"With all the things we criticize, he is undoubtedly a great man, and I believe has done much for the German people." So wrote the historic aviator Charles Lindbergh of Adolf Hitler in 1937.
Lindbergh wasn’t the only American entranced by Der Fuhrer. The poet Ezra Pound said in 1945, "Adolf Hitler was a Jeanne d’Arc, a saint. He was a martyr."
It’s no longer chic to praise Hitler, but that doesn’t mean all tyrants are out of style. Just look at the sadist who has enslaved Cuba since 1959.
At the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, filmmaker Oliver Stone said that Fidel Castro is "warm and bright" and "a very moral man." Stone described him as "one of the Earth’s wisest people" at the Berlin Film Festival in February.
The occasions for these remarks were screenings of Stone’s new documentary on Castro, Comandante. HBO was to air Comandante on May 5 but canceled it after the imprisonment last month of 80 human rights activists and summary execution of three Cubans who hijacked a ferry to get out of Cuba. Ironically, in the early 1980s Stone was detained in the Soviet Union while researching an unmade film about Russian dissidents called Defiance. He brought radios and other goods for dissidents.
Several of Stone’s peers in the movie industry share his Castro-philia. Jack Nicholson, for instance, has called Castro "a genius."
These artists demand creative freedom in America yet praise a tyrant who subjugates all media to his totalitarian dogma. Director Sergio Giral, who had a film banned by Castro and fled in 1990, observes of Cuban film’s relationship to the regime: "Completely dependent. ICAIC [Cuban Institute of Cinematic Arts and Industry] is a government institution like the rest of Cuban institutions. Follows orders from above."
Castro established this ideological orthodoxy soon after seizing power. Orlando Leal’s documentary on Havana nightlife, P.M., was banned in 1961; that year Castro declared policy on art as "Inside the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing." (Mussolini similarly said, "Everything within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State." The nexus isn’t coincidental; in high school Castro practiced Mussolini’s rhetorical style and later owned a dozen volumes of his writings.)
In Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens recounts an exchange in 1968 on Cuban film with Santiago Alvarez, "the grand old man of Cuban cinema":
Film was the special medium of the Cuban revolution and he assured us that it was unfettered. Completely unfettered? Well, he said with a slight laugh, there is only one thing that is not done. No satirical portrayal of the leader will be permitted. (The slight laugh was at the very idea that anyone would even dream of proposing such a thing.) I said, quite simply, that if the main subject of Castro was off-limits, then, in effect, there could be no real satire or criticism at all.
Satire of Castro remains a crime, depriving Cubans of a vital instrument of expression.
Like entertainment elites, intellectual elites continue to glamorize the Cuban despot. The March–April issue of the prestigious magazine Foreign Policy contained a book review by Castro, described as "the president of Cuba."
"President," as if Castro has maintained power for 44 years through electoral victories over opposition candidates. As if systematic repression and terror have no role in the longevity of his "suffocating dictatorship," to use left-wing Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes’ recent description of the regime.
In his memoir Before Night Falls—dramatized brilliantly by Julian Schnabel, who includes footage of P.M. in the credits—the late Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas comments on Castro’s foreign cheerleaders:
One day, eventually, the people will overthrow Castro, and the least they will do is bring to justice those who collaborated with the tyrant with impunity. The ones who promote dialogue with Castro, well aware that Castro will never give up his power peacefully and that a truce and economic assistance are what he needs to strengthen his position, are as guilty as his own henchmen who torture and murder people. Those who are not living in Cuba are perhaps even more to blame, because inside Cuba you exist under absolute terror, but outside you can at least maintain a modicum of political integrity. All the pretentious people who dream of appearing on TV shaking Fidel Castro’s hand and of becoming politically relevant should have more realistic dreams: they should envision the rope from which they will swing in Havana’s Central Park, because the Cuban people, being generous, will hang them when the moment of truth comes.
After Cuba’s emancipation from Castro, suffice it to say the likes of Stone and Nicholson might get a chilly reception in Havana.