I then told the audience of something Landau had said when he came back from a visit to Cuba soon after the Cuban revolution. Speaking to the University of Wisconsin socialist club, Landau said that “Fidel Castro had made the Cuban revolution without and against the wishes of the Cuban Communist Party.” Castro was, he insisted, a nationalist and humanist who believed in real democracy. As he would put it later in an article, Castro was both a Jeffersonian and a Marxist.
By the time of the debate, it had been well established that Castro, his brother Raul, and Che Guevara were all secret Marxist-Leninists, and no one disputed that they had worked hard to transform Cuba into both a Communist state and an ally of the Soviet Union in the Americas. I reminded the audience of what Landau had said after Castro took power, and told those in attendance:
You lied to us then about Castro and what he believed, just as you are lying to us now about the Sandinistas and what they intend for Nicaragua.
Landau, I recall, did not have any comeback to dispute my argument.
In 1988, Landau had established his connections with the American media, who saw him as their go-to guy if any television network wanted contacts that would allow them to report from Cuba. This was also the year in which the late Academy Award winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros, along with Jorge Ulla, produced the amazing film Nobody Listened — a two-hour documentary about political repression in Cuba by the Castro regime. (Almendros had previously made another documentary, Improper Conduct, about the Cuban regime’s repression of homosexuals.) I interviewed Almendros about the film, and in particular about the problems he was having getting PBS to broadcast it.
PBS had shown many pro-Castro films, including the film that first made Landau famous — his 1968 documentary Fidel, in which he drove around the Cuban countryside with the dictator. Landau depicted Fidel Castro as a concerned leader trying to interview his countrymen about their needs and hopes. It was perhaps the first film to establish for many that Castro was a great people’s leader, and this helped lead to the adulation of him by so many leftists and liberals.
Almendros and Ulla found it next to impossible to get their anti-Castro documentary broadcast. At the same time, Saul Landau was showing his new film about Castro’s Cuba, The Uncompromising Revolution, and was also sending it to potential TV networks for viewing.
Almendros told me that it was he who met Landau during his first trip to Cuba, introduced him to the film community, and who then taught him the art of filmmaking. Almendros said:
The biggest mistake in my life was to teach Saul Landau how to use a movie camera.
Eventually, after a long fight, PBS broadcast a truncated one-hour version of the Alemendros-Ulla documentary — but only on the condition that it was to be immediately followed by a panel made up of some pro-Castro commentators. Further, they insisted on a showing of Landau’s new pro-Castro film immediately afterward! (The full story of the travails Almendros had with PBS can be found here.)
Almendros told the press:
I saw the Landau film, and Jorge and I decided it was so bad that it couldn’t do our film any harm. Its “balance” would have no consequence against the crimes of the Castro regime. We decided it was better to have our film packaged with Landau’s than not shown at all. We were willing to accept any format to get our film on the air.
As for the main point, he added:
There’s something very wrong somewhere when PBS, funded by the American people … refuses to broadcast by itself a film about Cuba’s communist dictator.
This exposes the lie in the Washington Post obituary, where Landau is quoted as having told the paper in 1982:
I found Fidel a sympathetic figure and a hell of a good actor. You have 999 anti-Castro films. So why don’t you run one pro-Castro film?
The truth is that more pro-Castro films were — and are — shown on a regular basis, and hardly any opposed to the Cuban Communist state and to the Castro brothers make it to American television. This is even more true now than it was decades ago.
The further truth is that Saul Landau saw his main task to be that of gaining support for all third-world dictatorships of the Left. If they won their fight and weakened the United States, then it would be all the easier to attain “socialism” in “the belly of the beast,” as the Left called the United States.
When David Horowitz, then on the Left and editing Ramparts, condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Landau wrote a letter to the editor arguing that Castro was correct to support the invasion. If Czechoslovakia became independent and left the Communist bloc military alliance (the Warsaw Pact), he argued, it would weaken the Soviet Union. The USSR, he said, protected the Cuban Revolution from being overthrown, and therefore, the Soviet Union’s power had to be preserved against all assaults on it.