Last time around, we pondered the late author Gabriel García Márquez‘s friendship with Fidel Castro, for whom he informed on fellow writers who were insufficiently loyal to the great caudillo. This despicable conduct, however, didn’t prevent García Márquez from being celebrated in the recent Academy Awards ceremony’s “In Memoriam” segment alongside movie stars and film directors.
Let’s look at a couple more high-voltage international figures who have sucked up to Castro.
In 2002, Steven Spielberg – the most successful and most honored of living movie directors – visited Havana for a film festival in his honor and dined with Castro long into the night, an encounter that he described as “the eight most important hours of my life.” Spielberg’s only critical remark on the occasion was not about Fidel’s tyranny but about America’s Cuban policy. Among those who were outraged by Spielberg’s enthusiasm for his meeting with the dictator was actor Robert Duvall, who, in a reference to Spielberg’s support for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, said he’s like to ask him: “Would you consider building a little annex on the Holocaust museum, or at least across the street, to honor the dead Cubans that Castro killed?”
Nicolás Calzada, an NYU film student who confessed to an ardent admiration for Spielberg, was also upset by the director’s chumminess with Fidel. In a passionate open letter to Spielberg, Calzada wrote: “I expected you on this trip to be the eloquent enemy of tyranny that you have always been, but instead you insulted the memory of the people you have portrayed and those of all the Cuban people who have died at the hands of Fidel Castro,” whom Calzada described as “a tyrant whose 43-year rule has seen many of the same atrocities so powerfully depicted in your Schindler’s List.” Calzada asked : “Did you know that a mere two days before your visit, Oscar Elías Biscet finished serving his three-year prison sentence for hanging a Cuban flag upside down in protest of his government?”
Cuban emigré Humberto Fontova actually wrote a whole book entitled Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, in which he cited praise for the dictator by celebrities ranging from Jean-Paul Sartre to Naomi Campbell, from Jesse Jackson to Gina Lollobrigida, from Norman Mailer to Chevy Chase. A visit to Havana, complete with a courtesy call on Castro, has long been de rigueur for a certain type of American celebrity – such as Robert Redford, who went scuba-diving with Fidel in 1988 and hung with him again in 2004.
But even in the company of knee-jerk leftists like Redford, director Oliver Stone is a standout. He’s called Fidel “one of the Earth’s wisest people.” In 2003, he made a documentary about Castro, Comandante, that, according to one observer, Damien Cave of the Washington Monthly, “should have been titled From Cuba With Love.” Asks Cave: “Who but the director of Salvador, a preachy indictment of U.S. policy in Central America, would take Castro at his word when he says ‘we have never practiced torture,’ a statement that Human Rights Watch contradicts pretty much annually?” Comandante and two later Stone documentaries, Looking For Fidel (2004) and Castro in Winter (2009), are pure hagiography.
“Castro is isolated in the hemisphere,” Stone said in 2006, “and for those reasons I admire him because he’s a fighter. He stood alone, and in a sense he’s Don Quixote, the last revolutionary, tilting at this windmill of keeping the island in a state of, I suppose, egalitarianism, where everyone would get the break, everyone gets the education, and everyone gets good water.”
Except, of course, for opponents of his autocracy, who get arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. If not executed.