Ron Radosh

The American Left Takes a New Look at Castro's Cuba

For many years, since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the American New Left has had an unending love affair with Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Despite the mounting of evidence that Castro transformed an authoritarian dictatorship into a prison island controlled by a Marxist-Leninist totalitarian party, with hundreds of political prisoners, the American Left’s admiration for and support of Castro has seemed to be a permanent fixture of our lives.

The view of that New Left was expressed boldly by the late C.Wright Mills, whose old book Listen Yankee!, a tome to the Revolution in which the Columbia University sociologist spoke in the name of the Cuban revolutionary addressing his US audience, asked for Americans to support their cause. As Mills wrote, “I do not worry about the Cuban Revolution. I worry for it and with it.” Already slightly disillusioned with the Soviet Union, although they were grateful for its support of Castro, they transferred the Old Left’s love for Stalin to their own love for Fidel.

Conservatives have regularly paid much attention to the Cuban reality. Over the years, Jay Nordlinger at National Review Online, on his regular Impromptus column, has alerted us to the pain and suffering of the brave dissidents in Cuba who continue to speak out on behalf of democracy, despite all the serious costs attached to their effort.  And at Frontpagemag.com, Humberto Fontova has regularly devoted himself to telling his readers the truth about Cuba.

But recently, it appears that the once monolithic support by the American Left to the Cuban Revolution is beginning to dissipate. Two surprising examples of this have just now come to light. The Chicago based radical newsweekly, In These Times, (which when it started decades ago was a weekly socialist newspaper on which both I and David Horowitz were editorial board sponsors), has now issued a special issue titled “Inside Cuba: Voices from the Island-The Revolution at 50.” (Dec.2009 issue)

The issue begins with an article by Leonardo Padura Fuentes, the country’s best known novelist, (not online) in which the author dares to ask what to many should be obvious: “If the Island is some kind of oasis for justice, equality, security, education and healthcare, why did so many Cubans want to emigrate?” In a partial answer, he writes: “The miracle is that we survive…A notable and increasing percentage of the population is impoverished and either apathetic or focused on exile as the answer.” As for their socialist economy, he says it “is dysfunctional.” Would Michael Moore read this. It might give him pause. The author’s conclusion- after noting he hopes that Raul Castro is seeking new ways to deal with their problems, is this: “The better future that was promised and dreamed of, the future that would come after so many sacrifices, continues to be postponed. Instead, there’s always talk about new and more sacrifices.”  No wonder everyone would flee if they could.

Another Cuban writer, who writes short stories and performs in a hip-hop group, Yohamna Depestre, tells us by concrete example just how difficult it is to get by on any particular day. Writing in the voice of an average citizen, who just wants to survive and hopefully get enough to eat for their family, Depestre gives us a vivid picture of how one must deal with a bankrupt and horrendous bureaucracy, and how every day there is yet another fight that is “always about money.” And Ms. Depestre works in a government publishing office.

The magazine does us a service by reprinting an online editorial that appeared in the official Cuban Communist youth paper Juventud Rebelde, in which a staff writer, Jose Alejandro Rodriguez, dared to complain about their inability to convey accurate information about their own country to its citizens, even though journalists like himself wanted to do nothing less.  Rodriguez was made that “information can get through neither our economy’s nor our society’s excessive centralization, and that hinders our democratic potential.” Who is surprised about that? If the author was, he didn’t have to wait long. As ITT’s editor notes in an addendum, “several hours after its publication, the article vanished from the site,” and was never republished or put into the newspaper’s archives. That the author framed his editorial in the terms of helping to make a really democratic socialism work helped not one bit. If his approach was a ruse, it didn’t work.

The magazine follows it with a fascinating look at the development of “Guerrilla Blogging,” the new way in which dissident Cubans are making their voices heard. Orlando Luis Pardo Laza,. Editor of a Cuban e-zine and author of several books. writes about the new blogs which continue to appear, despite the giant and often impossible steps their authors have to take to even get to a computer with access to the outside world. The article gives readers the websites to look at, and informs us of the different approaches taken by the various bloggers. Of course he gives attention to the most famous of the group, Yoani Sanchez, whose new worldwide fame has to date protected her against serious reprisal, although he notes the various serious measures the regime is contemplating to put a stop to it. Cuban official websites now refer to Sanchez  with a swastika and the words CIA written after her name. One law, which might be enforced when no one is looking, is that of “dangerous pre-criminality.” All the bloggers know that their names are on the list of those who could soon be charged with violation.

Finally, two other major articles revise views that have been recently said to prove how Cuba has changed for the better. They meant to publish an article about the reality in Cuba for gays, but the author Mario Jose Delgado Gonzales, was jailed by the regime before he could write it. Instead, ITT reprints entries from a Cuban illegal gay blog. The entries give lie to the much touted claim that the regime has ended its early policy of suppression of homosexuals. Recall that when the actor and Castro lover Sean Penn went to Cuba a few years ago, his daughter yelled at Castro for their anti-gay policy. The “Maximum Leader” told her, to Penn’s evident satisfaction, how the old retrograde macho views of the Revolution’s early years was a thing of the past.

As one reads these entries, it is clear that the reality is that, as their headline says, that “Not much has changed since Reinaldo Arenas’ time,” when gays were either thrown in maximum security brutal prisons- as was Arenas,- or in mental asylums. Forget about the radical gay agenda, that many conservatives oppose. Gays have no rights in Cuba, as the record of arrests noted in this excerpt of blogs reveals.   The second article deals with the influence and problems facing rock musicians in Cuba. For decades, rock was prohibited and viewed as dangerous and degenerate Western music that revolutionary youth had to be protected against. Written by a man called Yoss, the name used by Jose Miguel Sanchez Gomez, a noted Cuban writer and lead singer of a hard rock group. So many years since the birth of the Revolution, he writes, “rock still strikes a discordant note for some.”  He concludes: “The Cuban state…would like to take advantage of rock’s mobilizing capacity to entertain/control youth who, more and more, see their own and their country’s future as less clearly intertwined.” But they cannot, since even official groups stray from the official line, and become what he calls both “irreverent” and “profane,” necessitating a total ban.  Perhaps what they need is capitalism, which can easily co-opt and tame the incipient rebellion, making it into a profitable money-maker for record companies that have no problem with the kind of music that bothers the commissars.

The other recent exploration of Cuba, less critical than that by the Cubans who write in ITT, appears in the Dec.14th issue of The Nation.  An émigré novelist, Jose Manuel Prieto, offers “Travels by Taxi,” in which Prieto takes off on the apparent familiarity of  taxi drivers around the world with the image of Castro, whom they seem to all both know and admire. Prieto thinks that the United States fell for Castro’s intentional provocation—to make the US its eternal enemy—and thus by treating him and his revolution as an enemy, allowed him to make Cuba into a rather horrible place.

Ignore his reasoning for the Revolution’s trajectory; Prieto sees its very dark side, beginning with the vile executions carried out by Che Guevara, as he puts it, “joyously.” For Che, he writes, was a man who doesn’t care “whom he tramples along the way.” It’s alright for those who believe “in the inevitability of revolutionary violence and its cauterizing and salubrious effects,” but if you are like him, it is “an error into which a country must never fall.”The result is what he calls “an ever-presence of fear in Cuba,” a fear instilled by its rulers, and that deeply effects its citizens.

Prieto sees the fear as constant and irreversible. Referring to the ten thousands signatures of those brave Cubans who called for democratic elections, he points out that it was hardly a victory, since nothing will come of it. He does not like those Latin American intellectuals who still revere Fidel, and see him as “the greatest fabulist of his time,” a performance artist who is nothing less than that, and not a great leader. Thus they forgive him “for having taken an entire country prisoner, for the terrible impoverishment of its life,” all in the service of a conflict with the United States and which leads the leaders to keep Cuba in “an eternal stage of emergency.”

For those like Prieto, who hoped that a new generation would create a humane and democratic socialism, he found quickly that adherence to a would-be democratic form of socialism was not sufficient to let their voices be heard. Castro, he writes, “chose to betray us. Utterly,” and kicked them out of the game. Why? He give the answer: “True socialism can’t be reformed,” and would end quickly in its collapse and dismemberment. There could be no Cuban Gorbachev, he knows. “I’m sure of it.” Thus, he bemoans the truth that there will be “no Second Cuban Revolution to rectify and cleanse away the evils, violence and social harms of the first one.” Instead, he thinks there will be small steps that will lead to rejection of the anti-democratic character of the regime, perhaps lead by military leaders who might eventually form a political party. Such a party, he hopes, will cease “to be the State Leviathan that exists today, renouncing its monstrous privilege, which is a thousand times more abhorrent than the endemic corruption of pre-1959 Cuba.”

These words in The Nation and those in the monthly In These Times are at times contradictory, confused and sometimes ambivalent. Nonetheless, they are strong words for the left-wing readers who until recently, have stood by the Castro brothers and have defended their regime. They must come as somewhat of a shock to their readers, who might wonder how such bourgeois deviations have made their way into its pages. Now if we could only get these words to Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Harry Belafonte, Michael Moore and all the other remaining sycophants of Fidel and Raul Castro.  Is it too late for even these people to learn something?