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.

Che as Jesus?

Everyone’s favorite psychopath.

We’ve been working the Useful Stooges beat for a few years now. We’ve been at it so long, in fact, that you might imagine that we’re no longer remotely capable of being shocked by the high levels of self-delusion, evil-worship, and all-around moral depravity of which some of our fellow homo sapiens are capable. On the contrary, even we do the occasional double or triple take.

Kunzel’s book

Consider this story, courtesy of Arik Schneider at Campus Reform. On April 4, David Kunzle, a professor emeritus in art history at UCLA, gave a talk under the auspices of that university’s Department of Religion. In the talk, based on his book Chesucristo: The Fusion Image and Word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ, Kunzle described Che as a “hero of the Cuban Revolution” and a “quasi-divine cosmic force.” Sharing various artworks in which Che is depicted in Christ-like fashion, Kunzle said that “Che Guevara, once the epitome of armed struggle, has evolved to an avatar of justice, peace, and love, as Jesus always was but no longer is exclusively.” Both Jesus and Che, maintained Kunzle, were leaders of “armed guerilla struggle[s].” Kunzle further stated that “[a]s God created light – is light – Che is radiance” and that his nickname, Che, is a “sacred trinity of letters.”

Still a bestseller.

Now, the fact is that in the half century since his death, images of Che Guevara actually have become iconic. We don’t deny that this makes the topic a legitimate subject of study for historians, social scientists, and students of art. Kunzle might have performed a genuine and multifaceted public service if he had been thoroughly honest about the life, ideology, and actions of Che Guevara, a bloodthirsty murderer who was dedicated to promoting a totalitarian dictatorship, and had provided a legitimate scholarly account of his posthumous transmogrification, on millions of t-shirts, posters, and other objects, into “an avatar of justice, peace, and love.” It doesn’t sound, however, as if Kunzle brought to his UCLA discussion very much in the way of aesthetic judgment, moral perspective, or historical objectivity. Yes, we gather that Kunzle realizes that there is at least some degree of tension between this image and the original reality. But the term “armed struggle” is so insufficient as a means of summing up the totality of Che’s career that it amounts to sheer whitewash. Did Kunzle, one wonders, use the word torture? Did he mention summary executions? Did he say anything whatsoever to indicate an awareness of Che’s profound sadism, the unbridled enthusiasm with which he butchered innocents by the score? Apparently not, especially given that his presentation “was followed by a thirty-minute Q&A period, where some of the attendees mentioned their own visits to Cuba and one faculty member ruminated on his experiences personally meeting Guevara.” The audience, reported Schneider, “appeared to approve of the depiction of Jesus and Guevara, going so far as to call the latter individual a ‘martyr’ in some of their own remarks in the Q&A portion.” It sounds, in short, like a lovefest, a fan club meeting, an exercise in nostalgia for the early days of the Castro Revolution.

The catalog for Kunzle’s 1997-98 exhibition

Schneider writes that “Kunzle seems to have hosted the talk at least once before, in 2011.” In fact it turns out that his interest in – obsession with? – this topic goes back a long way. Over two decades ago, in 1997-98, the Fowler Museum at UCLA held an exhibition curated by Kunzle under the title Che Guevara: Icon, Myth, and Message. And more than two decades before that, in 1975, Art in America ran an article by Kunzle about Che posters. As for Kunzle’s other writings, their topics include murals celebrating the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, art associated with Chilean Communist guerrilla movements, and Soviet film posters. Are you sensing a theme? Then there’s the fact that, in articles and reviews written before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Kunzle, in accordance with preferred Soviet and Maoist usage, routinely referred to Communist tyrannies as “revolutionary” societies and to the nations of the Free World as “bourgeois countries.” His politics, then, are clear enough. And his decades-long attraction to the idea of Che as Jesus is manifest – and, yes, even after all these years, shocking in its utter abhorrence.

From palace to prison

It’s fun to be a British royal in Cuba.

Vanity Fair apparently found the whole thing delightful: “With make-your-own mojitos and stylish sunglasses, the future King of England proved that diplomacy can be fun.” The occasion in question was a four-day Cuba trip in late March by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. As VF put it, they “decided to mix work and play,” seeing the island’s “nicest sites and activities” (translation: their hosts took them on what used to be called a “Potemkin tour”), “embrac[ing] Cuba’s love for vintage cars” (as if the superfluity of junky 1950 vehicles were a product of taste and not of necessity), “spoke to artists about their response to a tornado that hit Havana in January” (these were, of course, government-approved artists, not dissident ones who are languishing in jails as political prisoners), and “met with activists who work on issues connected to domestic violence” (again, they certainly didn’t meet with pro-democracy activists).

Charles, meet Che.

Town and Country was so excited by the royal drop-in that it ran a glossy spread featuring “the best photos” of it – for example, an image of the heir to the British throne posing in front of that famous mural of Che Guevara in Havana. Interesting, isn’t it, how these high-class magazines devoted to capitalist comfort are so charmed by one of the world’s few remaining Communist dictatorships? Town and Country, by the way, was one of several publications that included a photo of a bench with a statue of John Lennon seated on it. Nobody bothered to comment, however, on the appropriateness of the Lennon figure: for the fact is that the end result of the political views articulated in Lennon’s anthem “Imagine” is always a terror state like the Castro’s.

Imagine there’s no Windsors.

Then there were the British newspapers. The Express focused on a supposedly whimsical part of the tour, when Charles and Camilla were shown how to use a large press to crush sugar cane to make mojitos. In a classic photo op, the Prince of Wales tried his hand at the press, quipping, apparently to the delight of the press contingent on hand, that he was certainly “cheap labour” – riotous humor for somebody visiting a country that is, in essence, an island prison. The august Times was presumably amused too, running a headline about the wonderful success that had been achieved by the royals’ “mojito diplomacy.”

Making mojitos.

Recall that when Donald and Melania Trump visited Britain last summer, Prince Charles and his older son, Prince William, both refused to meet him, obliging the Queen to greet the President and First Lady alone. When Charles referred to the Holocaust in a speech and lamented the fact that hatreds of the kind that motivated the Nazis are still alive and well, many observers got the distinct impression that he was alluding to Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.” Prince Harry, Charles’s second son, has also publicly badmouthed the American President. Curious how key members of the House of Windsor are so eager to be on jolly good terms with Caribbean tyrants but don’t mind insulting the elected leader of their country’s strongest ally and protector.

Kamala’s Castroite conquest

Sen. Kamala Harris

In the view of CNN, the news amounted to a triumph for Kamala Harris. In an “analysis” posted on February 14, Nia-Malika Henderson, the news network’s Senior Political Reporter, said that the just-announced endorsement of the first-term California senator by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) was the presidential candidate’s “biggest endorsement to date” and represented “an undeniable boost.” Lee, noted Henderson, had not only thrown her support to Harris but also agreed to co-chair her California campaign.

Rep. Barbara Lee

To underscore the importance of Lee’s backing, Henderson described Lee as an “all-around anti-war and social justice activist star” and “progressive icon” and observed that she “has been called ‘the House’s lefty conscience.’” She was, Henderson pointed out, “the only member of Congress to vote against authorization for the use of force in the days after 9/11.” By teaming up with Harris, Lee was helping the senator to “burnish her progressive credentials.” Moreover, Lee’s announcement “might also foreshadow a show of force” by other “progressive stalwarts” such as Maxine Waters.

The tone of Henderson’s “analysis” of the Lee endorsement was not unique. Other mainstream news media also depicted it as a great leap forward for Harris, and described Lee in similarly glowing terms.

What Henderson omitted, and what many other media reports also chose not to mention, was the – shall we say – complex reality behind the carefully cultivated image of Lee as “icon” and “conscience” and “star.”

Armed Black Panthers at the State Capitol in Sacramento on May 2, 1967

For one thing, this is a woman who began her career as a member of the Black Panthers – and who, as recently as 2017, supported the use of funds from the National Park Services (NPS) budget to pay tribute to the Panthers’ memory with something called the Black Panther Party Research, Interpretation & Memory Project. When the NPS decided not to spend its resources on the project, Lee issued a livid statement that described the Black Panther Party – that violent group of murderous revolutionary thugs – as “an integral part of the civil rights movement.”

Judge Richard Goldstone

Lee also voted against condemning the so-called Goldstone Report, that scandalous United Nations document that whitewashed Palestinian terrorism while falsely accusing the Israeli Defense Forces of deliberately targeting Arab civilians. Even the report’s lead author, South African judge Richard Goldstone, ultimately withdrew his imprimatur from it – but not Lee.

Perhaps most appalling, Lee has been a stalwart supporter of the Cuban Communist regime and was personally chummy with Fidel Castro. Over the years, she visited Cuba more than twenty times and met with Fidel on eight of those occasions.

The now infamous picture of Elian Gonzales being removed by U.S. federal agents from the home of his Miami relatives on April 22, 2000, so that he could be retuned to Cuba.

It was Lee who played the key role in the reprehensible return to Cuba, in the year 2000, of six-year-old Elian Gonzales, whose mother had perished at sea in her effort to bring him to freedom in the U.S.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2014 on a 2009 memo by Fidel documenting a five-hour meeting at his Havana home with Lee, who was there to serve as a liaison with the new Obama administration.

“We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.”

When Fidel died in November 2016, Lee said that she was “very sad for the Cuban people” and claimed that Fidel had brought “social improvements” to the island. Yes, she admitted, Cubans had experienced hard times, but Lee put a bright face on them: gasoline rationing forced them to ride bikes, and that brought down “their rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.” Calling Fidel “a smart man” and a “historian,” Lee said: “We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.”

But that wasn’t all: when then President-elect Trump issued a statement calling Castro “a brutal dictator” whose “legacy” was “one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Lee lit into him, saying his comments on Castro were “not presidential at all….This not how you react as a world leader.”

This, then, is the “icon” who has now joined up with the presidential campaign of Kamala Harris. Make of that development what you will.

No, Cuba is not getting better

Fidel Castro

One country we haven’t neglected on this site is Cuba. We’ve written about American TV reporter Lisa Howard’s romance with Fidel Castro, about Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s plans to make a movie about their liaison, about the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s affection for Fidel Castro, about a celebration of Che Guevara in Norwegian Air’s inflight magazine, about a big, splashy fashion show held by Karl Lagerfeld in Havana, about a movie about Hemingway that whitewashed Cuban Communism, about a USA Today whitewash of Cuban Communism, about an Agence France Press whitewash of Cuban Communism, about a Time Magazine whitewash of Cuban Communism…and so on.

Obama in Havana

If we’re particularly attentive to Cuba, it’s partly because it’s so close to the U.S. and partly because its Communist regime has long been an object of affection for many stateside useful stooges. Many people on the left who would readily acknowledge that the Soviet Union and Mao’s China were unworthy of admiration nonetheless had a soft spot for Castro and his cronies. These same people warmed to one of the major initiatives of Barack Obama’s presidency, the opening to Cuba, which they presented as evidence that the island nation was transitioning, slowly but surely, to something resembling democracy.

Jose Marti International Airport in Havana

Obama may have reneged on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but he made a great show of opening the first U.S. Embassy in Havana since the Cuban Revolution. He authorized the resumption of commercial air flights, holiday cruises, and mail service between the U.S. and Cuba. He allowed the Cuban government to open bank accounts in the U.S. and removed it from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism. And in March 2016 he made a high-profile visit to the island.

U.S. Embassy in Havana

At first Obama had said he would make such a visit only if there were real signs that Cubans were being given more freedom. But he ended up going even though such indicators as the number of arrests of political dissidents turned out to be on the rise. A Boston Globe headline in February 2016 read “Obama Breaks Pledge – Will Visit Cuba Despite Worsening Human Rights.” His Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, even went so far as to dispel suggestions that Obama was out to encourage an end to, or softening of, Cuban Communism: if past U.S. policies had sent the message “that the United States was seeking to pursue regime change” on the island, said Rhodes, “Obama will make clear that the United States is not a hostile nation seeking regime change.” Well, full points for honesty, if for nothing else.

Ben Rhodes

In point of fact, Obama’s Cuba policy gave a great deal to the Cuban regime and asked virtually nothing of it. U.S. officials admitted that the thinking behind Obama’s one-way generosity was that it would somehow encourage reforms – an assumption that was, at best, remarkably naïve and ill-informed. Among the critics of Obama’s new approach was Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who in a passionate speech on the floor of the Senate said that the sight of the U.S. President “laughing and shaking hands with the only dictatorship in the western Hemisphere” made him think of Cuban dissident “Berta Soler of the Ladies in White and her fellow human rights and democracy advocates.”

Elliott Abrams

Elliott Abrams, who has held major diplomatic posts under several presidents, agreed with Menendez, writing that Obama’s visit to Cuba “weakens the chances for freedom in Cuba because it is organized around encouraging the current regime rather than pressuring it for change.” Abrams added: “There is no evidence that the president will meet with the key–and incredibly courageous–dissidents who struggle at enormous sacrifice for freedom in Cuba. There is no evidence he even comprehends that most of the economic benefits of his opening to Cuba are accruing to the regime and the armed forces.”

Miguel Diaz-Canel

President Trump reversed many of Obama’s Cuba policies – and was criticized severely for it by those who shared Obama’s view that the way to make dictators nice is to make nice with dictators. Unfortunately, many blinkered folks in the U.S. and elsewhere actually believe that Cuba is undergoing serious reforms. As evidence of this proposition, they point to the selection of a new Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, in April of last year. The fact that Díaz-Canel is not a member of the Castro family is cited as a sign of hope – although the fact is that Raul Castro remains head of the Communist Party and thus the nation’s de facto leader.

Diaz-Canel with Maduro

In reality Díaz-Canel’s ascent to the presidency means nothing. The first foreign leader he met with after his inauguration was Nicolás Maduro. On February 4 the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (COHR) reported that at least 179 arbitrary detentions had taken place in Cuba during the month of January. While the already horrible economic situation in Cuba is deteriorating, oppression is intensifying. A new Constitution – which is presented by the government as some kind of advance over its predecessor but which makes only cosmetic alterations while reaffirming the Communist system of government – has been a focus of protest, and the COHR expressed concern in its report “about the increasing aggressiveness of the police against activists who peacefully demonstrate NO to the Constitution” and about the more general effort to “crush any dissent surrounding the new Constitution.”

More dire news arrived on February 10. Cuban activists announced on social media that Claudio Fuentes Madan, a photographer and campaigner for freedom in Cuba, had been missing for two days. One report stated that he had been arrested. Also missing was Antonio G. Rodiles, founder of a dissident think tank. So much for the callow belief on the part of Obama & co. that their Cuban counterparts were committed to gradual democratization.

Communism’s great, if you’re a Castro

Havana

Earlier this month, the world was reminded that even though Communism is a great way to destroy an economy and to impoverish a nation’s inhabitants, there are always a few people who live luxuriously under the system: namely, the rulers, their cronies, and their families.

Tony Castro, who is a grandson of Fidel Castro, is on Instagram, where he has about 1300 followers. Until recently, ordinary citizens of Cuba weren’t allowed Internet access at all. But those rules don’t apply, of course, to members of the ruling dynasty.

Tony Castro at sea

Recently, the Miami Herald and other south Florida media published some photographs that young Tony (he’s reportedly in his twenties) has posted on his Instagram account. One of them shows Tony sunbathing on a yacht. Of course, ordinary Cubans can’t afford yachts – and if they boarded one, they’d be arrested pronto because the assumption would be that they were about to escape the island prison set up by Tony’s grandfather sixty years ago.

Another of Tony’s Instagram snaps showed him celebrating the birthday of an uncle at what looks like a pretty swanky bistro. He and his uncle raise a toast with champagne glasses. We’re talking here, of course, about the princeling of a country where basic food items are in extremely short supply.

Driving the BMW

In yet another picture we can see Tony at the wheel of a BMW. Need we comment?

Other pictures show him in Panama City, Panama; in Barcelona and Madrid; and at a Mexican beach resort, Ciudad del Carmen, which is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is known as “the pearl of the Gulf.” Needless to say, ordinary Cubans aren’t allowed to exit their own country under any circumstances, and certainly could never afford to visit places like these.

In Madrid

It’s been a long time since the Castros took over Cuba, but the rhetoric of revolution has never ceased. The people of Cuba may not get much in the way of good food, but they’re fed a huge daily diet of propaganda about the wonderful benefits of their glorious revolution and about the evils of capitalism. And more than a few suckers in the democratic capitalist world – some of them working for major media organizations – buy into this baloney.

Karl Vick

Take Karl Vick of Time Magazine, whom we wrote about in August 2015. This credulous jackass describes Cuba as a “security state” in order to avoid such unpleasant terms as “dictatorship” or “police state.” He has written: “People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.” When he claimed in a radio interview that Cuba could boast of certain achievements, he was asked to name one such achievement. “Social equity,” Vick said, and went on to assert that nobody in Cuba is “much higher than anybody else.”

“The pearl of the Gulf”

Vick isn’t alone in believing that – and in thinking that this supposed equity is enough to justify any disagreeable aspects of the Cuban regime. Of course, over the decades there has been ample testimony to the fact that the Castros live like kings and that the whole equity thing is a sham. But Tony Castro’s pictures – coming to light only days after the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, and at a time when a frightening number of young Americans consider socialism cool – provide a neat reminder of just what a lie Communism is.

AFP whitewashes the Castros

Exotic Havana

From time to time on this site, we’ve examined various public figures who had a soft spot for the Castro regime in Cuba and media organizations whose reports from Cuba routinely focused on its purported charms rather than its totalitarian government. We’ve written about director Bob Yari, who filmed a movie in Cuba; designer Karl Lagerfeld, who used Havana’s crumbling buildings as a backdrop for a glamorous fashion show; and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who, notwithstanding his own wealth, made a point of castigation capitalism while celebrating the Castros. We’ve told the tale of Fidel’s affair with compliant ABC reporter Lisa Howard, noted the chummy relationship between Jesse Jackson and the Castros, and, not least, the shamelessness and fatuity with which Time Magazine, again and again, has glorified the island prison.

Jair Bolsonaro

On January 2, Agence France Press demonstrated that the perverse impulse to whitewash the Cuban regime is not dead in 2019. Under the headline “Cuba celebrates 60 years of revolution amid challenges and change,” AFP described Cuba as a longtime “source of inspiration for leftist Latin American governments,” but added that the nation faces “increasing isolation in a region dominated by a resurgent right,” notably the new Brazilian government led by “far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.”

AFP reported that Bolsonaro had “made a point of not inviting” the new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro to his inauguration, a decision that some of us might consider principled but that AFP seemed to want readers to regard as churlish.

Nicolas Maduro

Typically, AFP labeled Bolsonaro – a pro-American, pro-Israeli conservative who has been dubbed the Latin American Trump – as “far-right,” and characterized Argentina, Chile and Peru as having “all swung to the right in recent years, unseating leftist governments.” A more objective media outlet might have put it a bit differently – might have said, that is, that the voters of those countries have rejected socialism in favor of democratic capitalism.

Evo Morales

Meanwhile, in its references to Cuba’s leaders, AFP was careful to avoid the word “dictator,” obediently referring to Raul Castro as “[e]x-president” and as “first secretary of the Communist Party,” identifying the late Fidel Castro as “Cuba’s revolutionary leader,” and giving the current thug-in-chief, Miguel Diaz-Canel, his official title of “President.” AFP also reported that Maduro had “paid tribute to the ‘heroic Cuban people,’” whom he praised for their “’resistance and dignity’ in the face of ’60 years of sacrifices, struggles and blockade.’” In addition, according to AFP, “[a]nother surviving leftist leader, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, said Cuba’s revolution gave birth to ‘the light of hope and invincible will for the liberation of the people.’” This effusive rhetoric by Maduro and Morales was presented by AFP without context, so that an ill-informed reader would never know that the Cuban people have spent the last six decades not as stalwart patriots who have bravely resisted a U.S. blockade but as downtrodden subjects of a totalitarian tyranny.

Fidel Castro

To be sure, the word “dictator” did eventually appear in the AFP article – but only as a means of describing Castro’s predessor, Fulgencio Batista. To its credit, moreover, AFP also mentioned, toward the end of its article, that Cuba is a communist state. It also quoted a dissident, but that dissident, as it happened, was not an anti-Communist who opposed the Cuban Revolution from the start but a diehard Communist named Vladimiro Roca, whose father was a sidekick of Fidel Castro, who himself had run afoul of authorities and spent several years in prison, and whose complaint was therefore that the Cuban Revolution “died a long time ago.”

Donald Trump

Moreover, while AFP acknowledged that Cuba “has faced heavy criticism” abroad, it presented the Cuban people not as decades-long victims of a brutal autocracy but as having “had to contend with an increasingly hostile administration under Trump these last two years.” There’s no hint that the Trump administration is hostile not to the Cuban people but to their unelected masters. In 2019, alas, such full-scale misrepresentation continues to be par for the course for all too many Western media.