Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Last September, Fidel Castro vowed to stay in power until President George W. Bush leaves the White House. Even with his failing health, one would have been hard-pressed to bet against the dictator who outlasted nine U.S. presidents and his great sponsor in the Soviet Union. Castro’s retirement yesterday, in favor of his brother Raul, confirms that he will not be able to keep his word. But to understand his legacy, and its implications for Cuba’s future, one must go back to a promise that Castro made at the dawn of his one-man rule nearly half a century ago.
Upon entering Havana on January 7, 1959, Cuba's new leader Fidel Castro broadcast that promise into a phalanx of microphones. "Cuban mothers let me assure you that I will solve all Cuba's problems without spilling a drop of blood." As the jubilant crowd erupted with joy, Castro continued. "Cuban mothers let me assure you that because of me you will never have to cry."
The following day, just below San Juan Hill in eastern Cuba, a bulldozer rumbled to a start, clanked into position, and started pushing dirt into a huge pit with blood pooling at the bottom from the still -twitching bodies of more than a hundred men and boys who'd been machine-gunned without trial on the Castro brothers' orders. Their wives and mothers wept hysterically from a nearby road.
On that very day, the U.K. Observer ran the following headline: "Mr Castro's bearded, youthful figure has become a symbol of Latin America's rejection of brutality and lying. Every sign is that he will reject personal rule and violence."
These two events perfectly symbolize the Fidel Castro phenomenon, even half a century later: Fidel Castro oppresses and kills while issuing a smokescreen of lies not merely devious but downright psycopathic. The worldwide media abandons all pretense as "investigators" or "watchdogs" and adopts a role, not merely as sycophants, but as advertising agency.
By the time of his delirious, deafening, foot-stomping receptions at Harvard Law School and the National Press Club (most of whose members oppose capital punishment) three months later in April 1959, "Mr. Castro's" firing squads had slaughtered 1,168 men - and boys, some as young as 15.
By the time Norman Mailer (another opponent of capital punishment) was hailing Fidel Castro as "the greatest hero to appear in the Americas!" his hero's firing squads had piled up 4,000 corpses and one of 18 Cubans was a political prisoner, an incarceration rate that surpassed Stalin's.
By 1975, when George McGovern (another opponent of capital punishment) was calling him a "very shy and sensitive, a man I regard as a friend," the bullet-riddled bodies of over 10,000 Cubans lay in unmarked graves, and Cuba still held the most political prisoner as a percentage of population on earth, surpassing Nazi Germany's prewar rate by several multiples.
He brought the world closest of anyone to nuclear Armageddon by pleading, begging, and finally trying to trick Nikita Khrushchev into launching a surprise nuclear strike on the U.S. Yet he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Price by Norwegian parliamentarians.
He jailed and tortured at a rate higher than Stalin. Yet Cuba sits on the UN's Human Rights Committee.
His legal code mandates 18 months in prison for anyone overheard cracking a joke about him. Yet Jack Nicholson and Chevy Chase sing his praises.
He abolished habeas corpus while his chief hangman, Che Guevara, declared that “judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. We execute from Revolutionary Conviction.” A month later Harvard Law School invited him to address them and erupted in cheers and tumultuous ovations after his every third sentence.
He drove out a higher percentage of Jews from Cuba than Czar Nicholas drove from Russia and Hafez Assad drove from Syria. Yet Shoah Foundation founder Stephen Spielberg considered his dinner with Fidel Castro "the eight most important hours of my life."
He overthrew a black Cuban head of state and replaced his government with one where only nine percent of the ruling Stalinist party is black and where the prison population is 80- 90 percent black. He jailed the longest suffering black political prisoner of modern history. (Eusebio Penalver who suffered longer in Castro's dungeon's than Nelson Mandela suffered in South Africa's.) He sentenced other blacks (Dr Elias Biscet, Jorge Antunez) to 20 year sentences essentially for quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in a public square. Yet he's a hero to the Congressional Black Caucus and receives passionate bear hugs from Charlie Rangel.
He twice tried to destroy New York, once with nuclear missiles, the following month by planning to set off 500 kilos of TNT in Macy's, Gimbel's, Bloomingdale's, and Grand Central Terminal on the year's busiest shopping day. Yet Newsweek magazine hailed him as "The Hottest Ticket in Manhattan!" and Time as "The Toast of Manhattan!" referring to the social swirl that engulfed him on a visit to New York in 1995 from the city's best and brightest, including David Rockefeller, Robert McNamara, Dwayne Andreas, Mort Zuckerman, Mike Wallace, Peter Jennings, Tina Brown, Bernard Shaw, and Barbara Walters. According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, on that visit, Castro received 250 dinner invitations from Manhattan celebrities and power-brokers.
His firing squads murdered pregnant women, his coast guard machine-gunned mothers with their children for trying to escape on rafts, and his regime made Cuban women into the most suicidal in the world, tripling their pre-Revolution suicide rate. Yet Barbara Walters hails "the great health he has brought to Cuba," Andrea Mitchell, referred to him as "an absolutely fascinating figure!" and Diane Sawyer was so overcome in his presence that she rushed up, broke into that toothy smile of hers, wrapped her arms around Castro and smooched him warmly on the cheek.
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.
* "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.
* The conservative and respected London Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch even editorialized about Castro's "achievements."
Among historical figures Fidel Castro was, hands down, the most effective liar of modern times. His effectiveness was greatly aided by a fawning worldwide media dazzled by his status as the world's pre-eminent symbol of anti-Americanism. With such cachet much could be forgiven, overlooked, ignored or simply falsified. If what we constantly heard and read about Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in the mainstream media and college textbooks was merely in error it might be less obnoxious. Instead the media/academia clichés usually upend the truth. We get the precise opposite of the truth. Ignorance (usually willful) of conditions in pre-Castro Cuba, of Fidel Castro's background, of U.S.-Cuba relations pre-1960 all contribute to the cliché-ridden Castro legend. With Fidel Castro's burial as a backdrop and the media wallowing in a Castro-cliché orgy let's examine them one at a time, in no particular order of importance.
Cliché no. 1: A plucky Castro succeeded in defying a relentlessly hostile U.S. that worked ceaselessly to topple him.
The Facts: “We ended up getting exactly what we'd wanted all along," wrote Nikita Khrushchev about the Missile Crisis Resolution.
"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.
Cliché no. 2 : Pre-Castro Cuba was a veritable U.S. colony, greedily exploited by U.S. corporations and by her most notorious gangsters who maintained the hapless island as a sordid casino and bordello. Castro rectified this shameful condition.
The Facts: In 1958, only 7 percent of invested capital in Cuba was American, and less than one-third of Cuba’s sugar output (its main crop) was by U.S. companies. Cuba had a grand total of three gambling Casino's at the time. (Gulfport Mississippi has triple that number today.) Exactly one Havana hotel was mob-owned (compare this to Las Vegas and ask yourselves who demands that Nevada suffer Stalinism to rectify its shameful condition.)
In 1958, Cuba had approximately 10,000 prostitutes. Today an estimated 150,000 ply their trade on the desperate island, many as young as 14.
And to cap it all off: in 1950 more Cubans (out of a population of six million) vacationed in the U.S., than Americans (out of 200 million) vacationed in Cuba. At that time, Cubans didn't come to the U.S. in any great numbers to settle. In fact as a percentage of population, Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) in the early 20th century than did the U.S. In the 1950's, when Cubans were perfectly free to emigrate with all their property and U.S. visas were issued for the asking, fewer Cubans lived in the U.S. than Americans lived in Cuba.
Cliché no 3: Fidel Castro overthrew the "U.S. backed" Batista whose patrons and puppeteers went instantly ballistic at his ousting. No sooner had Castro entered Havana than the U.S. started pounding its big stick while waving nary a carrot. This pushed an affronted and innocent Fidel Castro into the arms of mother Russia. The poor man had no choice against such relentless bellicosity and bullying, characterized by the vindictive and ineffective embargo.
The Facts: Former U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, Earl T. Smith, during Congressional testimony in 1960, declared flatly: "We put Castro in power." He referred to the U.S. State Department and CIA's role in aiding, both morally and materially, the Castro rebels, to their pulling the rug out from under Batista with an arms embargo, and finally to the U.S. order that Batista vacate Cuba. Ambassador Smith knew something about these events because he personally delivered the messages to Batista, who was then denied exile in the U.S.
"Me and my staff were all Fidelistas," boasted Robert Reynolds, the CIA's "Caribbean Desk's specialist on the Cuban Revolution" from 1957-1960. 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 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 imprisoned or executed, and the regime that three years later came closest to vaporizing many of America's biggest cities (including Bonsal's home) with nuclear missiles, survived.
In 1958, at the very time the U.S. State Dept. and CIA were helping his movement, Castro had written in confidence to a colleague, "War with the U.S. is my true destiny." Castro had sent armed guerrillas to attempt the violent overthrow of four sovereign Latin American countries, confiscated $2 billion in U.S. property, invited in thousands of Soviet military and police agents, kidnapped 50 U.S. citizens from Guantanamo Bay, and jailed and executed several Americans before we lifted a finger against him.
Cliché no. 4. "The Cuban embargo doesn't work. It never succeeded in toppling Castro or even in moderating Castro's policies. It allows the regime to blame "the bully to the north" for its economic failures and thus rally the Cuban people to its side. It's long past time to do away with it."
The Facts: Spanish pollsters conducted a clandestine poll in Cuba last year and found that less than a third of Cubans blame the U.S. "blockade" for their economic plight. The U.S. embargo was reactive not pro-active and came only after Castro stole 5,911 businesses worth $2 billion from U.S. stockholders. This was (and remains) the biggest such heist in history Castro boasted that he'd never repay a penny of what he stole ( the only promise he's ever kept.)
If the embargo "failed" it is simply, because for over 30 years no "embargo" has been in place.
In 1974, Henry Kissinger allowed all foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. Since most U.S. brand products are available (cheaper) from Mexico, Cuba's tourist and "dollar stores" have long been well-stocked with U.S. products.
But even that avenue is now moot. In the last three years, U.S. companies have done more than $1 billion dollars worth of direct business with Cuba. Currently, the U.S is Cuba's biggest food supplier and fourth biggest import partner. Since 2000, Cuba has been able to buy practically anything it wants from the U.S. -- but only for cash.
What the Castro regime craves (along with the U.S. agricultural lobby and Cuba’s long queue of stiffed creditors) is U.S. sales to Cuba on credit and guaranteed by the U.S. Export-Import Bank (i.e., U.S. taxpayers.) Cuba has defaulted on such credits whenever offered, most recently from France’s own Ex-Im bank, COFACE. Cuba’s external debt, primarily to Russia, Venezuela and Europe, approaches $40 billion and her credit rating according to Dun & Bradstreet is below Somalia's. Via Congressional lobbying, stilted mainstream media stories and UN votes, all of the above parties ( for obvious reasons) urge the U.S. taxpayer to come to their rescue. They refer to this as “lifting the Cuban embargo.”
The U.S. taxpayer is among the few in the world not screwed and tattooed by Castro. As such the so-called embargo has been a resounding success.
Cliché no. 5. Cuba was a wretched place before Castro. The Castro regime's minuses in political liberties are more than offset by its plusses in heath care, literacy, nourishment, etc. The London Times described pre-Castro Cuba as "an impoverished Caribbean island." The New York Times termed Cuba's economy in 1958 as "Near-Feudal."
The Facts: A UNESCO report on Cuba circa 1957 stated: "One feature of the Cuban social structure is a large middle class.The U.S. Department of Commerce Guide for Businesses from 1956 stated: “Cuba is not an underdeveloped country." In 1958, that "impoverished Caribbean island" had a higher per capita income than Austria and Japan and Cuban industrial workers had the 8th highest wages in the world. Cuba also had the hemisphere’s lowest inflation rate and her peso was always equal in value with the U.S. dollar.
Cuba also had 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 34th 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 it's people from fleeing. In 1958, 80 percent of Cubans were literate and Cuba spent the most per capita on public education of any nation in Latin America. In 1958, Cubans had the third highest protein consumption in Latin America, more Televisions per capita than any European nation and more autos per capita than Japan and half of Europe.
Since 1962, a Cuban's government-mandated food rations are lower than those mandated for Cuban slaves by the Spanish King in 1842. The average salary is $10 a month and oxcarts are envied as a mode of transportation in Cuba's countryside. The only people on earth with fewer cell phones per capita than Cubans live in Papua, New Guinea.
All of this after the Soviets lavished Castro with the equivalent of six Marshall Plans, and pumped not into a war-ravaged continent of 300 million but into an island of 6.5 million who formerly enjoyed everything mentioned above.
Regarding Cuba's “near-feudal countryside" as The New York Times described it: According to the Geneva-based International Labor Organization, the average daily wage for an agricultural worker in Cuba in the 1950's was higher than in France, Belgium, Denmark, or West Germany. Also, far from huge latifundia dominating the agricultural landscape, the average Cuban farm in 1958 was actually smaller than the average farm in the U.S .
Cliché no. 6. The Bay of Pigs was a “fiasco” because Cubans in Cuba overwhelmingly supported the Castro regime and were not motivated to fight it as they had the Batista regime.
The Facts: Initially, thinking the moment of liberation had arrived, entire battalions of Castro’s militia surrendered en masse to the invaders. Only when it became obvious that the invaders had been abandoned and no U.S. military support would be forthcoming did the ring close. Even then, one U.S. jet flying over the beachhead on a reconnaissance mission briefly halted most of the firing from Castro’s forces. After the battle, Fidel Castro himself fumed at the poor fighting spirit of his troops.
More facts: A ferocious anti-communist guerrilla war raged in the Cuban countryside from 1960 to 1966 that involved t10 times the number of rebels who ever fought against Batista. Raul Castro himself admitted that his troops, militia, and Soviet advisers were up against 179 different "bands of bandits" as he labeled the freedom-fighters. Tens of thousands of troops, scores of Soviet advisors, and squadrons of Soviet tanks, helicopters, and flame-throwers finally extinguished the lonely Cuban freedom-fight Everyplace else on earth the liberal media/academia axis refers to such a thing as "an insurgency," and is proof that “the people” oppose their rulers.
"Fool me once," they say. "Shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you." Once in exile, the Cuban refugees pouring out of Cuba adopted the desperate role of Dorothy's dog Toto, tugging the curtain open and urging the world to avert their gaze from the smoke and mirrors and please, please! pay attention to that man behind it.
Results have been -- to put it delicately -- "mixed." Even in death the mainstream media remains in awe of The Great and Powerful Fidel. Castro's primary detractors lacked the proper cachet. Few ethnic groups have ever hit these shores carrying more unfashionable baggage. Not that they carried much. Most landed with the clothes on their backs, their every possession stolen by Castro. Then these people compounded the curse tenfold by bounding into the middle class in one generation and by becoming the most solidly Republican ethnic bloc in U.S. history. From 71 to 82 percent of Cuban-Americans vote Republican. So the usual taboos regarding the discussion of ethnic groups vanish when discussing Americans of Cuban heritage. Georgetown professor and Democratic presidential adviser, Norman Birnbaum referred to them as "Those truly reprehensible Miami Cubans." During the Elian Gonzalez circus Bryant Gumbel referred to Cuban demonstrators as "disgusting" and The New Republic and Nation writer Alexander Cockburn recommended "nuking" Miami's Little Havana.
Yet, no hysterics erupted from the usual quarters. None of the brouhaha that hounded John Rocker, Jimmy the Greek, and Mel Gibson ensued. All Professional sniffers and snouters in matters regarding "ethnic sensitivity" remained deafeningly mum.
So, what now for Cuba? Fidel's successor, Raul, was the one who gave the "FUEGO!" order for the massacre mentioned at the beginning of this article. "Meet the new boss," wrote Pete Townsend, "same as the old boss."
You get the picture. Given the temper of the times, and given his lackluster personality, Raul is unlikely to gather the same media plaudits as his brother. But he's already being described as "pragmatic," "efficient," "a skillful manager," "more open," etc. by the mainstream media.
And, based on their track record, why wouldn't you believe them?
Humberto Fontova is the author of Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Visit http://www.hfontova.com/