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The Cuban Sopranos By: Nat Hentoff
The Washington Times | Tuesday, April 29, 2003


My first sight on television of Fidel Castro's "liberation" of Cuba from Batista in 1959, was a firing squad dispatching political prisoners who had been summarily condemned by the new dictator. And through the years, Mr. Castro's gulags were filled by Cubans who dared to wish, however softly, for democracy.

At one point, interviewing the already legendary Che Guevara — an international Cuban revolutionary icon — at the Cuban mission to the United Nations, I asked him if he could foresee, anytime in the future, free elections in Cuba. Crisply dressed in his military outfit, Mr. Guevara burst out laughing at my callow naivete.

Having interviewed Cubans who survived Mr. Castro's gulags, I have never understood or respected the parade of American entertainers, politicians and intellectuals who travel to Cuba to be entranced by this ruthless dictator who, for me, has all the charisma of a preening thug, akin to any killer on "The Sopranos."

These Castro-philes are among those who discredit liberalism because they're unable to recognize and be repelled by unbridled evil. Consider Steven Spielberg, who has developed impressive resources through his Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, to keep alive the horrifying presence of the Holocaust. Yet, as quoted in the April 11 Wall Street Journal, Mr. Spielberg described his audience with Mr. Castro last November, as "the eight most important hours of my life."

Was Spielberg's life that barren until those gloriously transcendent hours with the chief warden of Cuba's prisons?

From time to time, I still think of Elian Gonzalez, so vivid a free spirit here until condemned by Janet Reno and Bill Clinton to a land where schoolteachers must keep a record of any signs of their charges' lessening fealty to the relentless light of their lives.

I wish the American press would pay more attention to the ongoing lawsuit alleging that Doris Meissner — head of Clinton's Immigration and Naturalization Service — ordered the destruction of evidence that would have contradicted the Clinton administration's forcible removal of Elian to Mr. Castro's continuation of Stalinism. Judicial Watch in Washington has the information on that lawsuit.

In any case, the next batch of fawning celebrities and members of Congress who party with Mr. Castro will try to evade the recent show trials of independent journalists, human rights advocates, poets and other dreamers of democracy who have been sentenced by Mr. Castro's kangaroo courts to punishments of up to 27 years. Britain's Economist magazine notes that "since many of the dissidents are aged between 50 and 60, in practical terms they are being put away for life."

One prisoner of conscience packed into the gulag is the internationally respected independent journalist Raul Rivero, director of Cuba Press agency, and a board member of the Inter American Press Association. In the Castro courtroom — from which foreign journalists and diplomats were barred — Mr. Rivero, suffering from phlebitis and other ailments, was sentenced to 20 years for being an independent journalist.

"This is so arbitrary for a man whose only crime is to write what he thinks," his wife, Blanca Reyes, said in an April 8 New York Times article. "What they found on him was a tape recorder, not a grenade."

The Clinton administration — which has so much to answer to history for — promoted "people-to-people" trips to Cuba, which have continued. The American tourists and the participants in educational and cultural exchanges will not be able to engage in person-to-person visits with Raul Rivero, and other Cubans whom the Castro "justice system" has turned into non-people. Not even such an eminence as Spielberg will be free to show Rivero videos of Holocaust survivors.

Mr. Spielberg, immersed in pre-production of his next film, was not available for comment on Mr. Castro's latest eradication of dissenters. But his representative, Andy Spahn of Dreamworks, told The Wall Street Journal that Mr. Castro had been "provoked" to order the crackdown, because the head of the American mission in Havana, James Cason, had been meeting — can you imagine? — with Cuban dissenters in their homes last February.

And if an American official had, however discreetly, been meeting with Jews in Berlin who still hoped that the world would come to their rescue — if it only knew of the design for the Final Solution — would that diplomat have exceeded his responsibilities to humankind by "provoking" Hitler?

HBO has wisely cancelled the May showing of Oliver Stone's Castro-admiring "Commandante." During production, says the Journal, Fidel was "given the power to stop filming at will."

The show would have been a fitting complement to HBO's "The Sopranos."


Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance".


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