Oliver Stone, as we’ve observed, has long been an outspoken fan of Fidel Castro. But it turns out that he’s a broad-minded kind of guy. He doesn’t just love far-left tyrants.
Last September, during a visit to Moscow, where he was making a documentary about Edward Snowden, he gave an interview to a Russian government newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, in which he declared that Vladimir Putin – who is generally counted as a bully of the right, not the left – also enjoys his esteem.
The editors of Rossiyskaya Gazeta made no effort to conceal their delight at Stone’s praise for their überboss – and at Stone’s virulent comments on America. Calling the interview “extraordinary,” they announced that they “agree wholeheartedly with most of what he says.”
Certainly, Stone didn’t breathe a single word that a Putin puppet might want to protest. The U.S., he charged, “is on…the path of war and aggression….world domination is the goal.” He faulted the Western powers for not shuttering NATO after the Cold War: “It was a defensive alliance to protect Western Europe; it has since become an offensive alliance.” He called NATO’s admission of 13 former Soviet states “a nightmare” for Russia, and supported what he described as Putin’s protection of his country’s “core geopolitical interests.”
In Stone’s view, America is brutally aggressive and warlike; Russia isn’t. While the U.S. “is invasive and pushing constantly the limits of patience of Russia,” the notion of Putin’s Russia as aggressive is a media lie. Americans are naive: we “never experienced war….And as a result we don’t respect war and what it means. We go and bring harm to others….We will not understand war until it happens to us….history’s karma will come around and punish the American people.” By contrast, “Russians have such a terrible experience” of war and thus respect it. After all, the Soviets “saved the world from Hitler” – a favor for which Americans have always been insufficiently grateful. (“American bankers and the rich,” he griped, “have always hated Russia, hated communism.”)
Stone lauded Putin for having introduced a “new authoritarianism” that “gave Russians [a] sense of certainty, consistency and pride back.” He said: “I certainly admire Putin as a strong man.” Asked about another strongman, Joseph Stalin, Stone offered the observation that Uncle Joe had “a fantastic and grand personality.”
Otherwise he said nothing, either positive or negative, about the murderer of fifty million people.
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 Márquezfrom 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.
America’s new opening to Cuba should not blind us to the cruel history of the Castro era. We should not forget the human-rights heroes who have suffered in Castro’s prisons and spoken out internationally about his tyranny. Nor should we forget those prominent figures in the West who have betrayed the cause of freedom by befriending, defending, and brown-nosing Castro over the decades.
Take, for example, Gabriel García Márquez. During his lifetime, he was probably the most honored and most famous author in the Spanish-speaking world. He deserved immense respect for his writings: his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is a beautiful piece of work, a true masterpiece. After his death in April 2014, however, he was celebrated by left-wing media around the world not only as a literary genius but as a great humanitarian, a sort of world-class hero of the human spirit. Recently, on the Oscar telecast, he was included in the “In Memoriam” segment alongside the likes of actors Mickey Rooney and Eli Wallach, presumably on the basis of his handful of obscure Spanish-language screenplays.
Only a few dissident voices dared breathe the ugly truth.
Armando Valladares, who described his years as a prisoner of conscience under Castro in the book Against All Hope, wrote after García Márquez’s death that the Colombian novelist had “put his pen at the service of Fidel Castro’s tyranny, supporting torture, the concentration camps, and the murdering by firing squad of whoever dared to oppose the Communist regime. García Márquez used to say that the only country in the Americas that respected human rights was Cuba.”
García Márquez, recalled Valladares, “lived in a ‘House of Protocol’ with Blanquita, his teenage lover….The Nobel winner had a white Mercedes Benz, another gift from his friend Fidel Castro, and privileges in exchange for defending Castro’s dictatorship, all while he rent his robes denouncing Pinochet.”
Valladares’s gravest revelation was that García Márquez was “an informer for Castro’s political police” – in other words, a snitch, a fink, a double-crosser. Valladares cited the case of Cuban dissident Ricardo Bofill, who, during a visit by García Márquez to Havana, entrusted him with “documents relating to several Cuban artists.” Shortly thereafter, Bofill was arrested – and “displayed on the table right next to Castro’s secret-policeman…were the very documents which Bofill had given García Márquez.”
Bofill, whom Cuban emigré Humberto Fontova describes as “a peaceful human-rights activist inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.,” ended up spending “12 years in Castro’s prisons—thanks to Gabriel García Márquez.” In 1968, two major Spanish newspapers, ABC and Diario 16, reported on this betrayal, and stated flatly that García Márquez had informed on several Cuban writers and artists, whose trust in him – as a colleague who they assumed would agitate for their human rights – landed them in prison.
“Some of his friends and defenders have said that García Márquez interceded for my freedom,” wrote Valladares. “This is absolutely untrue — a complete falsehood. I have enough moral honesty (which he did not) to have accepted the story if it had been true. This version was a maneuver of his buddies to capitalize on the international sympathy that produced my release; they used this sympathy on his behalf. What he did was use the Nobel Prize ceremony to repeat accusations of Castro against me, which prompted a strong critical letter from the French PEN Club, into which I had been adopted as an honorary member.”
Fontova noted that Castro provided García Márquez with “a (stolen) mansion…where he frolicked with adolescent girls” and with “a (stolen) Mercedes” in which he tooled around the crumbling city of Havana. Fontova also cited Before Night Falls, the autobiography of gay Cuban writer Reynaldo Arenas, who “was jailed and tortured by Castro’s police for his rebellious writings and gay lifestyle” before finally escaping to the U.S. in 1980. Two years later, Arenas described García Márquez as an “unscrupulous propagandist for totalitarianism.”
Then there’s Cuban author and emigré Roberto Luque Escalona, a sometime Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who said of García Márquez that
Only a five star-scoundrel would put his literary fame in the service of a cause as vile and malignant as the Castro tyranny. Simple frivolity cannot possibly justify an embrace so long and strong as the one Garcia-Marquez gave someone who devastated a nation, murdered thousands, jailed and tortured tens of thousands dispersed an entire nation and debased the rest.
A fellow Latin American novelist who is not only a gifted artist but a morally admirable human being, the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, has described García Márquez as Castro’s “courtesan.” But in fact he was only one of several international cultural figures who were, or are, “courtesans” in Castro’s harem. We’ll look at a few more of them next time.