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Jefferson in Havana By: Myles Kantor
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, July 24, 2001

“…a slaveholder never appears to me so completely an agent of hell, as when I think of and look upon my dear children.”


--Frederick Douglass

THOMAS JEFFERSON embodied the best and worst of his America. A cogent advocate of colonial autonomy and liberal thought, he subsisted on the coerced labor of others.

While it is hardly exculpatory, Jefferson appreciated the evils of slavery as well as a freeman could. His description of its iniquity in Notes on the State of Virginia is rightly famous:

“There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal…The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities.”

Those “odious peculiarities” also manifest in totalitarian regimes, which are slave plantations embellished by ornate processions and well-oiled propaganda apparatuses. The Omnipotent State inculcates children to view it as their primary unit of fealty and emulate its disposition.

An illustration of such a wretched world appears in Andres Oppenheimer’s Castro’s Final Hour. The scene is November 2, 1991 at Cuba’s First Congress of Pioneers (a Marxist-Leninist kind of Boy Scouts):

“It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and Fidel was to make the keynote address at the Communist children’s meeting. More than a thousand children aged six to fourteen packed the auditorium of Havana’s Convention Palace. Before Fidel rose to speak, a succession of boys and girls came to the podium to recite poems in his honor, sing songs in praise of his heroic deeds, and bestow medals on him for his unswerving service to Cuba’s children…One girl cried at the sheer emotion of being so close to Fidel. Another girl took the microphone to tell Fidel that Cuba’s children were ready to ‘replace our pencils with rifles’ to defend the revolution and socialism. A third girl, aged twelve, called for the creation of children’s brigades to crack down on fellow students who were being influenced by foreign ideas. ‘We, the pioneers, want to be allowed to form Rapid Response Brigades in our schools,’ she said, as Fidel nodded approvingly.”

The Rapid Response Brigades arose through the Ministry of the Interior in 1991 to preclude Eastern Europe’s watershed events from diffusing to Cuba. Their objective is to safeguard “the Revolution and socialism in all circumstances, by confronting and liquidating any sign of counterrevolution or crime.” In concert with Party organs such as State Security and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (“ubiquitous neighborhood watchdogs,” as described by Castro’s daughter-in-exile Alina Fernandez), the Brigades are deployed to inflict “acts of repudiation” involving verbal and physical attacks. (For example, in 1991 a Rapid Response Brigade stormed the home of poet and Alternative Criterion leader Maria Elena Cruz Varela, then forced her to eat her writings. The mob screamed, “Let her mouth bleed, damn it, let it bleed!” She subsequently endured two years in prison.)

The twelve-year old girl’s plausibly earnest plea to form adolescent Rapid Response Brigades highlights the toxic effect of totalitarian dogma. Like Jefferson’s young, “[t]he parent [Castro] storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs…[and] gives a loose to his worst of passions.” (Castro may be described as the only father in Cuba given the Cuban Code of the Child’s subordination of parenthood to communist conformity, e.g., Article 8: “Society and the state work for the efficient protection of youth against all influences contrary to their communist formation.”)

Castro’s tyranny has perpetrated atrocity after atrocity: suffocation of artists and thinkers, spiritual and material devastation of a country, torture of individuals who affirm their dignity. But Castro’s most heinous atrocity might be his abuse of Cuba’s children—an unpardonable perversion of innocence.

Myles Kantor is a columnist for FrontPageMagazine.com and editor-at-large for Pureplay Press, which publishes books about Cuban history and culture. His e-mail address is myles.kantor@gmail.com.

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