Castro in Vietnam: A forgotten chapter

Recently, author Jamie Glazov reposted a 2016 article of his about one of the lesser-known chapters of Communist history: the involvement of Cubans in the torture of American prisoners of war in Vietnam. On the occasion of Fidel Castro’s death, Glazov called attention to what he called “the direct and instrumental role Castro played in the torture and murder of American POWs in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.” As Glazov noted, America’s mainstream news media – which have tended to soft-pedal the evil of Castro’s regime and more than a few of which (as we’ve pointed out at this website) have celebrated Communist Cuba for the supposed quaintness and charm of its broken-down buildings and infrastructure – have virtually ignored this dark episode.

Fidel Castro

We’re not talking here, mind you, about a couple of Cubans who were sent over to Vietnam to help run POW camps. No; in fact, at the height of the Vietnam War, the number of Cubans in North Vietnam numbered in the thousands, and at least some of them were part of what Castro called the “Cuban Program” at the Cu Loc POW camp in Hanoi, which came to be known to inmates as ‘the Zoo.’” Among the goals of the “Cuban Program” was “to determine how much physical and psychological agony a human being could withstand.” For this purpose, Castro’s minions picked out US servicemen as “guinea pigs” to be worked on by a torturer, who like his comandante was named Fidel, and who was “trained in psychology and prison control in Russia or Europe.” Among the victims of Fidel’s brutality was a F-105 pilot, Lt. Col. Earl Cobeil, an F-105 pilot, whom a fellow POW, Col. Jack Bomar, described as follows:

Lt. Col. Earl Cobeil

The man could barely walk; he shuffled slowly, painfully. His clothes were torn to shreds. He was bleeding everywhere, terribly swollen, and a dirty, yellowish black and purple from head to toe. The man’s head was down; he made no attempt to look at anyone. . . . He stood unmoving, his head down. Fidel smashed a fist into the man’s face, driving him against the wall. Then he was brought to the center of the room and made to get down onto his knees. Screaming in rage, Fidel took a length of black rubber hose from a guard and lashed it as hard as he could into the man’s face. The prisoner did not react; he did not cry out or even blink an eye. His failure to react seemed to fuel Fidel’s rage and again he whipped the rubber hose across the man’s face. . . . Again and again and again, a dozen times, Fidel smashed the man’s face with the hose. Not once did the fearsome abuse elicit the slightest response from the prisoner. . . . His body was ripped and torn everywhere; hell cuffs appeared almost to have severed the wrists, strap marks still wound around the arms all the way to the shoulders, slivers of bamboo were embedded in the bloodied shins and there were what appeared to be tread marks from the hose across the chest, back, and legs.

Barbara Walters

Cobell died. So did many others. Of course, no one who is remotely familiar with the systematic, sadistic violence perpetrated by Che Guevara and others on behalf of the Castro regime could be terribly surprised that Castro was capable of arranging such a violent project. At the same time, one never quite gets accustomed to the fact that a popular current presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, is a lifelong Castro fan; ditto the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain; that the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, honeymooned in Havana; that Barbara Walters, the longtime host of American housewives’ favorite TV show, The View, had a cozy relationship with Fidel, whom she described as “charming”; that network reporter Lisa Howard had a veritable romance with him. It is one of the enduring, and sick, facts of life that some people who are lucky enough to live in liberty are capable of an irrational attraction to totalitarian tyrants.

Congratulations, Venezuela! Your inflation rate is down to 135,000%!

Havana

Over the years, we’ve written a good deal here about the western hemisphere’s cozy Commie tag team. We’re referring, of course, to the so-called Republic of Cuba and the so-called Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, each of which, through various actions, helps keep the other’s totalitarian system in place. Now, however, both of these tyrannies are undergoing dramatic changes. On September 13, Reuters reported that Cuba was experiencing a fuel shortage. “Cubans,” wrote Nelson Acosta, “queued for hours for public transport on Friday at peak times in Havana, sweating in the heavy heat, while queues at gas stations snaked several blocks long.”

PDVSA headquarters

The Cuban government blamed this crisis on the Trump Administration’s enhancement of U.S. efforts to block imports into Cuba – including oil shipments from Venezuela – and Trump’s new sanctions on Venezuela’s famously corrupt national oil company, PDVSA. Acosta noted, however, that it can’t all be blamed on Trump: Venezuelan oil imports into Cuba have been on the decline for years, obliging the Havana government to ration energy. Which means, among other things, shutting off streetlights and reducing “the use of electricity in state-run institutions,” whatever that entails.

Nicolas Maduro

Meanwhile, what’s up in Venezuela? According to a September 17 article in the Wall Street Journal, the Maduro government has responded to that country’s economic death spiral – a consequence of socialist policies introduced by the late Hugo Chavez – by “quietly and cautiously begun implementing free-market policies” in order to “correct an economic contraction worse than America’s Great Depression.” That’s putting it mildly: the situation in Venezuela makes The Grapes of Wrath look like Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

What exactly has the Maduro regime done? It’s “scaled back its once frenzied printing of money, nearly ended frequent salary hikes, and largely stopped enforcing the price controls that had led to dire food shortages and a thriving black market.” As the Journal ‘s Kejal Vyas observes, these are significant actions “for a government that has publicly championed its state-led, socialist economic model as the country’s only salvation from greedy capitalists.”

Venezuelans in a supermarket queue

In any event, the new policies are having an impact – kind of. The hyperinflation rate, wrote Vyas, has dropped “from seven to six figures.” To be specific, “Inflation has fallen from a peak 12-month rate of 2.6 million percent in January to 135,000% in August.” Now, that kind of inflation rate is still terrifying, but, okay, it’s better than seven figures. Just like it’s presumably better to be hit by a car going 60 miles an hour than by a train going 200.

To be sure, it’s news that the Maduro gang is finally seeing the light – sort of. It remains to be seen whether this implicit acknowledgment of the power of the free market will lead to changes in the regime’s rhetoric. Somehow we doubt it. Maduro has been rhapsodizing over chavista ideology so ardently for so many years that it’s hard to imagine him actually admitting that he’s been wrong all along.

Sergi Lanau

In any event, Vyas quotes Sergi Lanau of the Institute of International Finance in Washington to the effect that Maduro’s new measures aren’t exactly leading Venezuela out of the woods. “Is this a turning point? I would say no, definitely not,” said Lanau. “Who knows in a few months if the decision will be ‘Well, we need money again. Let’s print some more.’” In any event, despite the significant drop, Venezuela’s inflation rate remains the world’s highest. Even as America’s economy goes from strength to strength, the economies of the two totalitarian enemies on its doorstep continue to be basket cases.

They’re still cheering Che

In a recent article for a website called CubaArchive, a woman named Maria C. Werlau recounted an experience that we thought worth passing on. It’s a single anecdote, but it’s a telling one, illustrative of the ideological poison infecting American mass culture in these days when an unsettling percentage of young people have been led to think that socialism is just dandy and certainly preferable to capitalism. Writing on September 8, Werlau explained that on the previous Thursday, she had walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Coral Gables, Florida, and espied, before anything else, a prominently placed stack of books about Che Guevara that had been placed in the reference section.

The B&N display table

They were copies of Che: A Revolutionary Icon by Luis Enrique Martínez. It was published last year by New York-based Chartwell Books, which, a little googling reveals, specializes in books for children and teenagers. So this was, apparently, a work intended for young people. And what did Werlau find when she opened the book? “Page after page,” she wrote,

tells a selective and glorified story of Guevara under subtitles such as “The legend is born,” “The messenger of love,” “A revolutionary adventurer,” “The price of glory,” “Che lives forever,” with many glossy photos from many phases of his life. I found no subtitles such as “The killing machine,“ “the butcher of La Cabaña,” “terrorist,” “aristocratic racist,” or other less laudatory labels also used to describe him.

Of course, we’ve discussed Che at this site many times. And with good reason. For those who seek to further the fortunes of socialism in the United States, he remains a useful tool. That one famous picture of him, which in the eyes of certain observers makes him out to be glamorous, has somehow managed to sweep away his bloodthirstiness, his enthusiasm for violence, his love of killing, his eagerness to commit innocents to prison or send them to the executioner. Perhaps more than anyone in the Western hemisphere during the twentieth century, he was the very embodiment of the totalitarian mind at its most ruthless. And yet even now the Che industry, which glorifies his memory with movies, books, and t-shirts and other paraphernalia, continues to thrive.

The book

Coral Gables is a town in Miami-Dade County, which is famously home to a large Cuban-American community. Coral Gables itself is more than half Latino. Nearly all of these Cubans are living in south Florida for one reason: they, or their forebears, managed to escape the evil regime that Che Guevara helped plant and that he watered with the blood of innocents. Werlau made it plain in her article that while she is devoted to American freedoms and therefore no fan of censorship, she wondered why a bookstore in that part of the Sunshine State would want to put such a piece of shameless propaganda on display and to offer it up as, of all things, a reference book. She spoke to the manager, who told her that “he was born in Cuba but had left as a young child and knew nothing about Guevara.” Not surprising, alas.

Werlau looked up the author of the Che book. Martinez, she read, was born in Venezuela but has moved to Britain to escape the “violence and crime” prevalent in his homeland. You would think a writer who had to flee one socialist nightmare would be loath to celebrate another one. But no: Martinez, she read, had been “fascinated by Che Guevara since he was a boy when he had a poster of the revolutionary on his bedroom wall.” There it is in a nutshell: for at least one writer, the glory of that iconic image still outweighed the villainous reality of Che’s life.

The Cuba-chavista connection

Hugo Chavez

For those fans of the so-called Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela who have denied that chavismo is basically a Spanish word for Communism, the intimate ties between the revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez – and, subsequently, of his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro – with the frankly totalitarian Castro regime in Cuba has always been something of a stumbling block. In a recent article for Reuters, Angus Berwick provided a fascinating new trove of information that substantiated that nefarious link. “The Cuban government has relied on Venezuela for economic and political support for two decades,” Berwick wrote. “In return, Cuba has provided Venezuela with training and support that has allowed Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro to keep a tight grip on the military — and on power.”

Fidel Castro

Berwick revealed that in 2007, when Chavez lost a referendum that would have allowed him to keep running for re-election, he turned for advice to “a close confidant” – namely, Fidel Castro, who told him that if he wanted to stay in power indefinitely, whatever the results of elections, he should assume “absolute control of the military.” Chavez listened, and as a result ordered that Venezuelan troops be spied on. With the help of advisors supplied by Castro, Chavez oversaw the refashioning of a government agency that now goes by the name Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), and that had previously been tasked to spy abroad, into an organization whose primary mission was to conduct espionage within Venezuela’s own armed forces.

Nicolas Maduro

To this end, members of Cuba’s armed forces were brought into Venezuela to restructure the military and train spies. Under the instruction of its Cuban tutors, the DGCIM “embedded agents…within barracks,” tapped the phones of senior officers, put together “dossiers on perceived troublemakers,” and reported “any signs of disloyalty.” Non-chavista officers and enlisted men were duly arrested, imprisoned, tortured; one organization says that the number of former military personnel now in detention as a result of DGCIM investigations is over 300. Since its transformation, the DGCIM has been “accused by soldiers, opposition lawmakers, human rights groups and many foreign governments of abuses including torture and the recent death of a detained navy captain.”

Juan Guaido

For years, Cuban and Venezuelan officials have denied that the relationship between their militaries was anywhere near this intimate. But they were lying. While Venezuelan oil kept Cuba’s economy going, Cuban involvement in the Venezuelan military has kept the chavista government in power. It’s because of this arrangement, this deal between devils, that Juan Guaido’s bid to replace Maduro – a key factor of which was his expectation that many members of the armed forces would take his side – failed so ignominiously. Military officers and enlisted men who might indeed have been supporters of Guaido have long since been culled from the ranks, with the help of Maduro’s ruthless Cuban allies.

Cuban defectors? Who cares?

Castro with Jesse Jackson

We’ve spent plenty of time on this website discussing celebrities from the US and other free countries who have gotten a big kick out of going slumming in Cuba, chumming around with Fidel Castro, and the like. We’ve written about how current New York Mayor (and presidential hopeful) Bill de Blasio honeymooned in Havana. About how another one of the current crop of presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders, has praised Castro and visited Cuba. About how the mayor of New Orleans went to Havana for tips on economic development. About Barbara Walters’s cozy relationship with Fidel. About the quasi-romance between Fidel and another American TV “journalist,” Lisa Howard. About a UCLA art professor’s fascination with Che Guevara. About a fun trip made by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, to the island prison. About how Karl Lagerfeld used rundown Havana as a backdrop for a fashion show. About the movie that director Bob Yari filmed in Cuba. About celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s admiration for the Castro regime. And about heroic whitewashes of Cuban Communism by Time Magazine and other media.

Castro with director Oliver Stone

The point has consistently been the same: that it’s easy for people living in democratic countries to romanticize tyranny. It seems especially easy, somehow, for rich and privileged folks who like to make the most of their wealth and their ability to travel at will to any spot on earth. There’s something about visiting a dictatorship and consorting with a dictator that just tickles their fancy. Somehow they’re able to take in the terrible spectacle of fellow human beings living under economic and political conditions that they themselves would chafe under and yet praise the system, and the thugs, that forces these conditions upon them. The whole business is an eternal reality and an eternal puzzle.

Members of Cuba’s youth soccer team

Yet however blinkered so many people in the West may be about the reality of a place like Cuba, the Cubans themselves have no illusions. They know what it is to live every of their lives without liberty. So it is that last month, six members of Cuba’s youth soccer team who were in New York on their way from Cuba to the U.S. Virgin Islands – where they were scheduled to play a game on July 17 against the team representing that possession – defected. Six! This was, of course, hardly a unique event: only a month earlier, four Cuban soccer players defected while in the U.S. for a tournament.

Castro with Angela Davis

This report first appeared in the official Cuban government daily Granma. It was picked up by the news service Agence France-Presse. We read about it at the reliable Babalu Blog, which had found the story at the website of a Pakistani newspaper. A roundabout way, don’t you think, for a story from Cuba to reach American readers? (Even more roundabout, in fact, than the idea of having to go through New York to get from Havana to the U.S. Virgin Islands.) But this is what happens when major Western newspapers simply aren’t interested in such stories – such, alas, is their admiration for, or at very least readiness to cover for, the Cuban system. We checked: even though the defection took place in New York, none of that city’s major dailies appears to have reported on it. Well, disgraceful enough for them. But whether covered in the media or not, there were six Cubans who freer when they went to bed that evening than when they’d woken up that morning – and that’s what matters.

Danny Glover, Communist stooge

Danny Glover

Some of the Hollywood stars whom we’ve written about here – whether because they’ve praised Castro or Maduro or accepted big paychecks to perform for some Third World strongman or another – have done so because they’re underinformed, misguided, or just plain greedy and amoral. But one big showbiz name who has been the subject of our attention is a bona fide admirer of totalitarianism. As we wrote in August 2015, Danny Glover, star of The Color Purple, Witness, and the Lethal Weapon pictures, is an out-and-out enthusiast for Communist dictatorship. He loved Hugo Chávez, whom he met in 2006 and who ended up setting up financing for two politically charged movies Glover planned to produce.

With the late Hugo Chavez

And much as he loved Chávez, he loved Fidel Castro even more. For years Glover has been a frequent visitor to Cuba, where he attends the Havana film festival, attends political-cultural events, accepts awards, and pals around with the tyrants who run the place. He views the Cuban Revolution through a quasi-mystical lens, speaking with religious fervor about its “extraordinary will to find truth and to reveal the new human being, the new man and a new woman.” A few years back he campaigned actively for the release of the “Cuban Five,” a group of spies who were jailed in the U.S. and whom Glover praised as “heroic men.” As we’ve previously noted, Glover became friends with one of the five, Gerardo Hernández, who had been involved in shooting down unarmed planes carrying Cuban exiles, and whom Glover – who had visited Hernández several times in his California prison cell – described as his “spiritual brother.”

With Gerardo Hernandez

During a November 2015 visit to Cuba, Glover was reunited with Hernández, whom President Obama freed in a gesture of friendship toward the Castro regime. While in Cuba, Glover enthused over what he described as the spies’ awareness of “their responsibility to humanity” – and, more broadly, celebrated “the work of the internationalists of this island that brings the light of solidarity to remote places

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

This is the man who, on June 19 of this year, testified before the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in support of a slavery-reparations bill whose main sponsor is Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).

In the middle of the last century, during the Cold War, members of the American Communist Party, which took orders directly from the Kremlin, were summoned by congressional committees to answer for their loyalty to the totalitarian enemy, which was considered an act of treason. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether it was appropriate for the national legislature to interrogate these Communists. But we have to say that it seems bizarre, to say the least, to invite Communists to Capitol Hill as if they were pillars of wisdom and virtue.

Rep. Steve Cohen

Not that anyone in the hearing room that day would have known from the subcommittee chairman’s introduction of Glover that he is a diehard Communist. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) described him, rather, as an “actor, producer, and an activist for various causes,” not to mention “goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, chairman of the board of Transafrica Forum, an African-American lobbying organization for Africa and the Caribbean, and a friend of Harry Belafonte.” That last bit was plainly meant as a cute touch; in fact the reference to Belafonte served as a useful reminder that he is, in the words of historian Ronald Radosh (whom we quoted here in 2015), an “unreconstructed Stalinist.” So we’re talking about two men one of whom was amiably introduced by the leader of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the other affectionately referred to by that same leader, as if they were twin American icons, but whose politics are downright monstrous. If they were open Nazis, no member of either house of Congress would invite them to testify about anything. But they are both Communists, and, in the eyes of Cohen and his colleagues, apparently, that’s just fine – although it’s best, of course, to keep that little fact under wraps for the purpose of the hearing.

There’s hardly any reason to get into the details of Glover’s brief testimony, aside from observing that he spoke of “democracy” and “equality” and “justice” as if he genuinely believed in these things. Naturally he supports reparations. Whatever. The point is not what he said but that he was invited there to say it. The point is that being a champion of totalitarianism, a buddy and admirer of the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, is no longer viewed in certain respectable inside-the-Beltway circles as disqualifying one as an authority on justice. That, quite simply, is a disgrace.

Bill de Blasio, Che fan

Bill de Blasio

What can you expect of a mayor who honeymooned in Havana?

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about Senator Bernie Sanders, former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and current candidate for President of the United States. He honeymooned in the Soviet Union. The mayor we’re referring to here, who also happens to be running for President, is Bill de Blasio, the current mayor of New York City.

De Blasio, whose politics are basically socialist, is not popular in New York City; many citizens feel that he’s begun to undo the successes of his two immediate predecessors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, who made the metropolis safer and cleaner and restored its economy. His critics accuse de Blasio not just of misguided policies; they charge him with incompetence and neglect.

Che Guevara

As if to affirm the charge of neglect, de Blasio has spent much of the last few weeks outside of the city he’s supposed to be running. Instead of attending to his mayoral duties, he’s been on the campaign trail, trying to secure the Democratic nomination for president. That’s why he was in Miami on June 27 when, addressing an audience of striking workers at the airport, he actually quoted from the Cuban revolutionary hero Che Guevara. “The eyes of the world are on this airport, the eyes of the world are on Miami-Dade,” he said, concluding his remarks with Che’s most famous line: “Hasta la victoria siempre.”

Marco Rubio

When his Che quote, predictably enough, met with criticism from Miami residents – many of whom are refugees from Castro’s Cuba or the children or grandchildren thereof, and therefore not exactly fans of Che Guevara – as well as from Sunshine State politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio and State Senator Jose Javier Rodríguez, de Blasio claimed not to have known that the line was identified with Che. He actually maintained that he was simply expressing, in Spanish, his hope that the airport workers’ strike would be successful. But there are many ways to convey that sentiment in Spanish. “Hasta la victoria siempre” would not be the first combination of words to occur to an English speaker wishing to communicate that thought. Far from it. It would have been far more likely for someone in his position to say, for example, “Buena suerte con la huelga” – good luck with the strike. Is his claim, then, at all credible? In a word, no.

He loved to kill.

We’re speaking, after all, about a longtime socialist who helped raise money for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and who, as noted above, honeymooned in Havana (and violated U.S. law to do so). He’s precisely the kind of guy who knows very well that “Hasta la victoria siempre” is a Che line. It’s quite simply beyond comprehension that this hard leftist, this admirer of Castro, is ignorant enough not to have known he was quoting Che. Our guess, rather, is that he’s fatuous enough to have thought that, even in a city known for its large Cuban refugee population, most of the Spanish-speaking airport workers would respond positively to an allusion to Che Guevara. Because the plain fact is that, for a man with de Blasio’s politics, Che is a hero – never mind Che’s history of sadistic abuse and torture, his establishment of concentration camps, and his summary executions of tens of thousands of political enemies, gays, artists, journalists, and business people (plus fellow revolutionaries whom he perceived as rivals). De Blasio simply can’t imagine working-class Latinos not sharing his own outsized admiration for the bloodthirsty Argentinian butcher.

“Democratic socialist”? Nonsense.

Bernie Sanders

It was never a secret that Bernie Sanders was a socialist. In college he belonged to the Young People’s Socialist League. After graduating he lived on an Israeli kibbutz that flew a red flag and was founded by Stalinists. During his unsuccessful 1970s runs for the U.S. Senate and for Governor of Vermont, he called for the nationalization of all banks and utilities. Later he produced “radical film strips,” i.e. propaganda, for distribution to schools and made a hagiographic documentary about Socialist icon Eugene V. Debs.

Noam Chomsky

Finally managing to get elected to public office, he served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981 to 1989, during which time he openly identified as a socialist, established price controls, hosted a foreign-policy speech by Noam Chomsky, made life difficult for local business people with his chronic hostility to free enterprise, worked with the Soviets and East Germans to defeat Reagan’s military build-up, went to Nicaragua to attend a celebration of the Sandinista government, visited Cuba, publicly praised Fidel Castro, and honeymooned in the USSR.

In 1990 he ran for the U.S. House on the Socialist ticket and won, becoming the only Socialist in Congress. During most of his tenure in the House and then in the Senate, he was a voice for radical-left ideas but, until his run for present in 2016, maintained a relatively low national profile, although he did promote and support measures to cut the U.S. intelligence budget, praised the socialist regimes in Venezuela and Ecuador, and became the first U.S. Senator to support the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Fidel Castro

Yet despite his radicalism, and despite his lifelong acknowledgement that he is a socialist, Sanders has always called himself a “democratic socialist,” a term which is plainly intended to distinguish him from out-and-out Communists. At a TV forum in April, he told a questioner that he never supported the Soviet Union. For anybody who is even superficially familiar with his personal history, this seemed a highly dubious claim. It became even more dubious, however, when, just a couple of days later, a film emerged of a 1986 lecture in which Sanders praised the Cuban Revolution. In the lecture, given at the University of Vermont while Sanders was mayor of Burlington, he recalled “being very excited when Fidel Castro made the revolution in Cuba,” adding that “it seemed right and appropriate that poor people were rising up against ugly rich people.” In the same speech, Sanders also said that he had been disgusted by President Kennedy’s anti-Communism.

John F. Kennedy

Reporting on the film, which was posted on Twitter, the Daily Mail noted that this was “not the first time that 30-year-old clips have surfaced showing Sanders making controversial remarks about American foreign policy toward communist countries in Latin America.” During his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2015-16, recalled the Mail, somebody had dug up a 1985 video “in which Sanders is seen heaping praise on Castro,” celebrating the dictator’s “policies on education, health care and society in general.”

Needless to say, such video evidence makes it hard to take seriously Sanders’s insistence on qualifying the socialist label, when applied to him, with the word “democratic.” There was, after all, nothing democratic about Fidel Castro. No lover of freedom who knew the truth about Castro and his regime could possibly admire him. And no freedom-lover could possibly have responded to JFK’s hard line on Soviet totalitarianism with anything but approval. That Sanders, a man with such a manifest and enduring affection for Communist tyranny, could be a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States is reason for alarm.

How to improve New Orleans? Copy Cuba!

Some of New Orleans’ housing stock.

New Orleans has a load of problems. It’s a city whose economy is based largely on letting tourists drink beer in the street and urinate in public. It has one of America’s highest poverty levels and one of the world’s worst murder rates. Property taxes and home insurance costs are prohibitive. Much of the housing stock is very rundown. Public transit is crap. The streets are filled with potholes and the sewage system is so inadequate that the place floods every time there’s a serious rainstorm. The schools are lousy. Political corruption is endemic. High local taxes and excessive regulations discourage business development. There are no major art museums and there’s no real high-culture scene to speak of. Rats, roaches, and termites abound. In short, the Big Easy is in desperate need of a massive influx of business activity that would provide jobs and fund civic improvements, but it’s not going to experience that kind of renaissance unless it makes itself more attractive both to established corporations and small start-ups.

The mayor.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell knows what NoLa needs. So where did she travel in early April in order to pick up tips on economic development? Give up? Cuba.

Yes, Cuba. According to press secretary LaTonya Norton (yes, the mayor is named LaToya and her press secretary is named LaTonya), Cantrell flew to Havana to “see firsthand how [Cuba’s] history has produced unique opportunities and challenges in the areas of economic development, trade, health care, education and other quality of life issues.” Accompanying Cantrell was a group of 35 people, including both public officials and private citizens. Among her planned stops during the trip were a medical school, the Literacy Museum, and the University of Havana, because the mayor and her crew have, like many American progressives, bought into the propaganda about Cuba’s wondrous achievements in medicine and education. Indeed after arriving in Cuba, Cantrell told her hosts that New Orleans’s maternity mortality rates are up, and she was therefore eager to learn the secrets of Cuba’s first-rate community health care. Of course, anyone in the know could have told Cantrell that while Cuban elites do enjoy pretty good health care, the hospitals for ordinary Cubans are backward, with severely limited supplies, primitive equipment, and a narrow range of available treatments.

The mayor at a Havana hospital

To its credit, the editors of the local paper, the Times-Picayune, raised questions about the junket. “Mayor LaToya Cantrell didn’t even try to explain why she’s in Cuba this week,” they wrote in an editorial. “She didn’t announce the trip at all.” Nor did city officials “provide an itinerary or the cost of the trip.” Noting that this wasn’t the first time Cantrell had taken major action without informing the public beforehand, the editors concluded: “The lack of transparency of this administration is astounding. In fact, it’s a lot like Cuba.”

This one’s of Havana.

Commenting on the trip, Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author and longtime critic of the Castro regime, pointed out that “learning about ‘quality of life’ from a place that saw multiple times as many desperate people die trying to escape it, as died trying to escape over the Berlin Wall, sounds like shameless click-bait, or even a Saturday Night Live or Monty Python skit.” Fontova reminded readers that Cantrell’s hosts “converted a nation with a higher per capita income than half of Europe, the lowest inflation rate in the Western hemisphere, a larger middle class than Switzerland, a huge influx of immigrants, and workers who enjoyed the 8th highest industrial wages in the world into one that repels Haitians….and in the process jailed and tortured the most and longest-suffering BLACK political prisoners in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.” True enough. But such facts, it seems, will never overcome the illusions of certain starry-eyed folks who’ve been seduced by Cuban propaganda.

Baba Wawa & Fidel: a love story?

Okay, so she’s not a full-fledged, 100%, dyed-in-the-wool stooge. As we noted in a posting in December 2016, Barbara Walters was one of perhaps two of the upscale Manhattan guests at Leonard Bernstein’s 1970 Black Panthers fundraiser – the one that Tom Wolfe made famous in Radical Chic – who didn’t drool all over the thugs in a repulsive display of limousine liberalism and nostalgie de la boue. While glamorous folks like high-society bandleader Peter Duchin and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers oohed and aahed over the Panthers’ plans for an armed revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, Walters actually asked a sensible question: “I’m talking as a white woman who has a white husband, who is a capitalist, or an agent of capitalists, and I am, too, and I want to know if you are to have your freedom, does that mean we have to go?” No, she didn’t give them a dressing-down and then storm out of the party, but at least she stood apart from fellow guests who looked at the gun-toting gangsters and, somehow, saw angels about to usher in a golden utopia.

Similarly, when she interviewed Fidel Castro in 1977, she at least – to her credit – said on the record that she disagreed with him on “the meaning of freedom.” But that statement came at the end of a nauseating puff piece in which Walters did a marvelous job of presenting the murderous dictator as a world-class charmer. She interviewed him again in 2002. And over the years she spoke frequently about her encounters with the Caribbean tyrant, her main point invariably being that he was, as she told Harpers Bazaar in 2014, “very charismatic – very charming and funny.” (Following his death, she said the same thing:“The word ‘charismatic’ was made for him.) Once her 1977 interview with Fidel was in the can, she recalled, “Castro took us into his kitchen and made us grilled cheese sandwiches.” Walters laughed. “That’s an experience you don’t have anymore.” Adorable! During the same Cuba trip, Walters and Castro “dined outdoors on roast pig and Algerian wine at Castro’s mountain retreat.” It’s good to be the dictator. That night, at least two people in Cuba ate well.

As the Harpers Bazaar writer observed, “One thing that seemed clear to everyone was the chemistry between Walters and Castro.” Walters herself said: “People did tease me after that, asking if this was a romance.” When he dropped her at the Havana airport, “I reached up to kiss him on both cheeks, and he all but pushed me away. It was a friendly European goodbye, but I was in Cuba, not France.” We checked with a couple of friends who’ve been interviewed by major newspapers and TV networks. They say that the reporters who interviewed them didn’t lean in for a smooch at the end of the interchange – not once! Interesting that Castro seemed to understand, as Walters didn’t, that, under such circumstances, osculation (European or not) was unprofessional.

“Cuba is a very different country because of Fidel Castro,” Walters told Harpers Bazaar, “and I don’t know what he is proudest of or what he wishes he could have accomplished.” Proudest of? Accomplished? What planet has this woman been living on for the past half century? Even to think along such lines is to buy into this despot’s propaganda. Looking back on her meetings with Fidel, we’d have loved to see her lean over with a smile, put a hand on his knee, and coo confidentially: “What’s your favorite prison?” or “Whose execution made you happiest?” We certainly wouldn’t expect this fatuous talking head – this purported feminist media pioneer who long ago gave up any pretense of being a real journalist and has spent the last few decades lobbing softballs at airheaded celebrities and chatting about the latest gossip on morning TV – to actually interrogate somebody like Fidel, confronting him boldly about his monstrous crimes, his outrageous hypocrisy, and his blatant propaganda. Instead, Walters parroted his propaganda, echoing the oft-repeated claim that he’d given his people first-rate health care and education. Lies, lies, lies. And although she did, yes, admit that he was an autocrat who’d robbed his people of their freedom, nobody has given Fidel and his regime better press in the U.S. than this silly, overrated woman.