The Hispanic Conservative’s Watergate

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:50 AM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton)
Geraldo Lujan Cadava, Northwestern University
This paper is about the role of Hispanic conservatives in the Watergate episode—the events leading up to it, the break in itself, and its aftermath. Conservative Hispanics stood at the center of the controversy.

More than a plot to steal information to undermine his rival, the break-in at the Watergate was part of Nixon’s effort to keep secret a loan that the millionaire Howard Hughes had given Nixon’s best friend, Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, a Cuban American from Miami. Nixon needed to know if his Democratic rivals knew about the loan, and if they saw it—as he did—

as a way to curry favor. Nixon’s relationship with a Cuban American was thus one factor in his decision to bug the Watergate Hotel.

Two of the five Watergate burglars were also Cuban American: Eugenio Martinez and Virgilio Gonzalez. Before the break in, they had spent more than a decade trying to topple the Castro regime in Cuba from their base in Miami. Finally, Benjamin Fernandez, the Mexican American businessman who would later run for President, was high-up in Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), through which the Watergate money was being funneled. Fernandez therefore testified in the Watergate hearings, and was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing. So, again: Hispanic conservatives were at the center of the Watergate scandal.

Their close association with Nixon, in deeds both good and bad, made the President’s legacy among them extremely complicated. Nixon had been the first Republican to take them seriously. After showing Nixon only tepid support in his first run for President, their support for him doubled in 1972. Despite Nixon’s and the Republican Party’s tarnished reputation, many Hispanic conservatives nevertheless remembered Nixon as an ally. As a result, they became some of the first Americans to forgive Nixon for his sins.