Writing about dictatorships, I have often noticed the overkill. (“Kill” is usually the right word, when it comes to dictatorships.) I should explain what I mean.
When the chavista regime in Venezuela wanted to arrest the mayor of Caracas at his office, they sent 120 agents — who broke glass as they went. (The mayor’s name was Antonio Ledezma.) Wouldn’t 110 have been enough? Maybe 90?
When Grace Gao went to school, the Chinese Communist Party made sure that seven or eight of its agents went with her, to spy on her every second. Even when she was in the bathroom. (Grace is the daughter of Gao Zhisheng, the great dissident.) Maybe four agents would have been enough?
You get my point.
Recently, I interviewed Catalina Serrano, the wife of Andrés Felipe Arias, who is, in effect, a Colombian political prisoner. I wrote about his case here.
In 2014, Arias and his family fled to America, to seek political asylum. They have never been granted a hearing. Instead, Arias is scheduled for extradition. He is a prisoner at the federal detention center in Miami.
He has been there since late September. But he spent another period in detention in 2016. That lasted from August to November. He was then released on bail, and fitted with an ankle monitor.
Catalina, his wife, told me about the morning in August ’16 when U.S. marshals came to take him away. (This was the beginning of the extradition process.) The family had been living here for two years. Arias had been working; the kids had been going to school. They were waiting for an asylum hearing.
It was 7 in the morning when the marshals arrived. They banged on the door so hard, Catalina thought they would break it. There were seven or eight of them, and they had guns slung across their chests. While Catalina took the Arias children to another room, the marshals handcuffed Arias and took him away.
Ten minutes later, Catalina took the children out to the schoolbus. There were still several police cars outside. It was all very … strange.
Fine. But let me ask: Did there have to be seven or eight marshals? With their guns slung across their chests? Did the hour have to be 7 in the morning?
When Arias appeared in court, he was shackled both at the hands and at the ankles.
Fine. But listen: Arias is an intellectual and politico who has spent his life reading and writing books, basically. This is not an ISIS fighter. This is not Carlos the Jackal. He is not Bruce Lee.
What was he going to do, paralyze the courtroom by citing Say’s Law? (Arias is a classical-liberal economist, who earned his Ph.D. at UCLA.) Were the shackles around hands and ankles really necessary?
Were they meant to prevent him from doing harm to others or to humiliate him?
Last summer, the FBI conducted a pre-dawn raid on Paul Manafort’s home. (Manafort is the onetime Trump campaign manager who is caught up in the Russia scandal.) In dictatorships, raids are commonly pre-dawn. Do they have to be so here?
Maybe they do. I can imagine good reasons. And I always want the police, in a liberal democracy, to have overwhelming force. I don’t want there to be a fair fight between the fuzz and the criminals (even suspected criminals). I want there to be an unfair fight. I want policemen to be able to go home at night.
But again: If you could see Andrés Felipe Arias, you would know that this display, this use, of force is … strange. And when I see or hear about stuff like this, my libertarian juices flow.
‐You’ll be glad to know that an opponent has been found for Vladimir Putin — an opponent in the presidential election. (Don’t laugh. Too hard.) The real opponents, of course, have been jailed, exiled, killed, or otherwise sidelined.
The chosen opponent is a chick named Ksenia Sobchak, a reality-TV star known as “the Paris Hilton of Russia.” A hot tamale she is. Probably won’t win, though.
I’m reminded of the presidential election in the Palestinian Authority (!) which pitted Yasser Arafat, the incumbent, against an old lady known as “Umm Khalil.” She had umpteen grandchildren. Very sweet. In a squeaker, Arafat managed to pull it out …
‐In a previous Impromptus, I wrote of Che Guevara and his depradations. The Irish government had honored him with a postage stamp (of course).
What he was, was a boot stamping on the human face.
I mentioned, in that Impromptus, the work of Maria Werlau, whose website is Cuba Archive. She knows where the bodies are buried, literally. I said I thought her own father had fought alongside Guevara.
It’s true. Maria wrote to remind me that her father “fought the Batista regime under Che Guevara’s column in the Sierra Maestra in 1957.”
She has sketched her father’s story here. His name was Armando Cañizares Gamboa, a democrat and a freedom-lover. Two of his comrades-in-arms were his brothers, Francisco and Julio.
In time, however, they left Che, Fidel, and that army. They could see them for what they were.
With a young — very young — family, Armando left Cuba in May 1960, about a year and a half after the Communists assumed power. He went back to Cuba less than a year later — as a member of Brigade 2506, which tried to topple the Castro dictatorship. This operation is widely known as “the Bay of Pigs disaster.”
Armando Cañizares Gamboa was killed in that operation. He was 28. What a man, and what a woman his daughter is — Maria Werlau. He would be in awe of her.
‐On the subject of Communism: I recommend this column by Bret Stephens of the New York Times. It is about the Bolsheviks and their apologists down the years. It is a column worthy of William F. Buckley Jr., no less.
‐In a speech, John McCain said the following:
To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems, is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
That’s a mouthful of a sentence — and an excellent one.
But not according to another Arizona Republican, Kelli Ward. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard reported on a campaign event of hers. She said she would Make America Great Again by serving “as a conservative, as a populist, as an Americanist, as a scurrilous nationalist.”
Scurrilous nationalist. A beautiful thing, truth-in-advertising.
‐Speaking of truth-in-advertising: In Miami Beach, there was a woman working out who wore a T-shirt that said, “This Is My Workout Shirt.”
‐You sometimes hear that strangers don’t talk to one another anymore — in person, I mean (not online). Well, you know when they do? When they ask one another to snap pictures, with phones. It happens all the time.
I kind of like it.
‐Hard by the beach in Miami, I marveled at some of the birds. Such loud, loud noises coming out of such tiny bodies. There must be a lesson for singers in there somewhere …
(Pavarotti said that there was a lesson for singers in how a baby could cry all night without growing hoarse. I forget what he said …)
‐In New York, I have decried the disappearance of the side salad. In very few places can you get one anymore. You get a sandwich, say, or spaghetti, and then you have to pay $12 for some salad, which is too big. There are no side salads.
In Miami, I saw sandwiches that came with a side salad and fries, no matter what. Twelve dollars.
I could have wept …
‐I could weep over Uber, too. I understand that the company has problems. But you tap at your phone, and two minutes later a car pulls up, and you’re driven off to your destination — for relatively cheap.
At least, this is the way it goes some of the time.
Furthermore, your phone tells you approximately how long the ride will take and exactly what the cost will be.
Guys, this is a miracle. A true-nuff blessing.
‐So is immigration. I know you’re not supposed to say this, when you’re on the right. We’re very down on immigration. And heaven knows I am hostile to illegal immigration — and favor orderly, sensible immigration, with assimilation.
But a visit to Miami reminds me of the value of immigration. I wish these people every success. And I appreciate the way they flavor and enhance the country.
This is what the Republican party said when I joined it, back in the Reagan ’80s. Republicans celebrated America as a world nation, capable of making Americans out of all people who were willing.
Seems so long ago …
The Right was always celebrating America as the Land of Opportunity. The Left was saying, in effect, No way!
‐A little music? Here is a brief post on André Watts, the American — Hungarian-American — pianist.
‐A little language? I received an invitation to an event featuring “Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D.” You can have the “Dr.” or you can have the “M.D.” You don’t really need both — it’s gilding the lily.
Eons ago, I wrote an essay called “Is There a Dr. in the House? What’s in an honorific.” A touchy, touchy subject.
Aren’t they all, especially these days?
Have a good week, dear friends.
A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.