Fidel Castro resurrects in American politics

Mar 6, 2020 by

PROGRESO WEEKLY

Fidel Castro resurrects in American politics

Political analyst Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote an opinion piece last week in the Washington Post titled “Get Ready For the Anti-Sanders Media Avalanche.” She reasoned that Sanders’ resounding victory in the Nevada caucuses, and his sweep of the popular vote in the first three primaries, made him the early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. As such, she predicted, Sanders would carry a bullseye on his back and trigger panic across the party’s establishment and much of the mainstream media. “Get ready for red-baiting, slander and just plain silliness,” she wrote.(1)

And indeed the avalanche started soon after. The question, wrote vanden Heuvel, was whether the media would pile on or provide common sense. That question has been answered, culminating with the resignation of Chris Matthews this past Monday as an MSNBC host, after pushback from Sanders’ supporters and at least one colleague following Matthews’ comparison of Bernie’s Nevada victory to France’s fall to the Nazis and an interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren in which the anchor used a condescending and disbelieving tone.(2)

Matthews’ aforesaid colleague, political analyst Anand Giridharadas, criticized Matthews and other prominent Democrats on Sunday as “out-of-touch aristocrats in a dying aristocracy” who need to “figure out why Americans are voting for something the establishment doesn’t understand … Giridharadas was discussing liberal media members, donors and CEOs who are part of the Democratic establishment and who are petrified that Sen. Bernie Sanders will ultimately win the party’s nomination to face President Trump on Election Day.”(3)

That was even before Sanders’ appearance in the TV program 60 Minutes on Sunday, where Fidel Castro resuscitated in the middle of the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary race. Sanders defended comments he made decades ago about Castro, saying, “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program.” In response to Anderson Cooper’s observation that Cuba has imprisoned some dissidents, Sanders responded, “that’s right, and we condemn that.”(4)

That was too much for segments of the Cuban-American community for whom it’s a mortal sin to attribute absolutely anything positive to Castro or the Cuban revolution. In truth, the highly organized literacy campaign to which Sanders referred decreased Cuba’s country-wide illiteracy rate from a 1953 level of 23.6 percent to a 1961 level of 3.9 percent, according to a UNESCO report following a 1964 mission to Cuba. Within its first year, over 700,000 Cubans became newly literate. “The Campaign was not a miracle, but rather a difficult conquest obtained through work, technique and organization,” as the president of the National Commission for UNESCO, Oscar León, once said.(5) The magnitude of this accomplishment was widely recognized throughout the world. The Texas Journal of Literacy Education, for example, published a study in 2017 titled “Early Literacy in Cuba: Lessons for America.”(6) That says it all: lessons for America. I think it’s the fact that Cuba could teach the U.S. a thing or two, in the areas of education, health care, and child and pre-natal care, for example, that so many find intolerable because it shines a light on deficiencies in our system that Bernie Sanders aims to correct.

“Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.”  – José Martí

Normally, such accomplishments, especially by an underdeveloped country, would be celebrated. However, one must not commit a mortal sin, so Cuban-American writers and other red-baiters have been adding qualifiers. 

Some argue that the real goal of the literacy campaign was to allow for the brainwashing of the population. They offer no evidence, however, other than Castro was a bad dude and therefore he couldn’t have had good motives. They forget that brainwashing can be accomplished by other means, for example, by passing out portable radios that can only tune one or two stations controlled by the government. That would have been much cheaper and effective for the Cuban government. It would also be in line with the practice of the CIA to provide such radios to Cubans in the island so they could listen to propaganda organs like the Voice of the Americas or Miami’s Radio Mambí.

Plus, that argument brings into question whether parents should allow their children to be taught to read and write. After all, reading would allow for their brainwashing by the powers that be, in whatever country they live. Such a patent absurdity begs the question whether the powers that be in the U.S. actually want children to read. With the appalling anti-education record of Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education, one wonders whether Trump and his conservative friends actually believe the opposite.(7) 

The answer may lie in the actual results produced by the U.S. educational system. Approximately 32 million adults are completely illiterate, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development also found that 50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level.(8) This is a shameful literacy crisis in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. But who needs adults to read when they can tune in to the propaganda of Fox News and the ubiquitous right wing talk shows on the radio, and be directed to vote Republican? It’s pretty much the same as distributing small radios that can be tuned to a limited number of stations.

Others criticize Cuba’s education system for demanding revolutionary allegiance as a part of basic education and suppressing oppositional beliefs in children and families. Let’s remember that in our schools kids must stand up in first period, every morning, and put their right hands over their hearts to recite a “pledge of allegiance” to “the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God,” etc. Is there an educational system in the world that does not promote a similar allegiance? Ours, for good measure, demands allegiance to a God, which I don’t think includes Allah or others.

Then we have academics like Carlos Eire, Havana-born, the T.L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University and author of the award-winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana. In a recent Washington Post opinion piece, he questions the significance of the literacy campaign and whether the statistics of the Cuban government can be trusted.(9) Mr. Eire might be a great writer and professor, but the UNESCO assessment did not come from the government, shows more objectivity, and has the ring of truth. His faulty logic is revealed when he asks the rhetorical question, “Can the achievements of any monstrous regime ever be praised?”

Eire’s question aligns with Joe Biden’s statement during the last televised “debate.” Biden insisted with kooky forcefulness that Obama “did not in any way suggest that there was anything positive about the Cuban government” because he would never, never, never, praise a dictator. In fact, in a town hall meeting during a 2016 visit to Buenos Aires, Obama said that he told Raúl Castro, “Look, you’ve made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education. That’s a huge improvement from where it was. Medical care. You know the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to healthcare. That’s a huge achievement, [Cuba] should be congratulated.”(10)

Surely, Cuba is not a socialist paradise. There are many things to criticize about the Cuban regime. It’s an authoritarian government that brooks little dissent. It lacks an independent judiciary. Its economic and monetary policies have arguably aggravated the severe damages caused by the U.S. blockade. In 1965, it established prison work camps known as Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), into which it deposited homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other “undesirable” elements. It suffers from corruption and a stifling bureaucracy. And it continues to struggle with ingrained racism, among other things. But it’s not a Stalinist hellhole like many would have you believe, and things have changed for the better. 

So let’s stick to the truth, logic and reason instead of being blinded by cheap tricks like red-baiting a candidate for president and indulging in fanaticism. Like Sanders, let’s recognize the U.S. is a great country in some ways, but not all, and we may have something to learn even from a small developing country that has managed to do some things right despite being under siege for decades by the most powerful empire in history.

Having resurrected Fidel Castro in American politics, maybe it’s time to start helping the Cuban people, promote mutually beneficial trade and commerce, and get back on the path that Obama cleared to fully reestablish relations, instead of regressing to the failed policies of the past 50 years that are intended to increase suffering and bring no positive change. Of course, that will only happen if Trump is defeated, and Bernie Sanders appears to be the candidate best suited to accomplish that purpose. 

Some pundits have already noticed that even red-baiting seems to slide off him, as if he had the same Teflon as Reagan. I submit that it’s more than political Teflon; it’s Bernie’s refusal to back down, be pushed to the defensive, or be hypocritical. It’s his willingness to say what he thinks and to mean what he says. It’s the consistency of his social justice message over 40 years of political life. And it’s his ability to connect with young voters and others who understand the difference between tyrannical communism and democratic socialism. They hear the accusations from the right wing and say “who cares?” They are voting for something the establishment doesn’t understand–and want to leave Fidel Castro resting in peace.

Amaury Cruz is a writer, lawyer, and political activist from Miami Beach. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Juris Doctor.

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