(Originally appeared 04/18/12, Portland IndyMedia)
The situation screams McCarthy-era thought police that here in 2012 we have such a crystal clear example of spineless American public commentary and discourse, all in unified lockstep behind the apoplectic and cowardly smears against Cuba’s former leader and revolutionary icon Fidel Castro.
Ever since Miami Marlins baseball manager Ozzie Guillen created a media firestorm with his Time magazine quote that he “loves Castro” and admires his longevity in power, apparently everyone with an opinion on the subject is assuming he or she is socially and historically safe to dismissively label the Comandante in a variety of horrific and self-serving ways:
Everything from “a murderous oppressor” (Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com) and “a mass murdering dictator” (John Suarez, Fox News Latino) to denouncing “the atrocities (the Castro regime) . . . had inflicted on the Cuban people” (Alejandro Escalona, Chicago Sun-Times) to assigning direct responsibility for “not only Cuban Americans but also Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and others living in South Florida who were forced to leave their countries in the past decades because their leaders cozied up to Fidelismo” (Miami Herald). Talk about punching above your weight.
It’s as if the greatest mass murdering despot and international war criminal of all time remains gleefully perched 90 miles off the south Florida shores still lording over an enslaved nation for more than fifty years in power! Like an overly long black-and-white cold war b-movie mystery, how in the name of Che Guevara has this abomination been allowed to go on and on right under our noses?
How can anyone anywhere possibly think or say anything good about Fidel Castro and the Communist Party of Cuba? Not on your life in the United States of America, let me tell you brother. And certainly never in that freedom loving bastion of Little Havana, Florida! You’d have to be a fool, a dupe or some kind of Americano terrorist. Know what I mean, comrade?
Hey, call me crazy, call me a commie, but know this: for starters, the critical societal indicators of infant mortality rate, literacy rate, and life expectancy in Cuba are the same and sometimes much better than the United States, much less its Latin American neighbors. You can look it up.
And what The New York Times confidently describes as a “violent and destructive reign” has produced the following deplorable conditions, according to the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009: “Cuban social policy holds the State accountable for health and its citizens the beneficiaries. The country’s health policies promote sustainable human development with the objectives of greater well-being and a higher quality of life, primarily in the areas of health, education, culture, employment, safety, and social welfare.”
Socialist propaganda, I realize, coming from the UN and all. But there’s more: “Despite the (US-sponsored) economic blockade, the Cuban economy achieved sustained economic growth for three decades, with an annual average GDP growth of 3.1%. Over 60% of current budgetary expenditures have been allocated specifically for health, education, safety, and social welfare.”
Hmmm. I wonder if, say, Puerto Rico, the nearby island quasi-nation enjoying the capitalist fruits of US governance can make a similar WHO claim regarding Cuba: “Today, infectious diseases account for only .1% of deaths. In the past four decades these diseases have gradually been overtaken by noncommunicable diseases, which today account for more than 90% of deaths. The changes in the country’s mortality profile have most benefited Cuba’s children. Mortality in children under 5 has declined markedly and steadily, and at a rate of 8.0 per 1,000 live births, represents 1.1% of deaths for all ages.”
Perhaps these and other similar facts were foremost in his mind when that avowed leftist peacenik and then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked to Congress in April 2001 that “Fidel Castro has done some good things for his people.”
Another case in point: Cuban doctors and health care workers have been a trademark Cuban export since the early 1970’s. Generating hard currency for the regime, as well as immeasurable international respect and goodwill from around the world, Cuban medical brigades have treated the world’s poorest and most isolated in a program unmatched in modern times. More than 37,000 Cuban health care workers are currently stationed abroad, according to published reports.
For example, more than 300 Cuban health care workers were already in country when the earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 outright leveled an already impoverished Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, in 2010. Cuba sent in dozens more health care workers in the quake’s aftermath.
Closer to home, Cuba offered to send some 1,600 medics, field hospitals and 83 tons of medical supplies to the US Gulf coast when hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, according to media reports. The Bush administration famously turned down the offer, even though it could not muster the will or the means to prevent US citizens from dying of exposure on live TV as they lined up for adequate assistance that never came on the streets of New Orleans outside the Louisiana Super Dome. Talk about caring for your own.
One year later, the Bush administration began the unprecedented (some might even say spiteful) policy of specifically enticing the storied international Cuban doctors and health care technicians to defect by simply allowing them to make a refugee request at any US embassy or mission. According to the Wall Street Journal, the program known as the Cuban Medical Professional Parole immigration program has prompted more than 1,500 CMPP visas to be issued by U.S. consulates in 65 countries. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, try to steal ’em.
Now, shall we talk about walking the revolutionary walk, and not simply speaking extemporaneously for 5 hours in the blistering Havana sun? How about a consistent support for the African Nation Congress in its decades-long fight against US-supported apartheid South Africa? The close and enduring ties of solidarity and friendship between Fidel and Nelson Mandela are legendary. After being freed from jail, Mandela’s first visit outside Africa was to pay his respects to Fidel in Cuba. By comparison, Ronald Reagan labeled the ANC as terrorists. So much for US promotion of freedom and human rights.
As for boots on the ground, what about the Cuban military support of so many independence and revolutionary movements in Africa and Latin America? The greatest example is probably in Angola where Cuban forces over many years helped defeat an invasion of apartheid South African forces. Cuban forces also helped pave the way for Namibian independence from the same apartheid regime.
“Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers,” Nelson Mandela said in 1995, according to media reports. “They have shared the same trenches with us in the struggle against colonialism, underdevelopment, and apartheid. Hundreds of Cubans have given their lives, literally, in a struggle that was, first and foremost, not theirs but ours. As Southern Africans we salute them. We vow never to forget this unparalleled example of selfless internationalism.”
Listen, I don’t believe for one minute that Fidel Castro and his revolutionary regime are blameless in the arenas of domestic human and political rights violations. But when you’ve lived under the never ending physical threat of destruction and crippling embargoes since the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, you might tend to over compensate. Just a little bit.
And those aging Cuban Americans in south Florida yearning for the return of US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista? You know, I’d be angry too if my properties were confiscated in the forced land redistributions in the wake of the 1959 Castro revolution. Yes, those Cuban commies did that, as well as executed some of their enemies.
But just remember, it was a homegrown revolution against an oppressive regime that lost. As a result, the people that supported Batista and his system will always be angry vengeful exiles. However, that doesn’t mean they are the voice of reason, conscious, logic or truth when it comes to an understanding of the past, present or future of Cuba and its revolution. Not by a long shot, comrade.
Too bad you don’t see much intellectual honesty and courage these days in America, especially when it comes to an unpopular person or idea. Like Ozzie Guillen who was terrified and desperate not to lose his $10 million contract, too many mainstream corporate pundits and commentators are desperate not to take on any controversy that might cost them their well-paid jobs or loose high-end advertisers for their bosses.
The American media, it appears, remains all too eager to “play ball” when it comes to toeing the conventional fabricated anti-communist line regarding Fidel Castro and his true complete legacy.