Bob Yari: lousy filmmaker, excellent Cuba propagandist

In recent months we’ve cast a jaundiced eye at the avalanche of stoogery that has surrounded the so-called “opening” of Cuba – what’s been called the “thawing” of U.S.-Cuba relations.

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Giovanni Ribisi and Adrian Sparks in Papa Hemingway in Cuba

Part of that “thawing,” as we’ve seen this week, has been a mass pilgrimage of TV and movie producers to the prison island. On Monday we noted that some sequences of the newest installment of the Fast and Furious franchise are being filmed in Cuba; yesterday we reported on the release of Papa Hemingway in Cuba, a feature that was shot there in 2014. While receiving lukewarm to poor reviews, the picture has nonetheless occasioned some pretty idiotic (if unsurprising) commentary about Cuba. 

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Eliza Berman

Take Eliza Berman, who, in a puff piece for Time, fatuously echoed the Castros’ own B.S., blaming the island’s disastrous economy not on Communism but on the U.S.: “Because the embargo restricted the import of American goods to the island, much of the country has maintained the appearance of being somewhat stuck in time—not least of all thanks to its 1950s-model cars. This allowed for the majority of the film to be shot on location rather than on artificial sets.” (It’s not surprising to discover that Berman is a very young lass and that her 2007 Yale B.A. is in that ridiculous non-field, American Studies.)   

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Ribisi in Havana

Helen T. Verongos, writing in the New York Times, may have been entirely correct to say that the film “bristles with authentic detail, down to the very typewriter Hemingway used,” and that the producers’ ability to arrange for shooting in Cuba “was a feat of diplomacy, financial and otherwise.” But it would’ve been appropriate, we think, to include some acknowledgment of the nature of the political system with which the producers worked their supposed diplomatic magic.

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Humberto Fontova

Verongas’s “feat of diplomacy” remark wasn’t a one-off. Even as they panned the movie, many reviewers praised its producer-director, Bob Yari, for pulling off a supposed coup – namely, getting Cuba’s government to let him film there. It took Cuban-American writer Humberto Fontova to point out the sheer absurdity of this take on the situation. Hemingway, after all, whether you love his fiction or not, was a fervent supporter of Castro’s revolution, which he called “very pure and beautiful.” In fact, recently uncovered documents show that, for a while there, he was actually a KGB spy (albeit a lousy one). From the very beginning, the Castros recognized Hemingway as one of their own; they turned his house into a museum, have maintained it assiduously ever since, encourage tourists to visit it, and are eager to publicly underscore, at every opportunity, their cozy connection to the Nobel Prize-winning author.

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Fidel Castro

Letting Yari make his film in Cuba, then, was a no-brainer. It’s perfect pro-Cuba propaganda. And, as Fontova stresses, nothing matters more to the Cuban regime than propaganda. Fidel himself bragged early on that “propaganda is the vital heart of our struggle”; the CIA has credited Cuba’s government with “creating the most effective propaganda empire in the Western Hemisphere.” 

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Che Guevara

To be sure, Yari’s picture leaves out Hemingway’s service to the KGB. To quote Fontova, “it also omits what could have provided the movie with some of its most dramatic scenes. I refer to Papa Hemingway as honored guest and charmed spectator during many of Che Guevara’s firing squad murder marathons, while gulping his especially-made-for-the-celebratory-occasion Daiquiris.” But of course such scenes – the absence of which from the movie was noted by absolutely none of the critics linked to at the review-aggregating sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic – would’ve damaged the images of both Hemingway and Cuba. And we couldn’t have that, could we?

Ted Turner’s fidelity to Fidel

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Ted Turner

We’ve been looking at the history of Ted Turner‘s friendship with Fidel Castro. Apropos of which, here’s an illuminating excerpt from a 2008 interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News:

O’REILLY: Fidel Castro, do you admire the man?

TURNER: Yes.

O’REILLY: Now he has murdered people. He’s imprisoned people. There are political prisoners now. He won’t let his people use the Internet. Nobody can use that. And you admire the guy?

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O’Reilly and Turner

TURNER: Well, I admire certain things about him. He’s trained a lot of doctors, and they’ve got one of the best educational systems in the developing world. And you know, he’s still popular with a lot of people down there. He’s unpopular…

O’REILLY: But he’s a killer. He’s a killer. He’s a guy who…

TURNER: But that has never, to my knowledge, that’s never been proven. I mean…

O’REILLY: He’s executed political prisoners. I mean, he enslaves people who don’t see it the way he sees it. Come on. He runs a dictatorship.

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Jane Fonda and Ted Turner

Later in the interview, O’Reilly brought up the fact that Turner and his wife Jane Fonda had been ardent opponents of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. O’Reilly told Turner that on a previous show he’d wondered aloud if it bothered Fonda that “after all your activism and getting America out of Vietnam…that 3 million human beings were slaughtered by the people that you were lionizing, the North Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge Communists who wouldn’t have been slaughtered if we stayed. And their skulls were stacked on top of each other.” O’Reilly added that he’d never received a response to his question from either Fonda or Turner. To which Turner replied: “You’ve got me. I didn’t really think about it. You know, it didn’t make the news very much.”

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Humberto Fontova

Yes, this is what the founder of CNN said about the murder of millions of people by the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge: “it didn’t make the news very much.” And he hadn’t really given it much thought. 

After Turner’s interview with O’Reilly, exiled Cuban writer Humberto Fontova commented on Turner’s claim that it had “never been proven” that Fidel had killed anybody. “Even the Cuban revolution’s most die-hard apologists,” wrote Fontova,

have never made so transparently preposterous a claim, and for good reason. According to the Black Book of Communism, 14,000 men and boys had been executed in Cuba by 1964 – the equivalent of more than 3 million executions in the United States….Indeed, like al-Qaeda generations later, mass murder (often in public), was always key to the Communist quest for and maintenance of power. Communists have always wanted this to be known, as a means to intimidate opposition.

Also in 2008, Turner himself interviewed Castro on CNN. It may well be the feeblest interview ever conducted by anyone with a head of state. Castro made a series of absurd statements – for example, that during his presidency Cuba had always enjoyed total freedom of religion, and that his country’s economic problems were entirely the fault of the U.S. embargo. He also made outrageously exaggerated claims about Cuba’s medical and educational achievements. And Turner – who came across as totally uniformed and utterly credulous – didn’t challenge a word of it.

This year saw the publication of a new book, The Double Life of Fidel Castro, by a longtime Castro bodyguard. He revealed that Castro, who pretended to enjoy a simple life, actually had a secret island getaway where he had a “small port for a high-speed (42 knots!) luxury yacht, vacation home, floating bar/grille, mini-Sea World, etc.”

Only a very few select individuals were invited to visit the island. Among them was Ted Turner, who dutifully kept his comrade’s secret.

Castro, ; Garcia, no

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Inés Sastre and Andy Garcia in The Lost City

Yesterday we brought up The Lost City, a 2005 Andy Garcia film about Havana before and after Castro. Mainstream critics in the U.S., traumatized by the movie’s nostalgic depiction of pre-revolutionary Cuba and its categorical disapproval of the revolution’s consequences, couldn’t forgive it for what they called its historical inaccuracy – a charge that exiled Cuban writer Humberto Fontova powerfully and definitively refuted.

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Havana then

Among other things, the reviewers chided Garcia for failing to depict pre-revolutionary Cuba (in accordance with the Castro regime’s propaganda) as a cesspit of poverty. Citing UNESCO statistics from the late 1950s, Fontova set the record straight on this score: in fact, Batista’s Cuba had a “large middle class”; union-membership rates were higher than in the U.S.; the average Cuban wage in 1957 was higher than in Belgium, Denmark, France, or Germany; Cuban laborers earned 66.6% of gross national income, compared to 70% in the U.S. and 64% in Switzerland; 44% of Cubans were “covered by social legislation,” a higher share than in the U.S.; Cuba had a higher per-capita income in 1958 than Spain, Austria, and Japan, and “Cuban industrial workers had the eighth-highest wages in the world”; stevedores made higher hourly wages in Cuba than in New Orleans or San Francisco; Cuban workers enjoyed an eight-hour day and (30 years before it came to Europe) a month-long vacation. “Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than the U.S.,” wrote Fontova. “And more Americans lived in Cuba than Cubans in the U.S.”

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Havana now

Noting that critics had compared the supposed historical accuracy of The Lost City unfavorably to such films as Havana (1990) and Godfather II (1974), Fontova pointed out that Havana director Sydney Pollack had cast a blue-eyed blond to play Batista (who was black) and that Godfather II director Francis Ford Coppola had shown the streets of Havana on New Year’s Eve 1958, the night of the revolution, as being packed with people (in reality, Fontova recalls, “Havana streets were deathly quiet that night”). All in all, charged Fontova, the negative reviews of The Lost City reflected “the Mainstream Media’s thundering and apparently incurable ignorance on all matters Cuban.”

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Batista’s resignation, as portrayed in Godfather II

Unlike the mainstream-media reviewers, Cuban exiles who saw the film gave it rapturous notices:  

“This film will offend a lot of people that have bought into the idea of Fidel Castro as a benevolent dictator and Che Guevara as a righteous revolutionary….Some have criticized this film for not showing ‘the grinding poverty’ of the masses in pre-Castro Cuba. There’s a reason for that. There wasn’t that much of it back then. The Cuban revolution was one led and funded by the middle and upper classes and supported by intellectuals throughout the island. They wanted democracy not a totalitarian dictatorship.”

“I’m a 65 year-old Cuban woman who lived through that historic time….I’m very grateful to Andy Garcia for the gift of this movie.”

“For many of us who have lived through our own ‘Lost City,’ watching this film was a bittersweet experience….Amazing that this film made it to the screen given its honest portrayal of the brutal architects of the Cuban revolution, particularly Hollywood’s darlings, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.”

Splendid tributes. But let’s give Fontova the last word: “Andy Garcia shows it precisely right. In 1958…Cubans expected political change not a socio-economic cataclysm and catastrophe. But I fully realize such distinctions are too ‘complex’ for a film critic to grasp. They prefer clichés and fantasies of revolution.” Alas, they’ve all heard too much Castro disinformation – and seen too many movies about Cuba that reflect that disinformation instead of telling the truth. 

Castro’s Cuba and the film critics

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Andy Garcia in The Lost City

If you’ve never heard of Andy Garcia’s 2005 film The Lost City, there’s a good reason. The movie – which Garcia produced, directed, and starred in, and which he spent 16 years trying to get off the ground – was rejected by the Hollywood studios, snubbed by the film festivals, savaged by the mainstream media, and banned in several Latin American countries.

Why? Because it actually presented a historically accurate picture of pre- and post-revolutionary Cuba – a picture utterly at odds with the images proffered for the last half century by Castro’s propaganda and embraced by useful stooges in the American news media, academy, and entertainment industry.

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Humberto Fontova

In a 2006 article and his 2013 book The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro, exiled Cuban writer Humberto Fontova took on the movie’s cockeyed critics. Among them was Stephen Holden of the New York Times, who called Garcia’s picture an “ode to the Havana of pre-Communist Cuba” and mockingly claimed that, in the film’s view, “life sure was peachy before Fidel Castro came to town and ruined everything.”

Nonsense: as one Cuban exile commented at the Amazon page for The Lost City, “The film makes no bones about the need to remove the (then) dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista but also unequivocally shows that what happened next was far worse for all involved.”

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Stephen Holden

Ridiculing Garcia’s focus on Havana’s “posh pre-revolution nightlife” and the relative invisibility of the “impoverished masses of Cubans who embraced Castro as a liberator,” Holden sneered that the film’s political dialogue was “of the junior high-school variety.” Fontova’s reply: “It’s Holden’s education on the Cuban revolution that’s of the junior high-school variety.” In fact The Lost City was written by Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929-2005), a former Castro supporter who went into exile in the U.K. in 1965 – in other words, a man who knew a good deal more about Cuba than Stephen Holden does. Garcia, also born in Cuba, emigrated with his parents to Miami when he was a boy; he, too, knows more about Cuba than Holden does.

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Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Holden also sneered at what he called the film’s “buffoonish parodies of sour Communist apparatchiks barking orders” – his implication apparently being that the henchmen of Castro’s revolution couldn’t possibly have been so…well, so unpleasant. Fontova’s reply put Holden in his place: “It’s no ‘parody,’ Mr Holden, that the ‘apparatchiks’ Garcia depicts in his movie incarcerated and executed a higher percentage of their countrymen in their first three months in power than Hitler and his apparatchiks jailed and executed in their first three years.”

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Michael Atkinson

But Holden wasn’t alone. Among the many other critics who ignorantly disputed the film’s historical accuracy (don’t worry: we won’t catalog all of them) was the Village Voice‘s Michael Atkinson. For him, The Lost City was “a pro-old-guard, anti-revolutionary elegy – —like a rumba-inflected Gone With the Wind.” (Note the twisted comparison of Castro’s revolution, which enslaved millions, to the Union victory in the U.S. Civil War, which freed millions of slaves.) The film, complained Atkinson, “bemoans the loss of easy wealth for a precious few. Poor people are absolutely absent; Garcia and Infante seem to have thought that peasant revolutions happen for no particular reason – or at least no reason the moneyed 1 percent should have to worry about.”

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Castro, Guevara, and their revolutionary comrades

Fontova’s reply: “What’s absolutely absent is Mr. Atkinson’s knowledge about the Cuba Garcia depicts in his movie. His crack about that ‘moneyed one per cent’ and especially his ‘peasant revolution’ epitomize the clichéd idiocies still parroted by the media about Cuba.” In fact, half a century of Castro propaganda to the contrary, the Cuban Revolution was no peasant uprising; it was engineered by students, engineers, and the like who belonged to the middle and upper classes. Aside from Castro’s own PR, as Fontova points out, most Americans’ major source of information about pre-revolutionary Cuba is the movie Godfather II, which erroneously depicts Batista as a U.S. puppet and his country a combination workhouse for the poor and playground for local billionaires and American mobsters.

More tomorrow. 

“Ventura” isn’t Spanish for idiot, but maybe it should be

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Che Guevara mural in Havana

We took a brief look yesterday at credentialed crank Jesse Ventura – at, in particular, his friendship with Fidel Castro and his enthusiasm for the Castro regime, whose praises he sang in a 2012 interview. That interview wasn’t the only occasion on which Ventura has publicly eulogized the Cuban dictatorship. In another conversation with a reporter, he offered up what he saw as irrefutable evidence of Fidel’s humility: “The main downtown building in Havana has this huge flat wall and it has got a huge portrait on it. It’s not Castro. It’s Che Guevara. The biggest photograph in downtown Havana was a mural on a wall of Che. Now if Castro was such an egomaniac and all this, wouldn’t he put himself up there instead of Che?”

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Ventura at the University of Havana in 2002

During his visit to Cuba, which took place in 2002, Ventura spoke at the University of Havana, where he urged students to dream big and work hard to achieve success.” A few months ago, Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author and eloquent Castro critic, had the perfect reaction to Ventura’s comments:

Here one blinks, looks again—and gapes. You long to believe otherwise, you grope for an extenuation, you hope you misread—but it’s inescapable: A man elected as governor of a populous and prosperous U.S. State (and a “Harvard Visiting Fellow”) cannot distinguish between the subjects of a Stalinist police state and the attendees of an AmWay convention.

Ask anyone familiar with Communism. To achieve “success” in such as Castro’s Stalinist fiefdom, you join the Communist Party, you pucker up and stoop down behind Fidel and his toadies and smooch away. (Either that or jump on a raft.)

Castro isn’t the only brutal dictator for whom Ventura has a soft spot. In his 2012 interview, the ex-wrestler quoted fellow Fidel fan Oliver Stone as having told him: “Governor, you’d love Hugo Chávez because he’s you. You and him are alike. You’re men of the people.” In 2010, appearing on The Larry King Show with Stone to help the director promote one of his unctuous “documentaries” about Chávez, Ventura said that although he’d never met the Venezuelan caudillo, he believed that Stone’s propaganda film about the guy “should be mandatory viewing for every high school senior in the United States of America.”

Plainly, Jesse Ventura is one “libertarian” who’s somehow forgotten – if, that is, he ever knew – the meaning of the word liberty. Hell – this is a guy who loves severe juntas so much that his name is actually an anagram for “severe juntas.”

 

Stella McCartney: partying with “Fidel” and “Che”

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The first pages of Vogue‘s notorious March 2011 profile of Asma al-Assad

It was back in March 2011 that Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, ran a long, gushing profile of Asma al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria. In addition to painting her as a glamorous, sophisticated “Rose in the Desert” – the title of the piece – author Joan Juliet Buck served up a flattering picture of her subject’s hubby, dictator Bashar al-Assad, who came off as a charming and down-to-earth family man. Wintour was manifestly shocked when this piece of inane propaganda sparked worldwide outrage; within days the piece had disappeared from the magazine’s website.

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Stella McCartney

No, you can’t expect people in the fashion business to be world-class models of social awareness. On the other hand, you might at least think they’d have learned a lesson from that episode. Nope. In early June, fashion designer Stella McCartney – Paul’s daughter – held her annual garden party in New York. The theme: “Cuba Libre.” There were “chocolate cuban cigars, Coco Rico, Cerveza Hatuey, special rum cocktails, and various hors d’oeuvres, like vegetarian Cuban sandwiches.” And one more thing: while models showed off McCartney’s new collection, the guests mingled with actors dressed up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

Adorable.

We’ve scoured the Internet for any indication that any of McCartney’s high-profile guests – among them Alicia Keys and Maggie Gyllenhaal – found Stella’s party theme distasteful. Nothing. The media, for the most part, also responded with a hearty thumbs-up. Note this passage from the Hollywood Reporter‘s account of the event:

From the stilt-walkers in colorful costumes to the multicolored ribbons streaming from the trees, attendees agreed that the party indeed matched McCartney’s exuberant ideas. “When you walk around Havana, it really is like this, music and life in the streets,” said Alan Cumming….he was happy to get into the spirit of the event: “I was just in a Fidel and Che sandwich,” he joked of posing with the actors impersonating Castro and Guevara.

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This and the following pictures were all taken at Stella McCartney’s party

Explaining the party’s theme, McCartney gushed: “I simply wanted to have a fun party, and I think Cubans know how to do that.” She recalled that she’d “visited Cuba over 20 years ago, when Cuba was really Cuba” (a statement she didn’t explain) and called her collection “a celebration of spring: new life, color, hope, energy and fun….Cuba is just to have some fun. Fun on top of fun!” Commented Fashion Week Daily: “McCartney is fun on top of fun; we have to thank her for reminding everyone that fashion is as well.”

stella8We’ve looked at a couple of dozen fashion websites that reported on McCartney’s party; with a single exception – which we’ll get to in a moment – none of them so much as hinted that its theme was in poor taste. Style magazine titled its cheery article Cuba Libre! Liv Tyler, Amber Valletta, and More Turn Out for Stella McCartney’s Colorful Garden Party.” Calling the bash “a colorful nod to Cuba,” Style quoted attendee Liv Tyler‘s words of praise for Stella: “I always learn something new from her.” The Fashionista website was also ebullient, congratulating McCartney for “manag[ing] to bring the feel and flavor of Cuba to Nolita” by transforming “a garden on Elizabeth Street…into a lively, Cuban-themed fiesta, complete with street performers on stilts, rum cocktails and cigars passed on trays, Che Guevara lookalikes playing dominos as models looked on, and a live band with salsa dancers on hand to set the groove.”

stella4Nor was there a trace of criticism in Women’s Wear Daily, which described the fête matter-of-factly as “a nod to Cuba, complete with costumed characters on stilts, a live salsa band and dancers, and two men who looked remarkably like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro enjoying a beer and chocolate cigars at a picnic table with some models.” In sum: “a cheeky, festive and timely photo-op.” Even Vogue seemed not to have learned from its own Syrian misadventure: “Stella’s world,” concluded its account, “is always sweet.” Elle UK enthused, too: “Stella McCartney knows how to throw a good party….don’t you wish you were there?”  Not even The New York Observer saw anything unsettling about the theme of the fiesta, which it dubbed “the garden party of the century.”

stella9At least the feminist website Jezebel got it. Reproducing several tweets that included photos taken at the party, Jezebel commented:

Guests included big names like Cara Delevingne, Miranda Kerr, Liv Tyler, and—most noteworthy of all—two men posing as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Not present: anyone who’s suffered through Castro’s half-a-century-long dictatorship. How fun!

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New York Magazine‘s Instagram post, later removed

Jezebel suggested themes for future McCartney parties: “Sensual Stalin! Kim Jong’s Krazy Korea!” The Yahoo news site, to its credit, also recoiled, noting that “McCartney famously heralds cruelty-free clothing, while Guevara and Castro aren’t exactly, uh, pacifists—the former leading execution sweeps and training Congo rebels; the latter denying many of his citizens basic civil liberties.” Yahoo noted that New York Magazine had posted a picture from McCartney’s shindig on its Instagram account, only to remove it later after commenters expressed disgust at the apparent homage to a half-century of tyranny.

We mentioned earlier that we found exactly one (1) fashion writer who was actually appalled by the theme of McCartney’s soirée. The writer in question: Anna Quintana, who, quoting a bubbleheaded, self-flattering statement made by McCartney at the event – “I’m just too global for my own good” – suggested that “McCartney was not ‘global’ enough to understand the complex and sensitive nature of the Cuban story, especially given that she had men dressed up as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro mingling and playing dominoes with the guests and models.” Quintana added:

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Anna Quintana

As a Cuban-American, I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired, and one who prides herself on being ethical when it comes to her cruelty-free designs, could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.

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Humberto Fontova

Bingo. Another Cuban-American writer, Humberto Fontova, also castigated McCartney – and, in addition, made this highly salient observation:

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara…made it a criminal offense for their Cuban subjects to listen to Stella’s Dad’s music. During the mid ’60’s Castro and Che’s ever-vigilant STASI-trained secret police was very scrupulous in ferreting out the counter-revolutionary crime of listening to the Beatles. The hapless Cuban youths detected in this crime were herded into forced labor camps at Soviet bayonet point.

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Collier Meyerson

Finally, there’s MSNBC journalist Collier Meyerson. She was offended by the party’s theme, too – but for another reason: in her view, McCartney’s capitalistic “commodif[ication]” of “the iconic faces” of the Cuban people’s “struggle” – she was referring, of course, to Castro and Che – showed “disrespect” for those two great socialist revolutionaries.

And having quoted that, what more can we say?

Russell Brand, revolutionary hypocrite

Is anyone surprised?

brandcheDuring the last couple of years, the wealthy and successful British comedian Russell Brand has been amusing himself by posturing as a crusading champion of the downtrodden and a heroic enemy of The System. Last July, Sean McElwee wrote in Salon that “Russell Brand may be the most famous anti-capitalist in the world.” Last year, Brand toured with a stand-up show entitled Messiah Complex, in which, as he told Jimmy Fallon in an interview, he talked “about people like Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Gandhi and Jesus and what made them such splendid fellows.” Che, Brand elaborated, “worked very hard and did some great things for ordinary people.” Fallon, disgracefully, agreed: “Absolutely, yes! You need more people like these people.”

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Che Guevara

Yes, more people like Che, who set up Cuba’s first forced-labor camp, ordered over 500 summary executions of ideological opponents, arranged with Khrushchev to bring nuclear missiles to Cuba, and was the person most responsible for the destruction of the formerly thriving Cuban economy.

Last year Brand also came out with a book, Revolution, in which he described himself as “a big fan of Castro and Che Guevara” and called Che “dear, beautiful, morally unimpeachable.” Michael Moynihan’s review of the book for The Daily Beast was aptly headlined “Russell Brand’s Revolution For Morons.” Revolution, Moynihan wrote, is “a meandering and pretentious mélange of student politics, junk history, and goofy mysticism.”

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Raul Castro blindfolds a prisoner who is about to be executed

Not long after Moynihan’s review, exiled Cuban writer Humberto Fontova weighed in on Brand’s Che-worship. Refuting the romantic notion of Che as a dedicated revolutionary who cared nothing for creature comforts or the products of capitalism, Fontova quoted a vivid description of Che’s beachfront mansion:

The mansion had a boat dock, a huge swimming pool, seven bathrooms, a sauna, a massage salon and several television sets….One TV had been specially designed in the U.S., and had a screen ten feet wide and was operated by remote control. This was thought to be the only TV of its kind in Latin America. The mansion’s garden had a veritable jungle of imported plants, a pool with a waterfall, ponds filled with exotic tropical fish and several bird houses filled with parrots and other exotic birds. The habitation was something out of A Thousand and One Nights.

Fontova said that he wouldn’t bother debunking “Brand’s idiocies on Cuba” except for one fact: those idiocies, as it happens, “perfectly mirror the ‘enlightened,’ even the mainstream, version of Cuban history, however amazing and asinine it sounds to actual Cubans who lived it or to any person who bothers to investigate the issue beyond what issues from Castro’s agents of influence, on the payroll and off.”

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Following a one-minute trial, a corporal in Batista’s army is given last rites before being executed by Castro’s men

Among other things, Brand echoes the familiar line that Castro actually improved conditions in Cuba; on the contrary, writes Fontova, Cuba under Batista had “a higher per capita income than half of Europe, the lowest inflation rate in the Western Hemisphere, the 13th lowest infant-mortality on earth and a huge influx of immigrants.” Nor was the country anything like the wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. government and/or U.S. corporations that Brand thinks it was (an image promoted for decades by the media, and by movies like Godfather II): “in 1959 U.S. investments in Cuba accounted for only 14 per cent the island’s GNP, and U.S. owned companies employed only 7 per cent of Cuba’s workforce.”

Russell Brand speaks at the opening of The Trew Era Cafe, a social enterprise community project on the New Era estate in east London, Thursday, 26 March, 2015. The opening of the cafe coincides with the trade paperback publication date of 'Revolution', and Brand will be donating 100% of his money for the book to the Cafe.(Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Brand outside his cafe at its opening in March

Part of Brand’s self-branding as a revolutionary on multiple fronts has been his clothing business. He sells his own line of sweatshirts, which, he has claimed, are made in the UK, with all profits going to charity. This now turns out to be untrue. On June 5, the Mail reported that the shirts are, in fact, made in Bangladesh by workers earning 25p an hour and working up to eleven hours a day, and that only £1.37 of the purchase price of a £65 sweatshirt goes to charity. And apparently what counts as “charity” in this case is the Trew Era, a “trendy East London cafe” owned by Brand himself that opened in March of this year. His lawyers, responding to the Mail‘s disclosures, describe the cafe as a “community social enterprise project.” Last year, noted the Mail, the website of Brand’s schmatta business “said the money from his merchandise would go to the Russell Brand Foundation”; this statement no longer appears on the site, and British authorities that oversee charitable enterprises have no record of the existence of any such foundation.

Women work at a garment factory in Savar July 27, 2012. Women work for ten hours a day and earn about 3,000 taka ($37.5) per month. Bangladesh's $19 billion garments industry attracts some of the world's biggest clothing brands because of low costs, but many retailers say unrest over pay and delayed shipping schedules are eroding that advantage. Picture taken on July 27, 2012. To go with story BANGLADESH-GARMENTS/   REUTERS/Andrew Biraj (BANGLADESH - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) - RTR37L3S
A garment factory in Bangladesh

To be sure, it could be argued that Brand is actually doing his Bangladeshi sweatshirt-makers a service – he’s providing them with jobs, however menial and poorly paid, that are better than nothing and that may prove to be a stepping-stone to something better. And, on a larger level, the sweatshops they work in, which also produce apparel for major UK labels, may represent a step toward a stronger economy for Bangladesh. But that’s precisely the kind of argument that Brand has been shooting down for a couple of years now in his fatuous rants against capitalism and globalization.

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Russell Brand and Paraic O’Brien at London housing rally

Unsurprisingly, critics of Brand responded to the news of his Bangladesh sweatshop by calling him a hypocrite. And they’re right. If this isn’t hypocrisy, what is? Nor is this the first time he’s faced accusations of hypocrisy. Last December, for example, while taking part in a rally for more affordable housing in London, he “flew into a rage” when Channel 4 reporter Paraic O’Brien suggested that Brand himself “was part of the housing problem because the super-rich buying up property in London were driving up prices for everyone else.” His own £2 million home “in trendy Hoxton, east London,” it emerged, was “owned by a firm based in a tax haven.”

brandPerhaps it was British columnist Nick Cohen, writing in October 2013, who served up the definitive verdict on Russell Brand:

He writes as if he is a precocious prepubescent rather than an adolescent: a child, born after the millennium, who can behave as if we never lived through the 20th century. He does not know what happened when men, burning with zealous outrage, created states with total control of “consciousness and the entire social, political and economic system” – and does not want to know either.