When Did the Left Know the Truth about Cuba, and Why Does it Still Support the Communist Regime?
Much has already been written about Fidel Castro’s passing, but I would like to add a few thoughts in the days left before his funeral. In the summer of 1973, I experienced life under Castro when I went on an extended trip to the island organized by the pro-Castro Center for Cuban Studies. Traveling around the country, I observed close-up what it was like to live in the Communist state and I didn’t like what I saw. Afterwards, I wrote about it for the left-wing magazine Liberation, which consequently was bombarded with angry letters calling me a traitor to the Left. Later, I included the experience in my memoir describing how it contributed to my political transformation.
Like many others of my generation, including my colleague Roger L. Simon, I was at first mesmerized by Castro’s seductive allure and promises of creating a Cuba freed from authoritarian and corrupt rule. I was hopeful when he said that Cuba would have free elections and would be a non-Communist state that would work to bring equality to Cuba’s people.
Many members of the New Left transferred their parents’ idolization of Joseph Stalin to Fidel Castro, whom they saw as the premier revolutionary hero of their generation. They believed that Fidel, unlike Stalin, would bring a humanist revolution to Cuba, in contrast to the failures of the old Cuban Communist Party. Like the Columbia University best-selling sociologist C. Wright Mills, they believed, as Mills wrote, “I am for the Cuban revolution. I do not worry about it. I worry for it and with it.”
However, these admirers of Castro’s regime could have seen his true colors right from the start when scores of so-called followers of Batista were executed by firing squads without trial. Castro rationalized it by saying they deserved such a fate because they had worked for Batista’s authoritarian regime. But soon afterwards, other dissenters and opponents of the turn towards socialism became political prisoners and were regularly tortured to make them confess to imaginary crimes, or simply because Castro saw torture as justified extra punishment.
One follower of Castro was shocked. Carlos Franqui operated Castro’s radio station “Radio Rebelde” from the Sierra Maestra, where Castro and his armed bands were fighting Batista. In his memoir of the revolutionary struggle, Family Portrait With Fidel (1984), Franqui, then the editor of the official revolutionary newspaper Revolucion, noted how surprised he was to hear reports of the torture of counterrevolutionary suspects. Bringing news of this to Fidel Castro, Franqui quickly learned that the torture had the leader's blessings. When Mr. Franqui raised the issue of the moral degradation torture implies, Castro told him that it ''annihilates the enemy'' and hence was necessary. Eventually Franqui left Cuba and moved first to Italy and later to Puerto Rico, where he became one of the leading Cuban opponents of the regime he once served.