It has long been a painful subject, and a frequent one in this column: the support that people in free countries give to totalitarian dictatorships elsewhere. The hatred they express of people in unfree countries who are trying to gain some freedom for themselves.
Here is a report from the Associated Press. It concerns Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban dissident and blogger who has been let out of the country for a tour. (Very welcome news, by the way.) The report is from Brazil:
Small groups of protesters met Sanchez when she arrived earlier Monday at two airports in Brazil’s northeast. They called her a “mercenary” who was being financed by the CIA and tossed photocopied U.S. dollar bills her way. One protester got close enough to pull her hair.
She was supposed to attend a screening of a documentary — a documentary that features her. But the Castro supporters prevented the event from taking place.
. . . about four dozen protesters surrounded her the moment she walked through the door, shouting “Cuba yes! Yankees no!” and forcing security guards to evacuate her to a nearby room.
She said, “I was expecting it. Even before leaving Cuba I knew this could happen. It’s sad, because I’ve been waiting one year for this. I really wanted to see the film.”
For many years — decades — a question has been asked: “Can there be a decent Left?” A Left that is not anti-democratic and illiberal? Such a Left is not easy to find. In every free country, there are those who would have the country unfree — and themselves in charge. If you think this is untrue of the United States — that our “exceptionalism” runs that far — I have a bridge to sell you.
In February 2010, Lula da Silva, then the Brazilian president, visited Cuba. He was a great star in the world — the toast of Davos and so on. And, of course, he had been freely and democratically elected.
On his visit to Cuba, he schmoozed with his pals the Castros, and lent them his legitimacy. He refused to meet with dissidents. While Silva was in the country, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Cuban prisoner of conscience, finished his hunger strike: that is, died. Silva just poured scorn on him, defending the Castros.
And Silva himself had been a hunger striker, back when he was a prisoner of Brazil’s military dictatorship! He was treated better than his friends in Cuba have ever treated their prisoners.
Why do people in free countries support dictators and hate the people who would have their own countries free? It is a painful and vexing human phenomenon. I saw it in my hometown of Ann Arbor, and I’ve seen it, I’m sorry to say, ever since.
American politicians have been in Cuba too. They went earlier this week to try to win the freedom of Alan Gross, as I understand it. Gross is the American hostage who was seized in December 2009. That’s a long time, to be a hostage. I wrote about his case in a piece for National Review two years ago — here.
This latest delegation was composed of some of the leftmost members of our House and Senate. The usual suspects: Patrick Leahy, Jim McGovern . . . Missing were two of the Castros’ best friends in all the world: Representatives Charlie Rangel and José Serrano. I can’t explain why they were not on the trip.
There was a Republican in the delegation: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. His thinking on Cuba is much like the Democrats’, as far as I can tell.
This report says, “Leahy and other members of the delegation were seen entering an upscale restaurant in Old Havana along with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at midday Tuesday.” The gang “also dined with Parliament chief Ricardo Alarcon on Monday and toured Ernest Hemingway’s former villa.”
How sweet. Really sweet. But did they meet with dissidents? Did they ask to do so? Did they attempt to visit prisoners of conscience? Don’t you think representatives of the United States ought to do so?
You do? You are a warmonger and Neanderthal, aren’t you!
According to this report, “organizers of a Carnival festival in the Mexican port city of Veracruz say 15 Cuban musicians and dancers have gone missing after marching in the city’s annual parade.” I have been reading stories like this my entire life. How about you? Baseball players defect, ballerinas defect (except for Alicia), everyone defects. I’m always amazed that the dictatorship still lets people out, even with their minders. I’m glad they do.
Have a look at this report: “Two mortars exploded next to a soccer stadium in central Damascus Wednesday, killing one player and injuring several . . .” I’m surprised that soccer is being played in Syria right now. The urge to continue with normal life must be overpowering.
Normal life: That’s what most people want. But other people, of course, won’t let them have it.
Speaking of life normal and abnormal: In Greece, the unemployment rate is nearly 30 percent. That is something many did not expect to see, ever, in a modern Western country. How long can life go on like that? Until it can’t, I guess . . .
I confess, I smiled when I saw this headline: “Minnesota congressman arrives in Mogadishu.” Just struck me as funny. Minnesota has a big Somalian population, and that is particularly true of Minneapolis-St. Paul, I think.
For the article — the article below the headline — go here.
(A junior-high math teacher of mine, in Michigan, was a Somalian immigrant. And remember what a big deal Iman, the model, was? Beautiful woman. And not atypical of her country.)
Speaking of headlines, here is one I thought was a little off: “Saudi withdraws Sri Lanka envoy in execution tiff.” The article began, “Saudi Arabia says it has called back its ambassador to Sri Lanka following a similar move by the South Asian nation to protest the kingdom’s beheading of a Sri Lankan domestic worker last month.”
The words “tiff” and “execution” don’t go together, in my judgment.
Like you, maybe, I’ve been reading Boris Johnson for a long time. And I have long had a thought — intensified by his two most recent columns for the Telegraph. The first is on eating horsemeat; the second is on a proposed “mansion tax.”
And the thought is this: Isn’t it kind of weird that one of the most beautiful prose stylists in the English language is a politician? Is mayor of London? I’m not sure you’d want him as a moral example for your children (although, the way parenting is going, who knows?). But the sumbitch can certainly write.
Of course, they do that in Britain: write, and enter politics, and both. Think of Michael Gove and Daniel Hannan: Officeholders though they may be, they are writin’ fools, like Boris.
Anyway . . .
I heard something that may make you laugh. I was having dinner with an artist friend in Greenwich Village. And he was talking about someone who was relatively “square,” in this milieu: “For one thing, he is the same gender he was at birth. For another . . .”
I think you’ll like a letter too. It responds to an item I had in Impromptus about Jalen Rose, the hoops star. Years ago, a few kind souls called me “Jalen” on the basketball court. I couldn’t live up to the name, obviously, but I did love it. (Its first syllable is the same as my name, as you know.)
A reader writes, “I was never referred to as Jalen — but when I made a turn-around fade-away, I’d holler ‘E,’ for Elvin Hayes. And if I made a nice acrobatic drive to the hole, I’d say, ‘The Doctor makes a house call!’”
That refers to Julius Erving, of course. I saw Dr. J once — at a political event, a fundraiser for Bill Bradley. Smoove. One of the most athletic-looking people I ever saw, just walking, or rather, gliding in his business suit.
You may ask, Was I ever called Dr. J? Yes, of course. And — equally of course — could not live up to that one either.
I think I’ll end with another letter — this one concerning a different type of performer, Elton John. I had an item about him in a column last week. He dedicated a concert in Beijing to Ai Weiwei, the artist who has been hounded, and was once disappeared, by the Chinese rulers. They didn’t like the dedication so much.
A reader in Jerusalem writes,
Elton John is a mensch of the highest order.
In the summer of 2010 he was scheduled to give a concert in Israel, and all the usual suspects tried to pressure him to cancel the concert and boycott Israel. But Elton stood his ground and made the appearance.
For our family this was personal, since our number-two son asked for two tickets to the Elton John concert for his high-school graduation. We gave them to him. He took a girl from his class, and the two of them had a great time. It was a very big deal for our son.
A few months later he was inducted into the army and while still in basic training was diagnosed with leukemia. He’s okay now, but it was touch-and-go for a while.
I don’t know why, but it occurred to me at the time that the Elton John concert was the last big fun event in our son’s life before he became ill, and if things had worked out differently it would have been the last big fun event in his young life, period.
It’s hard to overstate how much it means to people here in Israel when someone of the stature of Elton John comes here to perform. For young people, especially, attending such a performance can be a tremendous and unforgettable experience (like the Simon and Garfunkel concert I attended 30 years ago).
And when someone like Elton John defies the critics and the boycotters and makes a stand for culture and for decency? That takes on almost heroic proportions.
Thanks for joining me, dear readers, and catch you soon.
To order Jay Nordlinger’s book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.