The Corner

Bernie Sanders and the Myths of Cuba

Longtime readers will bear with me as I repeat something: The Castro dictatorship’s reputation for good rests on three myths: that it has been good for health care; that it has been good for literacy; and that it has been good for blacks (“Afro-Cubans”). These myths have been debunked over and over. But they endure and endure.

In the most recent Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders said, “It would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in health care. They are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education.”

Sanders also said this, about Cuba: “I hope very much, as soon as possible, it becomes a democratic country.”

As soon as possible? It has been possible for a very long time. It was possible yesterday, it’s possible today, it’s possible tomorrow. But the Castros and their Communist party do not want democracy. Neither, apparently, do their supporters and apologists abroad.

In 2000, I wrote a piece called “In Castro’s Corner: A story of black and red.” It deals with the race myth. You may also be interested in this piece on Oscar Biscet. And this piece that includes Berta Soler. They are probably the two most prominent Cuban democracy leaders (and are of course Afro-Cuban).

In 2007, I wrote a piece called “The Myth of Cuban Health Care.” Its impetus was a new Michael Moore movie, Sicko. Moore is a fan of the dictatorship, and he buys, and purveys, its myths.

Have I done a piece specifically on the literacy myth? I don’t think so, but I have touched on it many times, and there are plenty of studies that dispel that one.

I’d like to say something broader just now. Honest to goodness, I think the first Corner note I ever wrote had to do with Cuba and these myths. This morning, I found it, preserved at cubanet.org (here). Do you mind a reprinting? It has been 15 years, after all! I wrote it in April 2001.

Block quotes are a pain to read – that small print and all – but I hope you will find that maiden post of mine worth it. It says what I wish to say, Sanders-wise and otherwise.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said something remarkable today. Questioned by New York congressman Jose Serrano, a leftist and friend of Castro’s Cuba, he said, “He’s done some good things for his people.” The “he,” of course, was the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. I find the secretary’s words alarming and repugnant, but they did provoke a memory.

The year was 1986 (or thereabouts), and the place was Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The speaker, at a student forum, was Armando Valladares, the great Cuban dissident. He wrote a memoir called Against All Hope. Everything that is important to know — vital to know — about Castro’s rule on Cuba is in that book. Not for nothing is the author known as “the Cuban Solzhenitsyn.”

After Valladares’s speech, the students came after him: Hadn’t Castro “done some good things for his people”? Hadn’t he delivered universal health care? Hadn’t he brought about universal literacy? They echoed the standard propaganda line, learned from their teachers, the New York Times, and so on.

Valladares gave an answer I will never forget. He said it gently, earnestly, yearning for the students to understand. I will paraphrase it: Say all those things are true. They’re not, but just say they are. Can’t you have those things without torturing people? Can’t you have them without wrongly imprisoning them? Can’t you have them without killing them? Without denying them rights? Without forbidding them to speak freely, without forbidding them to worship, without forbidding them to vote and have a normal political life and pursue their own destinies, and so on? Why is material well-being — not that Cuba has it, or anything remotely like it — but why is material well-being incompatible with freedom? Or not even with freedom: with the absence of a stifling, horrid dictatorship? Why?

I doubt that Valladares moved very many of those people. But every time I hear the phrase “Castro has done some good things for his people,” I wince. Sure, Powell doesn’t embrace and adore Castro, as Congressman Serrano does, as Congressman Charlie Rangel does, as Congresswoman Maxine Waters does, along with many others. But he should realize what he gives away when he repeats those words.

I am haunted by something another congressman — Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida — said last year, or the year before. It came to me strongly the other day, when the movie star Kevin Costner had a love session with Castro, down in Havana. Diaz-Balart said, “For the life of me, I just don’t know how Castro can seem cute after forty years of torturing people.”

I just don’t know how. Fidel Castro has done nothing for “his people” but immiserate, propagandize, exile, imprison, or kill them.

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