Forever Fighting Fidel: In Praise of Andy Garcia
Not all Hollywood stars are knee-jerk “limousine liberals,” “Cadillac communists” or “Penthouse Bolsheviks” (to use a term coined in the Thirties to describe the excessive admiration many chic New Yorkers had for Stalin). And one of those exceptions is Andrés Arturo Garcia Menéndez, known to the world as Andy Garcia.
Of course, Andy - who has been a friend of mine for about ten years - had good reason to wander off the Hollywood liberal reservation. He was born in Cuba in 1956, just before the revolution, to a family opposed to Fidel Castro. They left the country when Andy was five and he has been fighting for his people against the Comandante/Caudillo’s totalitarian rule practically ever since.
When I first met Andy, I was a lefty myself, so we didn’t discuss politics much. We came together over a screenplay I had written called The Gardener, about an illegal alien living in LA, that Garcia wanted to star in. We never found the money, but remained friends, staying in touch often in an attempt to revive the movie that never got made. I also had an interest in things Cuban, having gone to see the seemingly-heroic, at least at the time, Castro speak in Central Park when I was thirteen-years old. Later (1979), I was a delegate to the first festival of the “New” Latin American Cinema in Havana. It was one of my first brushes with communism from the inside and some of my early disaffection with the left (yes, it took a long time for me to divorce myself) must stem from that trip. Cuba was like an island-sized jail to me then and, despite its beauty, I couldn’t have been more eager to leave.
But I maintained my interest in the subject and when I read last week that a demonstration was planned - led by Andy Garcia - in LA’s Echo Park in honor of Cuba’s Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White who fight for the freedom of family members incarcerated by the Castro regime), I phoned Andy to tell him I would like to come for PJTV. Not that it would have mattered. When the cameraman and I arrived at Echo Park on Sunday, we were surrounded by Cuban-Americans eager to tell their stories.
You can see that all on PJTV, but I would like to underscore how politically aware the Cubans at this demonstration were. And how sick they were of Hollywood, especially the love affair many of my colleagues have with Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. That love affair is reminiscent of the attraction those “Penthouse Bolsheviks” referred to in my opening graph had for Stalin, as in Steven Soderbergh’s endless encomium to Che and Oliver Stone’s semi-sexualized crush on Castro, not to mention on Hugo Chavez.
But those are only obvious examples. This twisted love for totalitarians permeates much of the Hollywood culture. A director friend of mine told me with amusement that while on one of those Eighties cultural exchanges to Cuba, his wife couldn’t resist planting a big kiss on Castro’s cheek when the dictator made a surprise appearance at a reception they were attending. Such stories are typical.
I doubt Soderbergh or Stone or certainly the director’s wife ever spoke with Huber Matos, perhaps the most moving speaker at the Echo Park demonstration. In his nineties now, Matos was one of Fidel’s original comrades in the fight against Batista . But he made the mistake of voicing concern that the revolution was turning communist. For that, Che, in his typical fashion, wanted to put Matos in front of a firing squad (Al paredon!), but Fidel, not wanting to turn him into a martyr, intervened. Instead, the Caudillo incarcerated his former comrade for his views in the notorious prison at the Isle of Youth. There, Matos was tortured and had his cojones cut (quite literally) as he waited for twenty years to get out.
But back to the demonstration, the many Castro prisoners of today and Andy Garcia. These days, Cuba seems to be pretty much off our radar, except where Fidel’s health is concerned or for debates about the degree his brother Raúl is loosening things up (answer: not much). And given the interests of the current administration - its seeming disinterest in the activities of totalitarian regimes - this is not likely to change. All the more reason Andy Garcia - actor and Laker fan - is to be praised and supported. And, as you will see in the video, in LA’s Echo Park last weekend he was getting plenty of that praise and support from his fellow Cuban-Americans (and from Perez Hilton!). He deserves it.