Impromptus

Cuba and us, &c.

Plainclothes police detain a protester in Havana, Cuba, on July 11, 2021. (Stringer / Reuters)
On the nearby dictatorship; China and Russia; the GOP; Edwin Edwards; a D-Day vet; and more

Protests in Cuba are very rare. It is dangerous to protest in that country. But Cubans are suffering terribly, in the pandemic: a shortage of food and medicine; death all around. They are, in sum, desperate.

Mixed in with material want is the desire to be free, at long last, of dictatorship. Protesters in the street have chanted “Freedom!” “Enough!” “Unity!”

In Venezuela, the dictatorship has been greatly aided by the fact that millions of Venezuelans — perhaps 6 million — have gone into exile. The Cuban dictatorship has been aided by the same phenomenon. If your critics and opponents are in exile — this relieves pressure on you.

In 2014, I met Juan Carlos González Leiva, the blind lawyer who is one of the most heroic dissidents in Cuba. I met him in the Washington, D.C., home of a supporter. “Juan Carlos,” I said, “what are you doing here? Why did they let you out?” He said, in effect, “Are you kidding me? If I left permanently, they would probably declare a national holiday.”

(To see my piece on González Leiva, go here.)

For decades, people have asked the question, “Can the Cuban dictatorship survive the Castros?” Fidel is dead. Raúl, now 90, has relinquished the reins, at least formally. The Chinese dictatorship survived the death of Mao, unfortunately. The Soviet dictatorship survived the death of Lenin. Will the North Korean dictatorship outlast the Kims (of whom there have been three, since 1948)?

Hard to say. And the same as in Cuba.

Once people lose their fear, a dictatorship is in trouble. It is the dictatorship, then, that has to fear. If Cubans in general lose their fear — watch out.

So, what can the United States do? We can apply various forms of pressure: diplomatically, politically. Elliott Abrams outlined some steps in a piece for The Bulwark on Wednesday, here. But beyond that?

On television earlier this week, Joe Scarborough put that question to me: If current pressure fails, what can we do?

I said that Cuba ought to be made a cause, an issue. Juan Carlos González Leiva ought to be famous. His picture ought to be on T-shirts. Same with Óscar Biscet (to whom George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007). Same with Berta Soler (the leader of the Ladies in White). Same with “Coco” Fariñas and many others.

For 62 years, there has been a vicious dictatorship 90 miles from our shore. I mean, enough. Let there not be a 63rd year.

I said all this to Joe Scarborough. I’ll tell you what I did not say — because it did not occur to me till after: A lot of us have overestimated the degree to which the United States has any effect on Cuba at all. Since 1959, we have had hawkish policy and dovish policy. The dictatorship outlasted Eisenhower. And Kennedy. (You’ve read JFK’s inaugural address? You remember the Bay of Pigs?) It has outlasted LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan — everybody.

Does that mean do nothing? Sit back? Heavens no. Support Cuban democracy in every way possible. (Support democracy in other countries as well.) Make Cuba a cause, a priority. Put it on center stage. That may well be helpful. But it is no sure thing, to say the least.

Do it anyway. And you never know: With the Castros gone, maybe it is time for this monstrous regime, so long in the saddle, to fall.

• I was talking to an Eastern European intellectual. He made a very good point. You know how people, especially Americans, are saying, “China, not Russia”? Do China! China is the real threat. Russia is small beer. Pivot, pivot!

The two are related, my friend said. China is watching. Its leaders are watching what they can get away with. What does Putin get away with? Assassinations on foreign soil? Cyberattacks? Annexation of others’ territory? Invasion? What is the response of the West?

Yes. One thing is linked to another. Aggressors can smell weakness — in private life and international life.

• George W. Bush doesn’t speak out very often. He does not criticize his successors very often. Neither did his father, of course. But did you see this report?

. . . Bush on Wednesday criticized the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and said civilians were being left to be “slaughtered” by the Taliban.

“I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad,” he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

“Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm. This is a mistake. . . . They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart,” Mr. Bush said.

For these remarks, Bush has been dumped on by Left and Right, as usual. I believe that he will be remembered more positively, when passions cool.

• François Fillon was prime minister of France under Nicolas Sarkozy. This was a conservative government. Now Fillon has gone to work for Putin — for the Russian mafia state. Fillon will be on the board of a state oil company.

“Formers” want to get their beaks wet, naturally. Some of them even deserve it. But you can get your beak wet in the Free West. Lots of companies here. Does it have to be Russia? Do you have to abet this nasty, reckless, murderous regime?

Some do.

• Jason Roe, the executive director of the Republican Party in Michigan (my home state), would not play ball. He would not go along with his party’s election lies. So he had to resign. To read about this, go here.

Question: Can an honest man work for the Republican Party? In this day and age? I have doubts that the answer is yes. If you’re not bundled up in the lies — you’re out.

Another article, here, buttresses the point: “‘Get on the team or shut up’: How Trump created an army of GOP enforcers.” The subheading: “Trump might be out of office, but his loyalists atop state Republican parties are serving as instruments of his political will.”

Absolutely. There is no Republican Party apart from Trump and Trumpism. They are one and the same.

• In recent days, more footage, more video, has come out, showing the assault on the Capitol on January 6. You don’t have to listen to what anybody says about that day: not Trump, not Pelosi, not Fox, not MSNBC, not Hannity, not me — not anybody. The evidence is before your very eyes.

But the problem is this: Those who are clear on January 6, don’t need the video. And those who aren’t, won’t look at it. How to get around this, I don’t know.

• Peter Thiel is funding Trumpite candidates in at least three states: Ohio, Missouri, and Arizona. I wonder whether there are any Reaganite funders left in the land. Maybe throw some bucks our way? We may not win, at the polls — but we could have some fun, and press a case.

• Speaking of having fun, lemme lighten up a little. Earlier this week, I met a man — probably in his 60s — named “Gamal.” He said, “A lot of us boys in Egypt, at that time — we were named ‘Gamal,’” for the leader, Nasser.

• I called ahead and asked a restaurant whether it had a dress code. No, said the man on the other end of the line. “There’s just one thing we ask,” he said: “Wear your wallet. Anything else is optional.”

My kind of place.

• Edwin Edwards has died at 93. He defined “colorful Louisiana politician.” (“Colorful Louisiana politician,” of course, is almost a redundancy.) (I once said that a certain senator from that state was far too bland. How could he be a Louisiana politician? Then he had a prostitution scandal.) On Twitter, Michael Beschloss circulated a photo I had never seen before. Wonderful thing: JFK, in what appears to be a summer straw hat, with Edwards in 1959 at the rice festival in Crowley, La. Here.

• A little music? Vladimir Horowitz made Moritz Moszkowski famous. That is, Horowitz played three pieces of Moszkowski — usually as encores — all around the world. Now there is a project to present Moszkowski’s music, in toto, on recordings. I have written about this here.

• You will want to see an obit of Henry Parham, here. He served in a segregated unit on D-Day — an all-black unit, that is. He was born in Emporia, Va., in 1921. Ninety-two years later, in 2013, France made him a chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

In an interview with CNN in 2019, Parham spoke of D-Day: “I prayed to the good Lord to save me. I did my duty. I did what I was supposed to do as an American.”

Our country has been incredibly lucky to have people such as Henry Parham. He died at 99 on the Fourth of July.

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