Humberto FontovaTuesday, Aug. 15, 2006
"You may pronounce me guilty," declared Adolf Hitler during the trial in 1924 for his failed Rathaus putsch, "but the eternal court of history will absolve me."
"Condemn me, it doesn't matter," declared Fidel Castro during the trial in 1953 for his failed Moncada putsch. "History will absolve me."
The young Fidel Castro was a keen student of Nazi pageantry, often seen around campus with his well-thumbed copy of "Mein Kampf" alongside his pistol. His title of Lider Maximo perfectly mimics the German term Fuhrer.
Over the years a varied assortment of foreign fans and well-wishers have showered Castro with accolades. "Cuba's Elvis!" (Dan Rather.) "Castro is the most honest and courageous politician I've ever met! Viva Fidel!" (Jesse Jackson.) "If you believe in freedom, justice and equality, you have no choice but to support Fidel Castro!" (Harry Belafonte.) "Castro is a genius and Cuba is a Paradise!" (Jack Nicholson) "The greatest hero of the century!" (Norman Mailer) "One helluva guy!" (Ted Turner.)
Sadly, lunacy on the subject of Fidel Castro is hardly confined to the lunatic fringe. "Castro has done good things for Cuba." (Colin Powell.) "Castro threw out an SOB and liberated Cuba's poor." (the late Stephen Ambrose, America's best-selling historian) A recent editorial on Castro's legacy in the London Times, considered one of the world's wisest and most respected newspapers, gives the "mainstream," or even the respectably conservative, view on Fidel Castro.
"Castro can look back on some unquestionable achievements," starts the London Times article. "For a start he has defied the world's most powerful nation, just 90 miles from his shores, and lived to tell the tale."
No discourse or screed about Castro – in any language, from any medium, from any point on the political compass – omits this cliché. Let's look at this historical record of "defiance."
"We put Castro in power," flatly stated former U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Earl T. Smith during congressional testimony in 1960. He was referring to the U.S. State Department and CIA's role in aiding the Castro rebels, also to the U.S. arms embargo on Batista, also to the official U.S. order that Batista vacate Cuba. Ambassador Smith knew something about these events because he had personally delivered the messages to Batista.
Castro's "defiance" of the U.S. at the time also involved his group pocketing a check for $50,000 from the CIA operative in Santiago, Robert Weicha. "Me and my staff were all Fidelistas," boasted Robert Reynolds, the CIA's Caribbean Desk "specialist on the Cuban Revolution" from 1957 to 1960.
After Batista fled and Castro grabbed power, the U.S. abruptly changed diplomatic modes all right: Never in history had we accorded diplomatic recognition to a Latin American regime as quickly as we recognized Castro's. The U.S. gave Castro's regime its official benediction more rapidly than it had recognized Batista's in 1952, and lavished it with $200 million in subsidies.
In August of 1959 the liberal U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Philip Bonsal, alerted Castro to a conspiracy against his regime by Cubans. Thanks in part to Ambassador Bonsal's solicitude for a regime then insulting his nation as "a vulture preying on humanity" and poised to steal $2 billion from U.S. stockholders, the anti-Castro plot was foiled, hundreds of the plotters were imprisoned or executed, and the regime that three years later came close to vaporizing many of America's largest cities (including Bonsal's home) with nuclear missiles survived.
"Nothing but refugee rumors" was how JFK's national security adviser and former Harvard dean McGeorge Bundy referred to a report of Soviet Missiles in Cuba. Cuban exiles were risking their lives to obtain this intelligence. "Nothing in Cuba poses a threat to the U.S.," he continued, barely masking his scorn at those missile rumor-mongers." There's no likelihood that the Soviets or Cubans would try and install an offensive capability in Cuba."
The cocksure Bundy was a guest on "Face the Nation" while thus assuring the American people. The date was October 14, 1962.
Exactly 48 hours later, U-2 photos sat on JFK's desk, revealing those "refugee rumors" sitting in Cuba, nuclear armed, and pointed directly at Bundy and his entire staff of sagacious Ivy League wizards.
But don't think for a second that the Best and Brightest were knocked off balance. No sir! The Camelot dream team set their jaws, rolled up their sleeves, and met the challenge head on.
"We ended up getting exactly what we'd wanted all along," writes Nikita Khrushchev about their bulldog bargaining. "Security for Fidel Castro's regime and American missiles removed from Turkey. Until today the U.S. has complied with her promise not to interfere with Castro and not to allow anyone else to interfere with Castro [italics mine]. After Kennedy's death, his successor Lyndon Johnson assured us that he would keep the promise not to invade Cuba." Henry Kissinger, as Gerald Ford's secretary of state, renewed the pledge.
After the Missile Crisis "resolution," Castro's "defiance" of the U.S. took the form of the U.S. Coast Guard and even the British navy (when some intrepid exile freedom fighters moved their operation to the Bahamas) shielding him from exile attacks. Far from "defying" a superpower, Castro hid behind the skirts of two superpowers, plus the British Empire.
"[Castro] has some real accomplishments to point to," claims the London Times. "Under his rule, the impoverished Caribbean island has created health and education systems that would be the envy of far wealthier nations ... and there is near full literacy on the island." From London to Tokyo, from Paris to Bangkok, from New York to Madrid – this claim echoes through every media mention of Castro.
For the record: In 1958, that "impoverished Caribbean island" had a higher standard of living than Ireland and Austria, almost double Spain and Japan's per capita income, more doctors and dentists per capita than Britain, and lower infant mortality than France and Germany – the 13th-lowest in the world, in fact. Today, Cuba's infant-mortality rate – despite the hemisphere's highest abortion rate, which skews this figure downward – is 24th from the top.
So, relative to the rest of the world, Cuba's health care has worsened under Castro, and a nation with a formerly massive influx of European immigrants needs machine guns, water cannons and tiger sharks to keep its people from fleeing, while half-starved Haitians a short 60 miles away turn up their noses at any thought of emigrating to Cuba.
In 1958, 80 percent of Cubans were literate, and Cuba spent the most per capita on public education of any nation in Latin America.
During its war of independence near the turn of the 20th century, Cuba was utterly devastated, having lost a quarter of its population. So, Cuba's achievements in national prosperity, health, and education came practically from scratch and in only slightly more time than Castro's stint in power.
Can any sane person claim that given that record – and given Cuba's expenditures on public education – literacy would not have been eradicated in a few short years? Better still, Cubans today would be not just literate but also educated, allowed to read George Orwell and Thomas Jefferson along with the arresting wisdom and sparkling prose of Che Guevara. A specimen:
"To the extent that we achieve concrete successes on a theoretical plane – or, vice versa, to the extent that we draw theoretical conclusions of a broad character on the basis of our concrete research – we will have made a valuable contribution to Marxism-Leninism, and to the cause of humanity."
I quote "this intellectual, this most complete human being of our time" (Jean-Paul Sartre's description of Che Guevara) exactly. Cuba's prisons aren't its only torture chambers. With such reading assignments, Cuba's classrooms amply qualify for an inspection by Amnesty International.
Without Castro, Cuba's full literacy would have come about probably as quickly – and without firing squads, mass graves, and a political incarceration rate higher than Stalin's. Most countries in Latin America with lower literacy rates than Cuba had in 1958 have done just that.
"During the 1980s," continues the Times editorial, "one could still conceivably argue that Cuba's dictatorship was preferable to its US-backed counterparts in Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua or El Salvador, which went one step farther by murdering thousands of their citizens."
Here one blinks, looks again – and gapes. Forget for a second that none of those regimes abolished private property, free travel, free speech. None abolished free enterprise and mandated food rations for its subjects. None set up government snitch groups on every city block. Forget that far from being "US-backed counterparts," Pinochet's Chile and Somoza's Nicaragua had economic sanctions slapped on them by Jimmy Carter. Forget the peripheral ignorance; let's look at the central stupidity.
You long to believe otherwise, you grope for an extenuation, you hope you misread – but it's inescapable: The editorial staff of the world's most prestigious newspaper is unaware that Castro's regime killed people.
Yet Castro's murder tally is not difficult to dig up. No need to consult the ravings of some "crackpot" scandal sheet in Miami. Simply open "The Black Book of Communism," written by French scholars and published in English by Harvard University Press, neither an outpost of the vast right-wing conspiracy nor of Miami maniacs. Here you'll find a tally of 14,000 Castroite murders by firing squad. "The facts and figures are irrefutable. No one will any longer be able to claim ignorance or uncertainty about the criminal nature of Communism," wrote the New York Times (no less!) about "The Black Book of Communism."
"[The Black Book of Communism's] cumulative impact is overwhelming," said a review in a prestigious newspaper named the London Times! So, according to a scholarly work that received gushy reviews in the London Times itself, Castro's regime almost quintupled the alleged murder rate of Pinochet's (3,000.) And this refers only to Communist Cuba's firing-squad murders.
The Cuba Archive project, headed by scholars Maria Werlau and Armando Lago, put the death toll from Castro's regime, including deaths at sea and the desperate anti-Communist insurgency of the early '60s, at 102,000. This project has been lauded by everyone from the Miami Herald (again, no right-wing outpost) to the Wall Street Journal. The mind reels at the Times' ignorance until you recall that such ignorance is practically universal on matters Cuban.
"Castro has clung on for so long in part because the US has provided him with so many propaganda weapons to rally Cubans to his side," asserts the Times editorial.
For the record: A recent poll conducted clandestinely in Cuba by Spanish pollsters regarding the impact of the "U.S. blockade" revealed that fewer than a third of the respondents blamed the so-called "Yankee blockade" for Cuba's ills, proof that the Cuban people aren't nearly as stupid as the scholars and reporters who continuously parrot the London Times claim.
Finally, the Times article brings down the hammer with another academic mantra: "El Comandante has clung on through nearly five decades of economic sanctions and a US-sponsored invasion attempt."
For the record: While renewing the Kennedy-Khrushchev pledge in 1975, Kissinger partly lifted the embargo, allowing all foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. Even that avenue is now moot. U.S. companies have recently done more than $1 billion worth of direct business with Cuba. Currently, the U.S is Cuba's biggest food supplier and fourth-largest import partner.
And anyone familiar with the details of the botched Bay of Pigs invasion knows that referring to it as "US-sponsored" truly debauches the definition of "sponsorship." [For details about this incident, see "Operation Cuban Freedom – NOT!"]
Now, had Richard Nixon won the 1960 presidential election, "U.S. sponsored" would fit (though we would see it named the "Trinidad Invasion," based on the original – and better – landing site). Better still, no one would refer to it as an invasion "attempt." Better even still, some obscure and long-dead Latin American bandit named Fidel Castro would merit less encyclopedia space than Pancho Villa – and no mention whatsoever in the London Times.