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Barry Farber Meets Global Exchange By: Barry Farber
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 14, 2003


Those who know me can't quite believe it, but it actually happened.

There came a day when I actually – no joke – felt sorry for the Communists.  Now, what do you suppose brought that about? 

It wasn't Stalin's purge trials of the 1930s or the deliberate starvation of six million Ukrainians that made me feel sorry for the communists.  Neither was it the Soviet pact with the late Adolf Hitler, Moscow's grab of the three Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – all in a single day, Russia's invasion of Poland from the east while the Nazis struck from the west, the Soviet enslavement of eastern Europe after victory in World War II, the withdrawal of Allied access to West Berlin necessitating the dangerous and expensive Berlin Air Lift, the unleashing of Kim Il Sung's North Korean forces into South Korea – educated readers can fill in the rest, though it might take a heap of filling with extra-large shovels.

My sudden surge of pity for the Communists had no genesis in any of their deeds of expansion and oppression.  It began at a pre-Christmas party in Manhattan in early December of 1990.  In walked my first boss in broadcasting, the recently deceased Tex McCrary, with whom I shared many Hemingway moments in Havana immediately after Fidel took Cuba.

"Barry-O," he said.  "Cancel whatever plans you have for New Year’s. We're going to Havana again!"

Tex was a Yale graduate.  A group of younger Yale graduates had formed a charitable foundation called the Millennium Society.  They raised money for scholarships and every year went as a group to welcome the New Year in some unlikely place.  When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, they were standing on top of what was left of it.  That's where the elder McCrary tied up with the younger Yale alums of the Millennium Society.  New Year’s Eve entering 2000 found them at the Pyramids in Giza, Egypt.  You get the point.

This time, the champagne-popping was going to be in Castro's Cuba.  Though not Yale graduates, my daughter Celia and I signed on and booked passage to Miami airport, at which point we entered the care and custody of an organization I'd never heard of called Global Exchange.  (McCrary's doctors ultimately refused to let him go.  He was already 90 years old and a survivor of four cancer operations.  Celia and I went enthusiastically in his place.)

At that point I viewed Global Exchange as nothing more than a kind of motor vehicles bureau.  You go to the latter if you want to drive legally.  You went to Global Exchange if you wanted to visit Cuba legally.  They took all the necessary data and procured a Treasury Department "license" to permit Americans to fly directly from Miami to Havana without sneaking in illegally through Canada or Mexico or elsewhere.  I figured Global Exchange might even be somehow connected to the U. S. State Department, or maybe it was a private subcontractor for that kind of detail work.

My education about Global Exchange picked up pace a bit when David Horowitz exposed them as being roughly the closest thing to what the Soviet Cominform was to the world in the late 1940s!   Apparantly Global Exchange is currently setting up shop in Iraq to try to persuade U. S. troops to desert or defect.  (I don't think even Jane Fonda did anything like that!)

I shouldn't have needed David Horowitz to pin up my diapers regarding Global Exchange.  After our trip a young lady called me from their San Francisco headquarters to "debrief" me on my Cuban adventure.  By that time I'd seen a brochure or two about their activities in other parts of the world, and when she asked me how I felt about Global Exchange I told her I was grateful for the chance to visit Cuba legally, but I wish they weren't involved in so much far-Left mischief around the world.

I think I could hear her gag.  I think she had to take a pill and lie down.  She'd probably never met one like me before.  All the others were undoubtedly in sync with Global Exchange's views and rhapsodized their many activities accordingly.

Okay; we arrived in Havana and were ushered into sleek modern buses imported from Sweden and taken to the still-luxurious Hotel Nacional.  Our first meeting with the Castro welcoming committee was not only non-confrontational, but boring.  After stashing our bags in our rooms we were assembled in a ballroom for orientation.

The handlers were a mix of English-speaking Castro government officials and American ex-patriots living in Cuba as Communist followers of Fidel Castro.  I don't know the name of the guy in our group who asked the first question, but he couldn't have done a better job of lulling the Castro team into a false sense of security.  His first question, after the Welcome-To-Cuba formalities, was "When does the baseball season begin?"  The rest of the session dealt with warnings that Cuban water pressure doesn't always let toilets flush according to American expectations, which tickets are available for which entertainment spectaculars, and, above all, don't try to contact the American Interest Section in what used to be the American Embassy, because, explained an American woman married to a Castro official, "They don't care about you."

My pity for the Communists ballooned the next morning at our first "working" session. Understand that all the other Americans Global Exchange and the Castro handling team had worked with and processed into Cuba before us were the expected "delegations" of milky-eyed wives of Unitarian and Congregationalist ministers from the Midwest wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and bleating out their newly learned mantras, like "Viva La Revolucion!"

They'd never counted on real sentient, thinking, aware Americans who knew the difference between slavery and freedom.

I'm proud to say that at that first working session, my daughter Celia was the one who let them know who was really in town.

The meeting was opened by a Castro loyalist who lambasted the United States government, our president, the nation itself, and practically all Americans alive except the bunch of us in that room, who he hailed as principled and courageous enough to visit Cuba whether the capitalists liked it or not.  Celia recalls that opening as beyond poor diplomatic taste.  "We were brow-beaten," she said.

And the docility of the American delegations that had preceded us could be inferred from the sloppiness of the Castro man's pitch.  He actually said Cuba welcomes "invasions of Americans like you sitting peacefully in this room, and not like the ones who invaded the Bay of Pigs in 1961!"

I mean, were we the first group he'd welcomed aware of the fact that those who landed at the Bay of Pigs were not Americans, but Cubans willing to give their lives to save Cuba from Communism?

His opening greeting closed with a vitriolic denunciation of all the slanderous lies Americans were being told about Cuba and Cuba's "alleged" lack of freedoms.  Then it was time for questions.

"How can you explain," Celia asked, "so many reports from so many sources – not just in America, but around the world – of repression and your elimination of opposition and your cruelty to dissidents and your mistreatment of prisoners and the total absence of freedom if none of them are true?  I mean," Celia continued, "we hear these things from people who did not lose sugar plantations to the Castro takeover.  We hear them from people who have no reason to lie about you."

That's where my pity began.  They had all assumed, both blithely and smugly that we were one more contingent in the parade of pro-Castro delegations eager to get sucked up the exhaust pipe of "La Revolucion," open up our hearts and gratefully ingest all the toxic lies attendant thereto.  They simply were not ready for plain old Americans who just happened to choose an unusual place to celebrate New Years Eve, 2001.

The whole Castro team of handlers came apart like an Alka-Seltzer tablet under Niagara Falls.

The speaker dissembled before Celia's question like Sid Caesar making nonsense syllables in a language struggling to sound like English.  He wasn't ready.  He wasn't prepared.  The great Houdini died because he invited a group of college students to hit him in the stomach as hard as they could, but one of them did before he had to chance to flex.  Celia hit the Castro man in the stomach before he realized who we were.

His pro-Castro rhetoric had the effect upon us of dropping a honeysuckle down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo.  He was literally booed off the stage, not vocally but with our obvious awareness of his inanity.  Looking back, he was good preparation for appreciating Baghdad Bob later on!

He floundered, trying to get the sand out of his gizzard and mount some kind of coherent response.  His attempt started out weak and gradually tapered off.  Before Castro, Cuba had the third highest standard of living in the hemisphere; right after the United States and Canada.  At one point in his meltdown, trying to explain the abysmal life led by Cubans at the moment, he actually said, "Look, for decades we in Cuba looked up to the Soviet Union as the sun.  Then the sun set and didn't come up again."  His subsequent shrug seemed to say, "So what do you expect?"

The old Nigerian banking scam would have had more of a chance with our crowd.

After he got tired of choking on the question, he said, "Well, that's my short answer."  At which point our group leader remarked, "Well, I wish we were going to be in Cuba long enough for your long answer!"

It was satisfying for this Cold Warrior to enjoy the humiliation of a beet-red Communist trying to spray-deodorize the regime of Fidel Castro before an audience of well-educated Americans.  Was I being mean?  No!  We never pretended to be one of those "Viva La Revolucion!" crowds.  The Castro people merely inferred what we'd never implied.

There was a terrible moment in the 1960's film The Counterfeit Traitor in which the German woman, played by Lilli Palmer, passed secrets to an American agent about a petroleum refinery in Hamburg.  Her information led to a British air raid, which destroyed that facility causing many casualties among German civilians.  She felt the need to go to a Catholic church to confess.

During her confession her eyes and the camera dipped down to the feet of the "clergyman," which happened to be encased in Gestapo boots. 

She screamed!  And she was promptly executed.

That was the bad surprising the good.  That was a win for the bad guys.

Celia's innocent and valid question caused a similar surprise-quake in the heart, mind, and especially, the speech of the Castro man.  That was the good surprising the bad!

I've never had a child star in Little League, a national spelling bee, or a major science project.

But my Celia shut down the Castro Rosy-Pink Bubble Machine with one honest, earnest, American thunderbolt of truth.

All those right of center, and I suspect a lot of them to the Left will excuse my pride.

It was a nice win for the good guys.




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