Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk
How the Mainstream Media Sold out Cuba to the Castro Stalinists
June 25, 2014
In all essentials, the battle for Cuba was a public relations campaign, fought in New York and Washington. Castros principal advocate was Herbert Matthews of the New York Times, who presented him as the T.E Lawrence of the Caribbean...so the Times sponsored Castro. This swung round the State Department. (Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983, p. 621)
The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. (Paul Berman, “The Cult of Che,” www.Slate.com, September 24, 2004)
One of the most shameful betrayals of modern times occurred when Fidel Castro led the revolution in Cuba against the then president Fulgencio Batista and replaced his dictatorship with a far worse, Stalinist one. The Castro revolution outdid the Russian communists in per capita execution, torture and imprisonment. The bitter reality is that the Cuban Island with its beautiful beaches, pleasant weather and its relatively advanced economy was transformed into a gulag where the blood of millions of innocent victims still cry out.
The irony is that the Castro revolution succeeded not because of the bravery and cunning of the Castroites, despite the myth they managed to propagate so successfully. Castro succeeded because he was a master propagandist in presenting himself as an honest man who wanted nothing but to build a free and tolerant country. He swore that he was not a communist, but a democratic reformer. But soon the mask came off and he began to smother all freedom with unspeakable cruelty. Cuba became a gulag like the one in the Soviet Union, if not worse.
A Bitter Irony
The bitter irony is that Castro’s hide was saved by the Western, mostly American media and intellectual elite, who slavishly served as propagandists for Castro. Even after more than half a century of the Cuban disaster, they refuse to face the ugly reality. Nor have they shown any remorse for delivering the Cuban people into the hands of ruthless murderers who wrecked their economy, tore their families apart, and destroyed their culture. Castro built a police state where you can be jailed, tortured and killed for not showing sufficient admiration for the Great Leader and his sadistic side-kick Ernesto Che Guevara, who was killed in 1967 when he was attempting (unsuccessfully) to export the Cuban–type revolution into Bolivia.
Those who want to look behind the myths and lies about Castro’s Cuba have a wealth of information at their fingertips, including the stories from Cubans who speak from personal experience. Armando Valladares spent twenty-two years in Castro’s prisons, where he suffered unspeakable insults and torture at the hands of sadistic guards. He describes this ordeal in his prison memoirs, Against All Hope (1986), providing an inside look at Cuba’s descent into a place where mass murderers had free reign.
Humberto Fontova escaped from Cuba with his family in 1961 when he was seven years old. He is the author of three books, Exposing the Real Che Guevara: and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him (2007); and Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant (2005). His most recent book, The Longest Romance: the Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro (2013), explains in detail how the American media created and sustained the myth till this day that the Castro revolution built what Newsweek described as “one of the best countries in the world to live.”
On April 21, 1959, Castro had tried to put Americans at ease about his true agenda:
I am not a communist for three reasons: communism is a dictatorship and for my entire life I have been against dictatorships. Furthermore, communism means hatred and class struggle, and I am completely against such a philosophy.And finally because communism opposes God and the Church. I say this to set your minds and spirits at rest (TLR, ix).
Fontova reports that well before Castro made this statement, he had already been hosting Soviet secret service agents and made the preparations for the Stalinization of Cuba. In the meantime, the mainstream media, including the influential New York Times were solidly committed to the falsehood that Castro was a democrat and a hero who deserved to be welcomed as a liberator of a long suffering people.
Castro had assured Cuban mothers that he would solve all Cuba’s problems without spilling any blood. When entering Havana on January 8, 1959, welcomed as a hero by a jubilant crowd, he had singled out all Cuban mothers to tell them: “let me assure you that because of me you will never have to cry.”
Just one day after he told that lie, more than a hundred men and boys were machine-gunned down without trial and bulldozed into a mass grave, while many wives and mothers wept uncontrollably from a nearby road. On that same day The Observer (U.K.) wrote the following: “Mr. Castro’s bearded, youthful figure has become a symbol of Latin America’s rejection of brutality and lying. Every sign is that he will reject personal rule and violence.”
Prior to his arrival in Havana, Castro had written a letter to fellow revolutionary Melba Hernandez in which he explained his strategy: “We cannot for a second abandon propaganda. Propaganda is vital – propaganda is the heart of our struggle. For now we use a lot of sleight of hand and smiles with everybody. There will be plenty of time later to crush all the cockroaches together” (TLR, viii).
Che Guevara, who was put in charge of crushing the “cockroaches,” was of the same mind as his boss. He stated that on his watch “judicial evidence” will be done away with as an “archaic bourgeois detail. We execute from revolutionary conviction…. I don’t need proof to execute a man – I only need proof that it’s necessary to execute him.” Fidel, who abolished habeas corpus, fully agreed because he said that legal proof is impossible to obtain against war criminals. “So we sentence them based on moral conviction.”
Shortly after Armando Valladares was taken prisoner, he ws interrogated and accused of being an enemy of the revolution because he had attended a school run by priests. Valladares defended himself by saying that Fidel Castro had attended a similar school. The interrogator responded: “Yes, but Fidel is a revolutionary. You, on the other hand, are a counter revolutionary, tied to priests and capitalists, and so we are going to sentence you to jail.” Valladares then said that there is no evidence against him. The Castro minion then admitted: “It’s true -- we have no proof, or rather no concrete proof, against you. But we do have the conviction that you are a potential enemy of the Revolution. For us that’s enough.” (AAH, p.9)
While addressing the U.N. General Assembly in December 1964, Guevara told his audience that execution in Cuba will continue as long as necessary. Obviously, as Fontova suggests, the necessity he had in mind was to eliminate those who stand in the way of the Stalinization of Cuba.
The Black Book of Communism, composed by French scholars and published by Harvard University Press, reports that by the early 1970s the Cuban firing--squad executions had reached fourteen thousand – which on a percentage basis would be the equivalent of over three million executions in the U.S.
And yet, despite all the evidence provided by millions of Cubans, whose families have direct experience of the most cruel and heartbreaking suffering imposed by the Castro regime, there is no shortage of propagandists for this regime in the West. So it is that the New Yorker writer Jon Lee Anderson in his 814-page biography of Che Guevara claims that “ I have yet to find a single credible source pointing to a case where Che executed an innocent.” (Exposing the Real Che Guevara, (2008, p. xxiii)
The Scoop that Saved Castro
The New York Times’ correspondent Herbert Matthews was the first of many American journalists to interview Fidel Castro in February 1957 while Castro was still hiding out in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Eastern Cuba. Soon a stream of journalists and other fellow travellers were following in his footsteps, so the revolution in Cuba under the elusive Castro became front page news in all the major American media outlets.
Jonathan Alter, writing in the New York Times nearly half a century later catches the momentous significance of the events reported by Matthews, as follows: “The front-page scoop…was a sensation at the time and transformed Castro’s image from a hotheaded Don Quixote into the youthful face of the future of Cuba.” (NYT, April 23, 2006)
The New York Times of February 24. 1957 carried Matthews’s first of three articles that contradicted the government announcement of Castro’s death. “Cuban Rebel is Visited in Hideout: Castro is Still Alive and Still Fighting in Mountains,” is how the Times announced one of its most famous breaking news stories. Indeed, it was the beginning of a movement that would establish a communist base and an extension of Soviet power a mere 90 miles from the U.S. coast.
Matthews was not shy in boasting about outsmarting Batista’s army and meeting with Castro for a three-hour interview that became the substance of a series in praise of his host in the jungle hideout. Following are a few excerpts of Matthews’ evaluation of Castro as published in the New York Times of February 1957.
The personality of the man is overpowering. It was easy to see that his men adored him and also to see why he has caught the imagination of the youth of Cuba all over the island. Here was an educated, dedicated fanatic, a man of ideals, of courage and of remarkable qualities of leadership.
He [Castro] has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to rescue the constitution, to hold elections…. The program is vague and couched in generalities, but it amounts to a new deal for Cuba, radical , democratic and therefore anti-Communist.
Matthews quoted Castro: “You can be sure we hold no animosity towards the United States…. Above all we are fighting for a democratic Cuba and an end to dictatorship.” (p.1)
Ever since Matthews landed the scoop of his life in 1957, he excelled in serving as the propagandist for the Castro dictatorship begun in earnest after Castro’s triumphant entry into Havana. A slew of admirers of the Castro revolution, including such media celebrities as Barbara Walters, Andrea Mitchell and Diane Sawyer, began to trek to Cuba where they were always accompanied by guides trained in the art of deception.
The guides had an easy job, since most of the “political pilgrims” were motivated by anti-Americanism and left-wing ideology. They were not interested to follow up on stories about the horrors inflicted on those who refused to bow to the new tyrants.
The Castro worshippers came to see what their hosts wanted them to see, and they did nothing to help the many who, like Armando Valladares, were condemned to long prison sentences, torture and death. They turned a blind eye to the plight of untold Cubans who were worked to death or executed without any recourse to a fair trial.
Guevara summed up how the naïve admirers of Castro played a major, if not the decisive, role in the “success” of the Castro revolution: “ Foreign reporters –preferably American – were much more valuable to us than any military victory. Much more valuable than recruits for our guerrilla force were American media recruits to export our propaganda.”
Barbarians at Work
It is hard to describe or read the horrendous suffering imposed on defenceless victims, but it is worth knowing, remembering, and honouring the names of brave men and women whose lives were turned into a nightmare or cut short by the new barbarians in Havana. Against All Hope contains the names, pictures and a brief note of forty-nine victims of the Castro regime. This is just small percentage of the hundreds of thousands who suffered and perished. According to the Cuba Archive Project, the Castro regime, with firing squads, prison tortures, forced- labour camps and drownings at sea, has caused the deaths of an estimated 100,000 Cubans.
Castro’s lackeys showed no respect for women prisoners. Their “crime” was that they were related to “enemies of the revolution.” In the section “Castro’s Chambers for Women” Fontova writes that communist prison guards while transferring the women dragged them around like “dead animals.” The prisoners were incapable of walking because of the constant beatings and being confined to cells littered with excrement and other body fluids. The cells were barely big enough to stand in and were entirely sealed except for tiny air-holes. The women were confined underground in total darkness, like tombs, except that their occupants were still alive, if only by ultra-human perseverance.
Ana Lazaro Rodriguez recalled that one of her cellmates “Chirri was just a kid, barely 18.Tiny, blonde and beautiful, she should have been going to high-school dances. Instead, because her father had been involved in a plot against Castro, she was squatting in a dark filthy cell,….”
Rodriguez writes that some girls were even younger than 18, who had been raised in a Havana Catholic orphanage. She writes that she and her cellmates could hear the shrieks of pain and horror of a 13-year old girl coming from a nearby torture chamber. The women prisoners were pounding on things, nearly going mad with anguish, and screaming in protest.
Ana shouted at one of the guards, “She is a little girl. How can you let this happen? The guard said nothing and walked away. Next they threw the girl in with “Sappho,” a notorious lesbian with a multi- scarred face who was in jail for murder. Ana writes, “It was another half-hour before the little girl’s screams finally ended.” (TLR, p.209)
The priest Javier Arzuaga had the duty of comforting many of Che Guevara’s murder victims and their families. During one of his rounds he was surprised to find a 16-year old boy named Ariel Lima among the condemned “war criminals” who were slated to be executed by Guevara’s firing squad. The boy was dazed and terrified. The priest engaged to get through to Guevara to plead the boy’s case.
Guevara snapped: “So what’s the big deal? What’s so special about the boy? He dismissed the priest’s pleading, but said that the Appeals Tribunal would reconsider, which it did by confirming the death sentence, to be administered that same night.
As they left the hearing, Ariel’s mother ran up to Guevara and threw herself on the ground begging him to save her son. “Woman,” he sneered at her, pointing at the priest, “go see that guy,… padre Javier Arzuaga is a master at consoling people.” Then looking at the priest he said: “She’s all yours, padre.”
That night Ariel was still in a totally dazed condition as they tied him to the execution stake. Then came the order to fire. “And the volley shattered Ariel’s quivering little body.” Fontavo writes that Guevara was probably watching from his window, installed so that that he could watch his “ darling firing squads at work.”
A Refreshing Antidote
The man [Guevara] featured in these anecdotes (plucked from thousands of others as sickening) who relished the murder of the defenseless and who craved to ignite a worldwide nuclear war, became the international icon of flower-children and peace creeps. Who but Fidel Castro could have pulled off such a public relations con-job? (TLR, p.153)
The Longest Romance is a refreshing antidote to the false reports about Cuba still spread in the media, in films, literature, and much of the academy, intended to hide the reality of the evil done to the Cuban people. Fontova backs his observations with facts and heart–rending stories of the darkness that has descended on the Cuban people.
The bitter reality is that through sheer hard--heartedness, corruption and incompetence of the American leadership –notably President Kennedy’s refusal to assist the heroic Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17, 1961 – that there is now a communist-led beachhead a mere 90 miles from the U.S. mainland. To make matters worse, Kennedy signed an agreement with Khrushchev that the U.S. will not invade Cuba.
Paul Berman is right in saying, as shown at the beginning of this article, that the cult of Che Guevara is a matter of “moral callousness.” Until the still-free West begins to face the reality of its own indifference to truth and justice, the Che Guevaras of our time will continue to be worshipped as heroes. This is the world that is turned upside down where evil is called good a very dangerous place.
The Longest Romance is a timely book that will help you separate the lies from the truth about Cuba. If you read it, I suspect that you will not visit Cuba as a tourist, at least not until the Castro dictatorship is ended. It will also make you very grateful for living in a free country. You may also decide to place the long suffering Cuban people on your prayer list. And that would be a good thing.