Eulogies for a Stalinist

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Alexander Cockburn

As we’ve noted, Alexander Cockburn‘s death unleashed a torrent of praise from the mainstream media, most of which pretended that he’d been something of a classical liberal. The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg didn’t play that game – in fact, he admitted that Cockburn’s politics had been morally offensive – but he sought to put those politics into, shall we say, some kind of larger context. Emphasizing style over substance, personality over ideology, Hertzberg recalled “the dazzle of [Cockburn’s] charisma in the eyes of a certain cohort of bohemian and would-be bohemian youth” back in the 1970s. Hertzberg exulted: “what style! Cockburn was a rare bird, a peacock among the scowling mudhens of America’s humor-challenged Nixon-era New Left. He was a combative Fleet Street Oxbridge dandy, a prolific, lightning-fast writer, often laugh-out-loud funny, with a rich store of obscure (to us provincials) historical allusions and a knack for deploying a tone of elaborate courtesy in the joyful delivery of delicious insult.”

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Hendrik Hertzberg

He was a Stalinist, in short: an apologist for the Gulag, the Moscow show trials, the Holodomor, and much else. But oh, what sense of humor! What charm! What wit! And there was more: “Cockburn’s speaking voice was as seductive as his wit was sharp. He was good-looking, too, in the angular, joli laid way of certain British star performers. A bit of Jagger, a bit of Peter O’Toole.” 

Yes, a Peter O’Toole in the service of the Kremlin. 

One person who didn’t try to obscure the straightforward facts about this man was the distinguished historian Ronald Radosh, who quite rightly called Cockburn “the true successor of Walter Duranty, a man who wrote to serve the enemies of the United States and to glorify what he saw as the great achievements of the Bolsheviks and their successors.”

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Ronald Radosh

Radosh noted that when he, Radosh, favorably reviewed former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares’s memoir Against All Hope – a book that, as Radosh put it, revealed “the truth about the torture state that Fidel Castro had created in Cuba, thereby making the public aware for the first time in our country of the reality of how Castro treated his country’s political opponents” – Cockburn responded by disseminating the Havana regime’s lies, smearing the valiant Valladares and dismissing his accounts of torture as counterrevolutionary lies.

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Armando Valladares

In a letter to The Nation protesting Cockburn’s reprehensible effort to discredit Valladares, Radosh observed that the only reasonable conclusion one could come to after reading it was that Cockburn supported Castro’s torturing of his opponents. Cockburn, in his reply, derided Radosh as “a professional anticommunist, with the tunnel vision that goes with that trade,” and again denied that Castro’s government engaged in torture.

Given the kind of information to which Cockburn had ready access, it is impossible to interpret his statements about Castro and Radosh as anything other than the most cynical and heartless of lies. 

Gabriel García Márquez, Communist weasel

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Fidel Castro, Gabriel García Márquez

 

America’s new opening to Cuba should not blind us to the cruel history of the Castro era. We should not forget the human-rights heroes who have suffered in Castro’s prisons and spoken out internationally about his tyranny. Nor should we forget those prominent figures in the West who have betrayed the cause of freedom by befriending, defending, and brown-nosing Castro over the decades.

Take, for example, Gabriel García MárquezDuring his lifetime, he was probably the most honored and most famous author in the Spanish-speaking world. He deserved immense respect for his writings: his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is a beautiful piece of work, a true masterpiece. After his death in April 2014, however, he was celebrated by left-wing media around the world not only as a literary genius but as a great humanitarian, a sort of world-class hero of the human spirit. Recently, on the Oscar telecast, he was included in the “In Memoriam” segment alongside the likes of actors Mickey Rooney and Eli Wallach, presumably on the basis of his handful of obscure Spanish-language screenplays.

Only a few dissident voices dared breathe the ugly truth.

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Armando Valladares, who described his years as a prisoner of conscience under Castro in the book Against All Hope, wrote after García Márquez’s death that the Colombian novelist had “put his pen at the service of Fidel Castro’s tyranny, supporting torture, the concentration camps, and the murdering by firing squad of whoever dared to oppose the Communist regime. García Márquez used to say that the only country in the Americas that respected human rights was Cuba.”

García Márquez, recalled Valladares, “lived in a ‘House of Protocol’ with Blanquita, his teenage lover….The Nobel winner had a white Mercedes Benz, another gift from his friend Fidel Castro, and privileges in exchange for defending Castro’s dictatorship, all while he rent his robes denouncing Pinochet.”

Valladares’s gravest revelation was that García Márquez was “an informer for Castro’s political police” – in other words, a snitch, a fink, a double-crosser. Valladares cited the case of Cuban dissident Ricardo Bofill, who, during a visit by García Márquez to Havana, entrusted him with “documents relating to several Cuban artists.” Shortly thereafter, Bofill was arrested – and “displayed on the table right next to Castro’s secret-policeman…were the very documents which Bofill had given García Márquez.”

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Bofill, whom Cuban emigré Humberto Fontova describes as “a peaceful human-rights activist inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.,” ended up spending “12 years in Castro’s prisons—thanks to Gabriel García Márquez.” In 1968, two major Spanish newspapers, ABC and Diario 16, reported on this betrayal, and stated flatly that García Márquez had informed on several Cuban writers and artists, whose trust in him – as a colleague who they assumed would agitate for their human rights – landed them in prison.

Some of his friends and defenders have said that García Márquez interceded for my freedom,” wrote Valladares. “This is absolutely untrue — a complete falsehood. I have enough moral honesty (which he did not) to have accepted the story if it had been true. This version was a maneuver of his buddies to capitalize on the international sympathy that produced my release; they used this sympathy on his behalf. What he did was use the Nobel Prize ceremony to repeat accusations of Castro against me, which prompted a strong critical letter from the French PEN Club, into which I had been adopted as an honorary member.”

Fontova noted that Castro provided García Márquez with “a (stolen) mansion…where he frolicked with adolescent girls” and with “a (stolen) Mercedes” in which he tooled around the crumbling city of Havana. Fontova also cited Before Night Falls, the autobiography of gay Cuban writer Reynaldo Arenas, who “was jailed and tortured by Castro’s police for his rebellious writings and gay lifestyle” before finally escaping to the U.S. in 1980. Two years later, Arenas described García Márquez as an “unscrupulous propagandist for totalitarianism.”

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Then there’s Cuban author and emigré Roberto Luque Escalona, a sometime Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who said of García Márquez that

Only a five star-scoundrel would put his literary fame in the service of a cause as vile and malignant as the Castro tyranny. Simple frivolity cannot possibly justify an embrace so long and strong as the one Garcia-Marquez gave someone who devastated a nation, murdered thousands, jailed and tortured tens of thousands dispersed an entire nation and debased the rest.

A fellow Latin American novelist who is not only a gifted artist but a morally admirable human being, the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, has described García Márquez as Castro’s “courtesan.” But in fact he was only one of several international cultural figures who were, or are, “courtesans” in Castro’s harem. We’ll look at a few more of them next time.

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