The economic incompetence of the
Nicolas Maduro administration in Venezuela – whose ability to hang
on to power through to the end of 2019 and into 2020 has, as we noted
the other day, surprised and impressed many observers – is matched
only by its moral iniquity. The other day the Powerline blog drew the
attention of readers to the following news report from Iran’s FARS
The Venezuelan government offered condolences to the people of Iran for the assassination of Iran’s top general by a US airstrike in Baghdad and praised Iran’s resistance with this poster.
The poster in question depicted Hugo
Chavez, the late Venezuelan leader; Simon Bolivar, the early
nineteenth century hero of Latin American liberty; General Soleimani,
the bloodthirsty thug taken out by the US strike; and the two fathers
of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Accompanying
this bizarre gallery was the statement: “Faces, times and countries
change, but the goal is the same.” If nothing else, this poster
provided a degree of insight into the chavista mentality. Yes, the
Communist Revolution in Cuba and the chavista revolution in Venezuela
were of a piece: both of them took affluent, relatively free
countries and subordinated their peoples to brutal dictatorship and
an economic program that plunged them into poverty. It’s not
surprising, of course, to see the Maduro regime equating these
revolutions with Simon Bolivar’s democratic revolt against Spanish
imperialism: it was part of Chavez’s conceit that he was following
in the footsteps of Bolivar, and when he rose to power he even
changed his country’s name to “the Bolivarian Republic of
What’s striking here, though, is the
equation of these Communist revolutions with the revolution to which
Soleimani dedicated his life – namely, the radical Islamic
revolution that toppled the Shah in 1979 and subjected the Iranian
people to a radical Islamic theocracy under the absolute control of
the Ayatollah Khomeini. Yes, the result of that revolution was much
the same as in Cuba and Venezuela: an affluent and relatively free
country was transformed into a brutal dictatorship whose people have
increasingly suffered economically. Needless to say, Communism and
Islamic theocracy could scarcely be further apart ideologically; but
to the chavista mind, that’s not what matters. What matters is that
pre-revolutionary Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran were nations that looked
to the West, and especially to the United States, as a social,
economic, and political model, and central to the revolutions in
those countries was the rejection of American power, friendship, and
influence. For chavistas, the U.S. will always be the evil empire to
the north, much as Spain was the evil empire for Bolivar, and this
view of America is, needless to say, fully shared by the Iranian
regime, for whom the U.S. is the Great Satan. This deep-rooted
hostility to America is a central, defining factor in all these
contemporary regimes, and makes possible the otherwise utterly
counterintuitive alliance between the radical left and radical Islam
that has been called the red-green axis.
As Powerline put it: since the
wardrobes of several generations of misguided post-sixties American
youths – youths who have been either ignorant of or indifferent to
Che Guevara’s real legacy – have included t-shirts bearing the
image of that murderous monster, will American students someday walk
around “with pictures of Soleimani on their t-shirts?”
We don’t see it as part of our mission on this site to take sides in American presidential races. But since our whole raison d’être is to call out the fans of totalitarianism, it’s impossible, in the year 2020, to close our eyes to a campaign in which one of the more successful major-party candidates is a self-identified socialist – a man who, for heaven’s sake, actually honeymooned in the Soviet Union and has expressed admiration for the Castro regime in Cuba. To some people who would never vote for him in a million years, Bernie Sanders may seem an innocuous enough figure – like a crazy but lovable grandpa who caught the “progressive” bug in his youth and whose one pleasure, in his dotage, is to rant about capitalism. To his unsettlingly large number of supporters, however, Sanders – who until running for the Democratic nomination was not a registered Democrat but an independent socialist – is a breath of fresh air, an outsider who, like Trump in the 2016 campaign, challenges the two-party system and promises to shake up the status quo. Moreover, it’s not just young people, born after the fall of the Soviet Union and taught by left-wing professors to despise America and admire socialism, who plan to cast their votes for Bernie: only recently, we were dismayed to see the actor and comedian Larry David, who is famous not only for creating Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm but also for playing Sanders (brilliantly) in skits on Saturday Night Live, telling an interviewer that he admires Bernie and that America would be a lot better off with him as president. We thought David – who is no spring chicken – was smarter than that.
Is there any chance that a significant number of Bernie’s fans will peel off after they see the sensational video that was released on January 14 by James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas? O’Keefe and his team specialize in hidden-camera exposés of teachers’ unions, media organizations, groups like ACORN and Planned Parenthood, and, not least, political campaigns. In one instance after another, they have shed light on the actual – which is to say, often shabby, corrupt, and reprehensible – agendas behind the anodyne public rhetoric. In the case of the Sanders campaign, they captured on camera Kyle Jurek, an Iowa field organizer for Sanders, calling Trump supporters fascists and saying that “The only thing that fascists understand is violence. So the only way you can confront them is with violence.” If Trump gets reelected, Jurek said, cities will “burn,” because “we have to save f***ing human civilization.” If Bernie doesn’t get nominated at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Jurek promised, he and his cronies will beat up police, because “we” will have “nothing left to lose.”
And if Sanders is elected? Jurek promised a “Reign of Terror.” Even leftist MSNBC isn’t leftist enough for him: he spoke enthusiastically of dragging MSNBC journalists out of their studios and “light[ing] them on fire in the streets.” Mere liberals, he promised, will be sent to a “Gulag”; they’ll “get the f***ing wall first.” Meaning, of course, that they will be lined up against a wall and gunned down, Che Guevara style. “In Cuba, what did they do to reactionaries?” he asked. “They shot them on the beach. Do you want to fight against the revolution? You’re gonna die for it, mother***er.” In a commentary at the end of this explosive video, O’Keefe asked: “Is Kyle Jurek the true but hidden face of the Sanders campaign?” He added that this was only the first of multiple videos about Jurek that Project Veritas would be releasing, and that those to come would be even worse.
Does Sanders share Jurek’s views and aspirations? Well, of course Sanders has never promised a “Reign of Terror.” Then again, he’s expressed fondness for regimes that have engaged in reigns of terror. In any case, one thing is certain: Jurek is not alone. Others who have lined up behind Bernie share Jurek’s extreme politics. And of course the promise of violence is not just talk: groups like Antifa, which are pretty much on the same page politically as Jurek, have staged riots around the U.S., causing physical harm to their political opponents and serious damage to private property. They are cut from the same cloth as the Bolsheviks who murdered the Romanovs, filled the Gulags, and carried out the Holodomor; cut from the same cloth as the Maoists who staged the Cultural Revolution in China; cut from the same cloth as the SS and Gestapo officers who herded Jews onto trains to Auschwitz. The thirst for terror, violence, and tyrannical power never dies; the price of freedom is, as ever, eternal vigilance against aspiring Stalins, Castros, and Che Guevaras. Kudos to Project Veritas for showing us that one of these aspiring Ches can be found performing a not inconsiderable job within a major presidential campaign.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Then there were
the British newspapers. The Express
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’
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.
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.
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.
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
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 BostonGlobe 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.
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
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.