The Wall Street Journal
Many Americans were offended by Sen. Bernie Sanders’s recent praise of Fidel Castro. Perhaps gratitude is in order instead. By candidly sharing his opinion of Cuba, Mr. Sanders exposes the depth of his socialist views.
Mr. Sanders’s enthusiastic support for the Socialist Workers Party in the 1980s is well documented, as is his endorsement of Castro and Nicaraguan Sandinista Daniel Ortega, both of whom were Soviet pawns during the Cold War. On CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Feb. 23 we learned that Bernie’s ideology hasn’t changed much since he was advocating for tyranny in his youth.
Interviewer Anderson Cooper played a film clip from the 1980s in which Mr. Sanders explains why Cubans didn’t side with the U.S. against Castro: Because he “educated the kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society.” To Mr. Cooper, he said: “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?”
In fact, according to the late historian Hugh Thomas, Cuban literacy was already around 80% in 1958, making it the fourth most literate country in Latin America, in keeping with a relatively prosperous economy. Mr. Sanders’s claims about a “popular” revolution are also guff. A good part of the Cuban population resisted the Communist takeover of the island, and Castro’s gun-toting buddies met that resistance with deadly violence.
Immediately after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled, Fidel and his henchmen began executing policemen and soldiers without trials in a campaign of terror. Cuba Archive, a nongovernmental organization that documents deaths during the revolution, counts 1,003 firing-squad executions in 1959.
The slaughter didn’t end there. Castro turned on his allies, targeting those he suspected of being against his one-man takeover. Cuba Archive has documented another 1,862 executions from 1960-67 and 816 combat deaths.
Propagandists like to describe Castro’s victims as greedy capitalists. But they were a cross-section of society. Castro slaughtered thousands of farmers who owned and worked small plots across the island because they resisted collectivization. The Soviet-coached cleansing of dissidents in the Escambray mountains is legendary, but the purge also took place in other parts of the country.
Thousands of Cubans who had been part of the struggle to overthrow Batista and restore the 1940 constitution looked on with horror at the rise of the megalomaniac Castro. Around 2,800 Cuban men trained for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. They had been promised U.S. air cover, but President Kennedy reneged at the last minute and the Communists easily defeated them.
Yet that’s only half the story. Castro had infiltrated resistance groups on the island. Before the invasion, the military rounded up tens of thousands of civilians, including the elderly, women and adolescents, whom he suspected of disloyalty. The numbers were so large that the military used stadiums, theaters and schools to hold the prisoners in unsanitary conditions without food.
Armando Valladares was a 22-year-old post-office clerk in 1960 when he refused to place a sign supporting communism on his desk. Castro’s jackboots arrived at his home in the night, shoved his mother out of the way, and hauled him off to prison.
Twenty-two years later his devoted wife managed to win his release and he flew to Paris. Less than two months after that he was granted residency in the U.S. He would become U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva and write a memoir, “Against All Hope” (1985), which graphically describes the torture and privation in Castro’s dungeons.
In Mr. Sanders’s interview with Mr. Cooper, he condemned “the authoritarian nature of Cuba”-a description so mild that it is another socialist talking point. The “nature” of the Cuban military dictatorship is totalitarian. It seeks control of every inch of daily life, public and private, and uses harsh repression to achieve its ends.
As for Castro’s “literacy program,” its objective is indoctrination. For decades students were “taught” in work camps, away from their families, where they were forced to do agricultural labor. The lack of parental supervision led to an increase in teen pregnancy and forced abortion. To this day, access to higher education remains tied to ideological purity.
High literacy is a joke in a place like Cuba, where there is no free speech. Before the Bastista and Castro dictatorships Cuba had freedom of the press, more than 50 daily newspapers and the most television stations in Latin America. Today state media tells Cubans what to think.
Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica all have literacy rates around the same as Cuba’s today. Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama are not far behind and they’ve made much bigger gains since the 1950s. Some of these countries have experienced periods of authoritarianism. None imposed the totalitarianism of Castro. Will America elect a president whose view of the revolution seems uninformed by 60 years of experience?
*MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY
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