US President Barack Obama and others stand in front of a monument to Che Guevara during a ceremony at the José Martí Memorial in Havana, Cuba on March 21, 2016. (AP Photo / Dennis Rivera)
“I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President. Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption." (U.S. President Barack Obama, March 22, Havana Cuba.)
“I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime." (U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Oct 24, 1963.)
It’s understandable that two U.S. Presidents should hail the resourcefulness and guile of American businessmen. But liberal Democrats aren’t exactly renown for that sort of thing. And read right, the above statements imply exactly such praise—if somewhat backhandedly. The (seemingly) apologetic statements also imply condescension for those poor, stupid, corrupt Cuban natives who were such easy marks for sharp Yankee robber barons.
You’d never guess this from the media, Hollywood or your professors (or speechwriters for Democratic presidents), but in 1953 more Cubans vacationed in the U.S. (and voluntarily returned to Cuba) than Americans in Cuba. Yes, pre-Castro Cubans found the U.S. “a nice place to visit, but they certainly wouldn’t want to live there.” All this despite the friendliness and quaint habits of the natives -- and despite the ability to emigrate from Cuba virtually at will and obtain U.S. visas virtually for the asking. During the 1950s and based in Florida, Sheriff Joe Arpaio would have been lonelier than the Maytag repairman.
Obama and Kennedy were describing a nation (pre-Castro Cuba) with 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. Furthermore, in 1959 U.S. investments in Cuba accounted for only 14 percent the island’s GNP, and. U.S.-owned companies employed only 7 per cent of Cuba's workforce.
In 1958 the Cuban Embassy in Rome had a backlog of 12,000 applications for immigrant visas from Italians clamoringto immigrate to Cuba. "A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in -- and how many want out," famously quipped Tony Blair. Well, millions of people “voted with their feet” in favor of pre-socialist Cuba.
Indeed, pre-Castro Cuba took in more immigrants per capita (primarily from Europe) than the U.S., including the Ellis Island years. This flood of (fellow First World) “wetbacks” was so alarming that in 1933, as a stopgap against all these foreign rascals horning in on the “Cuban dream,” the Cuban government passed laws more draconian than anything in Arizona or Georgia today -- laws to make the hearts of Donald Trump supporters sing with joy. A majority of employees at all Cuban businesses, this law mandated, had to be “natural-born” Cubans.
Oh, I know, I know…none of this was featured in Godfather II. And as we hear from some of contemporary America’s top educators:
“I mean everybody who saw Godfather II knows what it was like when Castro took over.” (Chris Matthews, Hardball, Oct. 20, 2011.)
“All I know about pre-Castro Cuba I learned from the Godfather II.” (Jon Stewart, July 23, 2008.)
The Media loves to dwell on how a few U.S. mobsters once bribed a few Cuban politicians to allow a few casinos in Havana. To hear them tell it, this tiny sideline of an economy that was overwhelmingly Cuban-owned, export and manufacturing-oriented, and provided Cubans with a per capita income higher than that of most Europeans made Cuba a hopelessly wretched place screaming for a communist revolution.
Actually: in 1955 Cuba contained a grand total of three gambling casinos, the biggest was at the Tropicana and featured ten gambling tables and thirty slot machines. The Hotel Nacional featured seven roulette wheels and twenty-one slot machines. By contrast, in 1955 the single Riviera Casino in Las Vegas featured twenty tables and one hundred and sixteen slot machines. This means that in 1955: one Las Vegas Casino had more gambling action than all of Cuba.
Cuba’s tourism industry as a whole generated $60 million in 1958. Havana by itself had 42 hotels. The Mob reputedly had financial interest in 7 of these–and these didn’t include among them Cuba’s biggest hotel, the Habana Hilton. Instead the biggest hotel on the island was majority-owned by the pension plan of the Cuban Federation of Gastronomic Food Workers. This fully-documented historical datum, needless to add, doesn’t mesh well with the fairy tale narrative about Cuba’s horribly exploited working class of the time, now does it?
Later the Castro regime’s partnership with Colombia's cocaine cowboys made mob boss Meyer Lansky's deal with Batista look like a nickel and dime gratuity. And the murder tally from the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas, who partner with Cuban officials in the Yucatan, equals about one St Valentine’s Day Massacre every ten hours for five years.
"We lived like kings in Cuba," revealed Medellin Cartel bosses Carlos Lehder and Alejandro Bernal during their trials in the '80s and '90s. "Fidel made sure nobody bothered us.”
In 1996 a federal prosecutor in south Florida told the Miami Herald, "The case we have against Raul Castro right now is much stronger than the one we had against Manuel Noriega in 1988." Four grand juries at the time had disclosed Cuba's role in drug smuggling into the U.S. The Clinton administration, hellbent on cozying up to Castro at the time, refused to press ahead with the case against the Castro brothers' dope trafficking.
You might recall that a similar crime by a Latin dictator (Manuel Noriega) got his nation (Panama) invaded by 26,000 U.S. troops. In the process, 23 American servicemen were killed and 350 Panamanians (both military and civilian) died. As a result, Panama’s sovereign head of state Manuel Noriega was captured, tried, convicted and jailed for drug trafficking.
The U.S. response to the Cuban dope-traffickers, mass-murderers and terror-sponsors -- as dramatized quite recently with Obama's “historic” presidential visit -- has been markedly different.