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.

Bourdain’s “unspoiled” Havana

Anthony Bourdain

On Tuesday we contemplated Anthony Bourdain, whose recent self-slaughter inspired hundreds of heartfelt eulogies by foodies – and others – around the globe. The smart set had lost one of its own, and the mood of the day was one of profound mourning. What torments, everyone wondered, had plagued the culinary genius? There was endless hand-wringing about the psychological anguish he must have suffered. Interestingly, very few of his necrologists so much as mentioned his 11-year-old daughter, Ariane, let alone paused to contemplate the very special and profoundly destructive kind of psychic affliction it is for a child, especially one around 11 years old, to lose a parent to suicide.

But that’s neither here nor there. We were talking about Bourdain’s superior attitude toward fellow celebrity cooks who made money in ways of which he disapproved. Over the course of his lifetime he worked for any number of major corporations – but in his view that was different than the kind of deals that people like Paula Deen made with major corporations.

Of course, Bourdain’s professed contempt for capitalism was the purest hypocrisy. Few practiced capitalism more successfully than he did. If he enjoyed sneering at capitalism, it was because he knew that such B.S. would only enhance his image with his fan base.

Unspoiled Havana

Meanwhile, however, as Humberto Fontova reminded us the other day, Bourdain had no such qualms about promoting Communism. He did multiple shows from Cuba for CNN and the Travel Channel (capitalism, anyone?). On the Travel Channel website, he had a page headlined Tony Bourdain’s Guide to Cuba. He led “junkets” to Cuba. All these activities, of course, put hard currency in the pockets of the Castro regime, thus helping it to hang on to life – and to continue to harass, jail, beat, torture, and execute political “enemies,” gays, and others. As Fontova noted, Bourdain concluded one 2011 Cuba program by telling the audience: “Yes, Go to Cuba!”

Inside one of those world-class Cuban hospitals

In his CNN episode on Cuba, he described Havana, whose dilapidated ruins testify to the destructiveness of Communism, as “unspoiled.” He went further than that, saying that it was “one of the more beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.” He claimed to dislike Communism but the most critical thing he would say about Castro was that he had “decidedly mixed emotions” about him. He also regurgitated the usual Cuban propaganda about the country’s supposedly great schools and first-class medical care (yes, for the nomenklatura). “In Cuba the religion is baseball,” he said. No mention of the fact that for decades after the Cuban Revolution, actual religious practice was suppressed.

“If only Bourdain had demonstrated 1/100 of his vaunted ‘spunk’ and ‘feistiness’ against a regime that jailed political prisoners at a higher rate than Stalin during the Great Terror, murdered more Cubans than Hitler murdered Germans during the Night of Long Knives, and craved to nuke his homeland,” commented Fontova. Bingo.

Anthony Bourdain: bashing capitalism, cheering Cuba

Anthony Bourdain


When Anthony Bourdain chose to off himself on June 8, millions mourned. He was a member of that ever-growing tribe, the celebrity chefs – people who have used books and TV to turn themselves into superstars and millionaires, all the while introducing their fans to culinary experiences from around the world.

It all began with his bestselling 2000 book Kitchen Confidential, following not too long thereafter by the first of several TV series that combined food with travel. Well, actually, of course, it began before the book – with stints as top chef at several leading restaurants in New York City. His signature gig was at the Manhattan branch of Brasserie Les Halles, where he started working as executive chef in 1998 and with which he maintained a relationship until it closed its doors last year.

For some folks, that career would’ve been enough. But not Bourdain. He also wrote fiction. In 2011, Ecco Press gave him his own publishing line. He produced and starred in his own movie. To his admirers, he was not just one more globetrotting guy sampling exotic fare on camera – he was a “rock star,” a “culinary bad boy,” a – well, you get the idea.

Alice Waters

But as Gore Vidal once said, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” Among the other celebrity chefs who felt the sharp edge of his carving knife was Guy Fieri. Bourdain dismissed Rachael Ray as a no-talent. He trashed Wolfgang Puck’s “shitty pizza restaurants.” We don’t even know who Sandra Lee is, but he called her “pure evil.” We do know who Alice Waters is – she runs the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley California, and made her name by promoting fresh, locally sources foods. Her crime, in Bourdain’s book? Her agenda isn’t PC enough – it doesn’t take into account either poor people or sustainability.

Bourdain’s take on Paula Deen was also partly rooted in PC considerations. Bourdain called Deen “the worst, most dangerous person to America.” Why? Well, one reason was that her recipes were too high-calorie. Another reason: “her food sucks.” Reason #3 – and here’s the PC part: “She revels in unholy connections with evil corporations…she’s unconscionable, cynical, and greedy.”

Paula Deen

Then there’s this: “I will never eat in his [Donald Trump’s] restaurant. I have utter contempt for him, utter and complete contempt… I’m not going. I’m not going.” Last year, when asked what he would serve if asked to cater a peace summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, Bourdain said: “Hemlock.” How courageous of Bourdain to express a political view that he had to know 99% of his fans would cheer.

A few years back, Waters came up with a terrific way of getting back at this pompous fool: she started a pseudonymous Twitter account under the name “Ruth Bourdain.” After the secret came out, she explained: “Well, Tony has always been something of an ass to me. So there’s that. But he also represents this tremendous dark-side of the human psyche. He is drugs, and sex, and rock music.”

He was also, as his comments on Deen makes clear, a world-class hypocrite – a man who got rich on capitalism but was quick to demonize others who dared to try to make a buck. Meanwhile, as Humberto Fontova pointed out after Bourdain’s suicide, this man who “wore his ‘anti-corporate hipness’ on his shirtsleeve, always smirking and snarking that ‘evil corporations’ and ‘crass commercialism’ repelled him,” was at the same time “a shameless tourism agent for the Castro-Family-and-Military Crony-Crime Syndicate, a thieving, murdering criminal-corporate empire that makes the Mafia look like Boy Scouts of America.”

What? More on Thursday.