National Security & Defense

Outlaw Librarians

Fidel Castro in 2003 (Reuters photo: Claudia Daut)
Thought crime in Cuba, and here

Cuba is a country with outlaw librarians.

A great deal has happened since Fidel Castro launched his first attack on the Cuban government of caudillo Fulgencio Batista in 1953. Castro was arrested after his failed assault on the Moncada Barracks, and Batista pardoned him instead of simply having him shot. He should have known better: He himself came to power through a military coup against an authoritarian president. His misjudged the threat presented by Castro.

Castro would not repeat that mistake. He murdered dissidents — men, women, and children — by the thousands, imprisoned them by the thousands, tortured them by the thousands. His colleague, T-shirt icon Che Guevara, kept the firing squads humming and the torture chambers full while hoping for nuclear war — the world, he said, must have Communism, “even if this costs millions of atomic victims.”

Fidel Castro was a funny kind of Communist. He died either a billionaire or just short of it and made sure his family grew wealthy, too. That’s par for the course with these champions of the people: María Gabriela Chávez, the daughter of Castro’s Venezuelan comrade, is one of the richest women in the world, with a net worth nearly twice that of Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel — a neat trick for someone who has never had anything that you’d really consider a job. Castro could have given the Kardashians a lesson in tackiness: He liked to wear two Rolex watches on the same wrist in a gaudy display of personal wealth.

But perhaps his lack of proper proletarian manners can be explained by the fact that Castro had come to socialism rather late in life. Before he discovered the financial benefits of a Moscow sponsorship, he had been a member of the Partido Ortodoxo, the political organ of the anti-Communist Eduardo Chibás. Partido Ortodoxo was, like the European fascist parties that inspired it, a motley mix of socialists, nationalists, social reactionaries, and militarists, a grand union of the antidemocratic and illiberal political tendencies. It brought together radicals, reformers, and would-be revolutionaries from both the Left and the Right, and to that extent is suited Fidel Castro perfectly: He was, above all else, a political entrepreneur. When the Partido Ortodoxo could bring him close to power, he was a nationalist; when an alliance with the racist Che Guevara was beneficial, he was a racist, and to this day Afro-Cubans are excluded from the most desirable work in much of the Cuban economy; when socialism could keep him in power and make him wealthy, he was a socialist; at the end of his life, he was writing long essays about global warming. The man could read a market.

But about those librarians . . .

Castro never forgot the lesson he taught Batista. Any political threat was potentially a mortal threat. That meant not only that dissidents were tortured and murdered but that any potential source of social instability was treated as though it were treason. Homosexuals were sent to gulags (the Military Units to Aid Production) where they were remanded without trial to forced labor. Later, when HIV made its appearance in Cuba, those infected were imprisoned in sanitaria; incredibly, life for ordinary Cubans grew so miserable and dire that some young Cubans intentionally contracted HIV, because they had heard that sanitarium prisoners were fed three times a day.

‘What does Mr. Hentoff know of the real Cuba?’ one Castro sycophant asked. ‘I know that if I were a Cuban, I’d be in prison,’ he answered.

If you want to maintain absolute control over a people in that condition, you simply cannot allow the free flow of information. American liberals may be naïve enough to fall for your imaginative fictions of universal health care and literacy (strange that the same progressives who believe that 9/11 was a hoax accept Cuban government statistics without question) but ordinary Cubans are not in the main afflicted by expensive miseducation. Their minds must be carefully pruned.

The answer, of course, is to ban “terrorist” literature. The speeches of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.? Terrorist propaganda. The U.N. Declaration of Universal Human Rights? Terrorist literature. The great civil libertarian Nat Hentoff dedicated a great deal of work to documenting these stories. He was denounced as an outside agitator. “What does Mr. Hentoff know of the real Cuba?” one Castro sycophant asked.

“I know that if I were a Cuban, I’d be in prison,” he answered.

RELATED: The Book Burners

Writing can be a genuinely revolutionary act, as it so often was in our own revolution. But simply making literature available can be revolutionary — and dangerous. The publishing concern established by Lodewijk Elzevir (which lends its name to the modern publisher Elsevier) in the 16th century published a great deal of what would come to be known as (another gift of Communist-inspired neologism!) samizdat, including some of the later works of Galileo, the distribution of which was forbidden. Some brave man had to smuggle that manuscript out of Florence and into the Netherlands, just as other brave men would smuggle copies of Doctor Zhivago into the Soviet Union and Bibles into North Korea.

There is something wrong with your society if you have outlaw librarians.

#related#But that is a lesson we keep refusing to learn. The United States is not Cuba or North Korea, and it is not going to be. But is it a country in which a significant part of the population, including practically all of the leaders of one of its two major political parties, believes that the government should have the right to ban the showing of films critical of presidential candidates. The Obama administration has gone before the Supreme Court and argued that it should be empowered to ban books in the name of “campaign finance reform.” Harry Reid led every Democrat in the Senate in a vote to repeal the First Amendment, and our so-called liberals cheered. President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he wants to change American laws to make it easier to suppress media criticism of political leaders and other public figures.

We are not a country with outlaw librarians or one in which political literature is samizdat. With any luck, one day the same will be true of Cuba. But history is not a ratchet that turns only in the direction of liberty, and there is nothing poisonous in the Cuban water supply that causes Castros or anything magical in the American air that prevents their thriving here. Unlike the people of Cuba, we have every reason to know what is going on in the world, and no excuse to fail to learn from it.


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