The Rev. Jackson’s Cuba sojourns

June 26-27, 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Jesse Jackson smokes Cuban cigars with Fidel Castro during a controversial visit to Havana in June 1984. Jackson, a candidate for President of the United States, caused a stir in the U.S. government and press by visiting with the Communist leader. --- Image by © Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Fidel Castro, June 1984

Jesse Jackson is such a patently unsavory creature – a shameless race hustler, an inveterate shakedown artist, a hardcore anti-Semite (remember “Hymietown”?), a sleazy player posing as a man of the cloth – that his coziness with the Castro government should hardly seem a surprise. Yet it’s important that this aspect of his slimy character not be lost in the mix.

27 Aug 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Original caption: Reverend Jesse Jackson (L) is seated next to Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro during negotiations for the release of a group of prisoners to Jackson. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Jackson and Castro, August 1984

For one thing, unlike other useful Castro stooges, Jackson hasn’t just visited the island prison once or twice. Over the decades, he’s been there so many times – and met Castro so many times – that it’s hard to come up with an exact count. On a couple of these visits he attempted to secure the release of political prisoners, but any objective observer of his career would find it difficult to see these supposedly humanitarian efforts as anything other than cynical bids for attention, power, and positive PR. They were, in any event, clear breaches of the Logan Act of 1799, violation of which is a felony. (In addition to Cuba, Jackson was able to persuade the governments of Syria, Iraq, and Yugoslavia to release prisoners at various points in the 1980s and 90s – actions they presumably took because his involvement enabled them to receive very prominent and very positive press in the U.S. while making the U.S. government itself look impotent.)

jjcc
Jackson and Castro, 1993

Anyway, here’s a brief overview of Jackson’s Cuba adventures. In 1984, while he was running for President, he flew to Havana, where Fidel Castro welcomed him at the airport and, according to BBC correspondent Alastair Cooke, was treated “as if he were already president of the United States.” Giving a speech at the University of Havana, he shouted “Viva Fidel!” and “Viva Che Guevara!” He raised his fists: “Long live our cry of freedom!” During that trip, Castro praised Jackson as “brilliant” and “sincere,” a man full of “honesty” and free of “demagoguery.”

jjkk
Okay, he didn’t really say that, as far as we know. Jackson at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, 2013

Jackson didn’t return home alone: he took back with him to the U.S. sixteen American and seven Cuban political prisoners whom Castro had released as a sort of gift for the good reverend. (Castro himself said that he had made the gesture “as a result of Rev. Jackson’s visit. I did it for him and for the people of the United States.”) 

cooke
Alastair Cooke

Upon their arrival at Dulles Airport, one of the released Cuban prisoners, Andres Vargas Gomez, an anti-Castro activist who’d been incarcerated for 21 years, spoke to reporters. He didn’t have kind words for either Castro or Jackson. “To go to Cuba to join in a moral offensive with Fidel Castro,” he said, referring to Jackson, “is more than morally offensive, it is a moral offense.” Cooke called the prisoner release “a very small price that Castro has to pay for helping to advertise among his people, and other Central American peoples, the fact that here is an actual candidate for the presidency of the United States, who is as much against the Central American policies of the detested Reagan as they are.” Jackson, pronounced Cooke, had been “used”; he was “a patsy” who’d made it “all the harder” for the U.S. government to improve relations with Cuba.

jj2013b
Jackson at a religious service in Havana, September 2013

Oh, and let’s not forget that this patsy, this serial violator of the Logan Act, this man who shouted “Viva Fidel!” at the University of Havana in 1984 became, in the 1990s, the Clinton Administration’s house preacher. During the Lewinsky crisis, he reportedly prayed with Hillary and gave Bill “emotional solace and political advice” (not necessarily in that order). In 2000, President Clinton actually presented this champion of Castro’s dictatorship – who as recently as 1993 had vacationed in Havana and hung with Castro – with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award citation stated that Jackson “has preached a gospel of hope, unity and responsibility and has helped establish common ground across lines of race, class, gender, nationality and faith.”

U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (C) walks at the National hotel in Havana September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
Back at the Hotel Nacional, 2013

In September 2013, Jackson went to Cuba yet again. He wanted, he declared, to try to secure the freedom of Alan Gross, an American who’d been imprisoned there since 2009.  This time, however, Castro didn’t deign to meet with him; perhaps he’d decided that Jackson’s star was on the wane and his Logan Act violations were no longer the front-page news they’d once been. (Gross was finally released last December.) But Jackson’s time wasn’t wasted: during the same visit, he met with leaders of FARC, the far-left Colombian terrorist group, and gave a talk advocating actions against the U.S. economic blockade. 

Jackson claims to be delighted at the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. But is he? When every American can legally travel to Cuba, who’s going to care anymore when he makes the trip?

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

mural-of-che-guevara-in-havana
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?”

ventura_uh
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.”