmaker. “I didn’t set out to be anything,” he said in July. “I just fell into it.”

Landau graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and after moving to San Francisco he was at various times a film distributor, author, playwright and member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

Two of his earliest books, “The New Radicals” and “To Serve The Devil” (both co-written with Jacobs), led to his being approached by a San Francisco public television station that wanted a report on ghetto conditions in Oakland. The result was his first documentary, 1966’s “Losing Just The Same.”

A frequent commentator on radio and television in later years, Landau was also a professor emeritus at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he taught history and digital media.

In addition to his son, Landau is survived by four daughters, Valerie, Carmen, Julia and Marie Landau; a sister, Beryl Landau; and his wife, Rebecca Switzer.

A memorial is scheduled for Oct. 12 at the Institute For Policy Studies in Washington, and Greg Landau said Tuesday that arrangements for a public memorial in the San Francisco Bay Area are pending.

This Month in History: Cuban Intelligence Permeated Chilean Government Reply

October 1973:  According to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), by 1973 the Cuban presence had ballooned to over 1000 personnel, with roughly 250 at the Embassy and the rest spread throughout the Chilean government bureaucracy as advisors. The Cubans were active and aware of the threat to the Salvador Allende government. However, Havana’s warnings and offers of military aid were rejected. DIA further reported that by that October, an average of 60-70 Cuban officials were constantly travelling between Havana and Santiago. The Pentagon spy agency also noted that the Cuban officials were exempt from Chilean immigration and customs inspections.

Today in History: Cuba Prepared to Run Chile as a “Puppet” State Reply

September 25, 1970:  Luis Fernandez de Ona, the outgoing Desk Officer for Chile within the National Liberation Directorate (DLN), arrived in Santiago for his follow-on assignment as a Counselor Officer at the Cuban Embassy. Fernandez and Beatriz “Tati” Allende, lovers since 1968, had recently married. Her father, Salvador Allende, was elected President in November 1970.  “Tati” Allende soon became her father’s closest political advisor.

Despite Castro’s recommendation for a publicly slow warming of relations, Allende’s administration established relations with Cuba on November 12th. Two days later, Mario Garcia Inchaustegui presented his credentials as the new Cuban Ambassador.  Almost ten years earlier, in January 1961, Uruguay had expelled Inchaustegui (posted as the Cuban Ambassador) for subversive activities.

Editor’s Note:  The DLN was a 400-man element, previously assigned to the DGI, which oversaw support to foreign revolutionary movements.  It later became the infamous America Department (DA). 

This Day in History: Cuban Intelligence Warned of Coup Against Chilean President 3

September 11, 1973:  At 4am, an intelligence source warned Cuban Intelligence Officer Fernandez de Ona that the Chilean military had scheduled a coup for 7:45am.  By 10:15am, pro-Castro supporters had blocked military forces from entering the street leading to the Cuban Embassy.  Later that day, junta forces overcame the blockade and made their way to the Cuban Embassy.  At about midnight, a brief gunfight erupted between soldiers and Cuban Embassy personnel during which Havana’s Ambassador was wounded in the hand.

The loss of Chilean President Salvador Allende was a serious reversal for Castro.  Over 20,000 Latin Americans had flocked to Chile after Allende’s rise to power.  A wide range of leftist groups “plotted and planned under the benign, if not cooperative, eye of the Chilean secret police that had been effectively taken over by Cuban intelligence.”  

Within two days of the coup, General Pinochet headed the four-man junta and was President of Chile.  During this same period, Admiral Ismael Huerte, the new Foreign Minister, told Cuban Ambassador Mario Garcia Inchaustegui that one of the junta’s first acts was to end all ties with Cuba. The Ambassador, along with his 160-member mission, left Chile on 13 September.

This Date in History: Legendary Spymaster in Chile to Advise Salvador Allede 1

July 30, 1973:  As resistance to Allende increased during 1973, Castro wrote and told him he was secretly dispatching Manuel “Redbeard” Pineiro to assess the situation and offer his professional opinion. At the time, Pineiro lead the National Liberation Directorate (DLN), a 400-man element, previously assigned to the General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI), which oversaw support to foreign revolutionary movements.

Pineiro and Vice Prime Minister Carlos Rafael Rodriguez arrived on July 30th under the pretext of discussing the agenda for the forthcoming meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).  After Rafael Rodriguez publicly claimed that Chile was the only nation in the Americas where a non-violent road to socialism was possible, Pineiro delivered Castro’s letter to Allende.  The two Cuban officials made confidential recommendations to Allende and then left at the end of their five-day stay. Castro’s advice to Allende to consolidate his gains and eliminate his opposition was repeated in August and again rejected by Allende.

This Month in History: Cuban-Trained “Revolutionaries” Began Reign of Terror in Argentina 1

July 1970, Cuban-trained revolutionaries from Argentina formed the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP).  Following the 1970 election of Salvador Allende, the ERP began using neighboring Chile as its support base.  Over the course of the next few years, the ERP engaged in an extraordinarily successful series of violent criminal and terrorist acts.  Bank robberies, murder, the kidnapping and shooting of a US State Department official and the kidnapping of corporate executives and subsequent extortion of over $20 million in ransom from US corporations became ERP trademarks.  Given the scale and intensity of the ERP’s violent acts, many members of the ERP were subsequently captured or sought sanctuary in Cuba.