Actor Ed Asner, who turns 87 today, has been a longtime fan of Fidel Castro, 90, and has been active in a number of organizations and campaigns designed to shore up the Castro dictatorship. Among them: the International Peace for Cuba Appeal and the Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban Five. (The Cuban Five, whom we’ve discussed briefly on this site, were spies who were imprisoned in the U.S. for several years.) Routinely, Asner has blamed America for Cuban Communism, his argument being that the U.S. embargo forced Fidel into the arms of the Kremlin. (Don’t try to explain to him that he’s reversed cause and effect.)
Not that he seems particularly bothered by Castro’s Communism. In 1998, visiting Cuba with Muhammed Ali, the American TV star had a friendly meeting with the Caribbean dictator; there is no record of his having breathed a word in criticism of the system Fidel had imposed on his people.
On the contrary, Asner has more than once twisted himself into rhetorical knots in an effort to defend that system. Discussing the Cuban situation in 2003 on MSNBC, Asner was asked about Castro’s imprisonment of his critics. Asner didn’t hesitate to stand up for this practice, maintaining that Fidel had been compelled by (once again) the U.S. embargo of Cuba to resort to such “excesses.” When Pat Buchanan, his interlocutor, requested that Asner explain the connection, Asner asserted that Castro “feels the imminent threat of the Bush administration.”
Did this mean, Buchanan inquired, that Asner seriously believed Bush intended to invade Cuba? Asner, while not replying with a direct and unequivocal yes, warned darkly that George W. Bush was “beginning to lower the crunch on Castro.” As evidence for this claim, Asner noted that the president had “just canceled student scholastic trips and museum trips to Cuba.” Buchanan proceeded to remind Asner that Fidel Castro had “persecuted his own people” and “denied them free elections for forty years” and that he was, in fact, “an unelected dictator who puts people in prison on his own.” Asner’s comeback, which demonstrated that the actor had long since accustomed himself to engaging in reflexive moral equivalence, was that America hadn’t had a free election in 2000, either.
In 2003, a group called Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-America Hollywood protested the casting of the pro-Castro Asner as Santa Claus in the movie Elf, then in production. “If he dislikes the country that has afforded him the lifestyle and luxury that his earnings as a celebrity have afforded him,” asserted the group’s leader, “then maybe he should see how wonderful Cuba really is. I doubt he would be able to enjoy the freedoms he has here were he under Castro’s rule.” The campaign failed, and Asner has in fact played Santa several times now.
Age hasn’t withered Asner’s devotion to his cigar-chomping pal in Havana. Three years ago, in a letter addressed to donors to a Cuba-friendly group, he invited them to join him on a delightful trip to Fidel’s tropical prison. “This is a great chance,” he wrote, “to experience for yourself the lively, inspiring and creative people-to-people exchange the right wing is trying to block.”
Oh, and let’s not forget this: Asner was also hugely supportive of Hugo Chávez’s regime in Venezuela, signing a 2004 letter calling chavista Venezuela “a model democracy.” Chávez’s policies have since destroyed the Venezuelan economy, of course, but if Asner has issued any expression of regret for having encouraged all this, we haven’t been able to find it.
But that’s not all. More tomorrow.