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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Why is Bjørn Kjos celebrating a Communist monster?

Bjørn Kjos is one of the most prominent figures in Norway today, and has led one of contemporary Norway’s most colorful, versatile, and productive lives. 

Bjørn Kjos

Following two years of training in the U.S., he served as a Cold War-era pilot in the Royal Norwegian Air Force. After studying law in Oslo, he became an attorney and then a judge. At one point he even performed seismological studies in the North Sea for oil companies.

But the accomplishment for which he is famous, rich, and justifiably honored is the founding and development of Norwegian Air Shuttle, a budget airline that has advanced from triumph to triumph. Since Kjos founded it in 1993 as a small regional carrier that transported passengers between obscure burgs up and down Norway’s mountainous west coast, it has grown steadily. First it expanded its operations to include Oslo and major Scandinavian destinations outside of Norway; then it introduced regular flights from Oslo to New York and Bangkok. Soon it was flying all over Europe – and, shortly thereafter, to places like Singapore, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

In short, it’s a spectacular capitalist success story. It’s created thousands of jobs, paid untold dividends to shareholders, and enabled travelers on modest incomes to fly to places they otherwise couldn’t afford.

Here’s the question, then: why, in the June number of its in-flight magazine, n, does Kjos’s airline choose to celebrate a Communist murderer who was, to the very end of his life, a bitter, brutal, and bloodthirsty enemy of capitalism, and a gleeful executor of the innocent?

The June number of n is billed as its “Argentina issue.” Produced, as are all issues of n, by a London-based firm called Ink (ink-live.com), and edited by one Sarah Warwick (who received a degree in development studies from the lefty University of London and a degree in anthropology from the arguably even more lefty London School of Economics), this issue includes articles about a range of Argentina-related topics: a new luxury hotel at Iguazú Falls; the Villa Crespo neighborhood of Buenos Aires; Patagonia.

Sarah Warwick

So far, so good. But beginning on page 88, the reader – the captive passenger – is thrown a curve ball in the form of a tribute to Che Guevara.

Yes, Che Guevara. In large black letters centered on an all-white page – the presentation suggestive of a deeply respectful and thoughtful epitaph for a truly great man – we read the following:

Had he lived, Che Guevara would have been 90 this month. The guerrilla fighter, doctor, writer and idealist found fame as a hero of the Cuban revolution. Long before all that though, he was Ernesto Guevara – an Argentine youth who grew up in Rosario and Córdoba Province. In the month of his birthday, we go in search of the man and the legend.

Idealist? Hero? Legend? Keep those words in mind as we read on. For that preposterous paean on page 88 is only prelude to a full-bore profile – written by one Sam Harrison – that romanticizes Che in the most breathtakingly inexcusable fashion:

In a small side street in Buenos Aires’ old town, San Telmo, a worn image of Che Guevara stares out from a chipped and fading mural. His dark eyes gaze at passers-by from under painted black brows, and his wavy hair is topped with trademark beret….

Oh, those eyes! Those brows! That hair! And on it goes. Dreamily, Harrison quotes an Argentinian Che fan on Che’s “wild childhood, under the open sky.” He waxes poetic about Che’s youthful “love of reading.” He accuses the FBI of treating Che “condescendingly.” And he applauds Che’s “strong political conscience.”

Che personally shooting that one extra bullet into the head of an execution victim.

All this about an evil monster, who, as we wrote here in 2016, “quickly ran the value of the Cuban peso into the ground” when he served as Castro’s Economics Minister; who, as warden of La Cabaña Fortress prison, made that lockup the Cuban equivalent of Stalin’s notorious Lubyanka; and who, acting as Fidel’s chief executioner, ordered at least several hundred (and more likely thousands) of “firing-squad executions of opponents and potential opponents.” The victims included men, women, and children. Some were eliminated for being gay; some were offed for being devout Christians; and some were done in for being soldiers in the army of Fulgencio Batista, whom Castro overthrew. (Even Hitler obeyed the Geneva accords on prisoners of war. Che did not.) As the distinguished Peruvian-Spanish writer Alvaro Vargas Llosa has written, Che’s victims included “proven enemies, suspected enemies, and those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Che often committed the executions himself. Or, after others had done the killing, he would shoot an extra bullet into the corpse: he particularly enjoyed that part. To quote Vargas Llosa, “Guevara might have been enamored of his own death, but he was much more enamored of other people’s deaths.” That’s for sure. One priest who witnessed many of Che’s executions later remembered: “We called him ‘the butcher’ because he enjoyed giving the order to shoot. I pleaded many times with Che on behalf of prisoners. I remember especially the case of Ariel Lima, a young boy. Che did not budge.”

As we noted in 2016, killing a few hundred of Cuba’s seven million inhabitants back then “was equivalent to liquidating millions of Americans.” We also underscored that by obliterating so many people, Che was out “not just to exterminate the victims but to terrorize everyone else – to make it clear to all of Cuba that Castro & co. meant business and were not to be trifled with.”

Sam Harrison

Harrison mentions none of this. He doesn’t even hint at it. The closest he comes to acknowledging the true dimensions of Che’s iniquity is to say that Che’s legacy is “not entirely favourable” and to serve up the following masterpiece of euphemism and evasion: “a guerrilla fighter who dreamed of an egalitarian society, Guevara believed armed struggle was the only way to achieve his aims. For every person who sees him as a symbol of hope – even a secular saint – there’s one who sees a murderer who lost sight of his ideals.” Oh, and here’s one more feeble gesture by Harrison in the direction of reality: Che, he wrote, is “a polarising figure.”

Sorry, but no sale. Simply put, the piece on Che Guevara that’s served up in the current issue of n is a reprehensible whitewash of a cold-blooded butcher. In the year 2018, there is no excuse for such a sick tribute. There is simply too much indisputable evidence now of the demonic, homicidal reality of Che’s monstrous thuggery. To sentimentalize his memory in the pages of a glossy in-flight magazine, read by heaven knows how many impressionable travelers who don’t know the facts of the matter, is an act of profound intellectual mischief and moral irresponsibility.

And let’s not overlook the fact that a very significant part of the objective of the article is to sell airline tickets to Argentina so that readers can walk in this giant’s footsteps. Excuse us, Mr. Kjos, but may we ask: Exactly where does this obscenity stop?  

To be sure, we suspect that Bjørn Kjos is too busy a man to pay close attention to what goes into the pages of his airline’s in-flight magazine. But the fact remains that n bears the name of his company. At the beginning of each issue is one of those “welcome aboard” pieces signed by Kjos himself. In short, he gives every issue his imprimatur. That being the case, he’s responsible for n magazine’s thoroughly despicable glorification of Che Guevara.

It seems to us that if Mr. Kjos sincerely wishes to make amends for his magazine’s action, nothing short of a thorough housecleaning is in order. Mr. Kjos, it amounts to this: cut off your deal with Ink. Fire Sarah Warwick. Find some other team to publish your magazine – a team that, when taking in the spectacle of a murdering Communist like Che and a job-creating capitalist like yourself, knows whom to celebrate and whom to execrate. Such people are really not that hard to find. Believe us. 

Please do it – or, alternatively, let the millions of people who enjoy flying your airline think that you actually approve of the lionization of a child-killing savage like Che Guevara.

Fidel Castro: Something wonderful?

Gal Gadot

On Tuesday we discussed Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s plans to make a movie about the romance between ABC correspondent Lisa Howard and Cuban chieftain Fidel Castro. As we noted, they met for the first time in a Havana nightclub in 1963. A few months later, they met in a hotel room in the same city. The boy kissed the girl. They went to bed together. But Fidel chose not to go all the way.

And of course that restraint was what did it. She was in love. Head over heels, the ABC correspondent sent the dictator a schoolgirlish letter in which she assured him that while some people viewed him as a “tyrant,” she could see that although he had indeed “destroyed thousands” of Cubans, he had not really “meant to hurt” anybody. Indeed, she had recognized that he possessed a “spark of divine fire,” a “humanity,” a “compassion,” a “deep knowledge and sense of justice,” a “genuine concern for the poor,” and that his “sacred duty” is to make all those deeply seated attributes “a reality for your people.”

In other words, she was sort of an Anna Leonowens to his King Mongkut in The King and I. She disapproved of the brutality of his one-man rule, but at the same time she felt that she saw certain “qualities” in him that she found immensely appealing. Of course, many women feel this way about the men they fall in love with, and these feelings are generally the product not of objective intellectual observation but of hormones. One is reminded of the verse of “Something Wonderful,” the tune sung in The King and I by the senior wife, Lady Thiang, as a way of explaining her own love for the bloodthirsty absolute monarch:

This is a man who thinks with his heart,

His heart is not always wise.

This is a man who stumbles and falls,

But this is a man who tries.

This is a man you’ll forgive and forgive

And help and protect, as long as you live…..

Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro

Gal Gadot, in explaining her decision to make a movie about the Lisa Howard-Fidel Castro romance, pronounced herself “entranced” by Peter Kornbluh’s “thrilling account of a complicated, fascinating woman…in the midst of a high-stakes, real-life drama.” As Humberto Fontova noted in reporting this story, Gadot appears either to be ignorant of, or to have decided to overlook, “Fidel Castro’s habitual references to Israel as ‘Fascist!’ ‘Nazi!’ and ‘Genocidal!’” Worse than that, Castro “sen[t] tanks and troops to Syria during the Yom Kippur War” in an effort to help “erase Israel.” Castro’s government also sponsored the UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism and that led to the departure of 90 percent of Cuba’s Jews. Fidel, observed Fontova, “drove out a higher percentage of Jews from Cuba than Czar Nicholas drove from Russian and even Hafez Assad drove out of Syria. Yet ‘Miss Israel’ seems as charmed by him as was Lisa Howard.”

Che Guevara

One question that will have to be answered when the script for Gadot’s film is written is whether to include her infatuation for Castro’s sidekick Che Guevara. Would that detract from the main love story, or would it make for an engaging subplot and also contribute tension and suspense? One consideration here would be that the gala reception Lisa Howard threw for Che at her glamorous Manhattan apartment while Che was in New York to address the UN would make for a great set piece, like the big party in The Great Gatsby. Imagine the production values! The fact that Che, during that trip, “was also plotting with the Black Liberation Front to blow up the Statue of Liberty” would also add drama.

We began on Tuesday by talking about the Genesis Prize Foundation, which had made the mistake of choosing actress Natalie Portman for what is basically a “friend of Israel” award, only to be kicked in the teeth by Portman because she dislikes Benjamin Netanyahu. After one observer suggested that the accolade should have been presented instead to actress Gal Gadot, she turned out to be capable of envisioning Fidel Castro as the hero of a Hollywood love story. Perhaps the Foundation should shut down entirely and give up on handing out these prizes. Or at least it should stop giving them to Hollywood people. There are, it seems, too many “friends of Israel” in La-La Land whose friendship is woefully conditional and whose attitude toward some of Israel’s worst enemies is altogether unconscionable.

Gal Gadot loves a good Castro love story

Natalie Portman

It wasn’t long ago – in fact, it was as recently as May 1 – that we reported here on Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman’s refusal to travel to Israel to accept the Genesis Prize. As we noted, the Genesis Prize has been awarded annually since 2014 to “individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.” The prize has been given to zillionaire Michael Bloomberg, movie star Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and sculptor Anish Kapoor.

Portman, who starred the movie Black Swan and lives in the United States, was named the 2018 laureate and apparently agreed to appear in Jerusalem to accept it, but later said she would not attend the awards ceremony. Why? Because she was “distressed by ‘recent events.’” Which recent events? Her answer basically came down to: Benjamin Netanyahu. This made no sense, of course, because Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for nine years.

Gal Gadot

There was widespread anger at Portman for her snub to Israel. There was anger, too, at the Genesis Prize Foundation for picking Portman to begin with. “If the Genesis prize wanted to honor an actress,” said Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, “they should have honored Gal Gadot, who has repeatedly shown her pride in being Israeli, supporting Israel during times of difficulties and is married to a Jewish person raising Jewish kids.”

Who is Gadot? Born and raised in Israel, she was Miss Israel 2004, spent two years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat instructor, and went on to star as Wonder Woman in the film of that name as well as in other DC comics-based movies. This year she appears on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She has apparently been a

Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro

So Weiss’s proposal seemed to make sense. Flash forward a few weeks. On May 26 came a news report about Gal Gadot’s latest professional endeavor. Let’s just preface this by saying it’s a small world. Gadot, it turned out, had arrange to co-produce and possibly star in a film based on the Politico article “’My Dearest Fidel’: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro.”

Yes, this is the same article we discussed here on May 22 and 24. It was about Lisa Howard, an ABC reporter who met Castro at a Havana nightclub in 1963. They talked for hours. She was bowled over by his “breadth of knowledge.” He was, it turned out, big on Camus. Months later, they met in a Havana hotel room. More hours of talk. Political discussion. She criticized his dictatorship. (It’s important in a romantic movie for there to be some cause of tension between the lovers.) Then came the moment that will presumably mark the end of the movie’s first act: Castro threw his arms around her. They kissed. They lay in bed together.

But there was no sex – not yet. It would “complicate” matters, Fidel said. Perfect – keep the suspense going, as the producers of Cheers did with Sam and Diane.

More on Thursday.