• Humberto Fontova, The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro,, Encounter Books, 2014, 259 pages, $25.99.
RALEIGH — Fidel Castro freed Cuba from the greedy clutches of U.S. robber barons and mobsters and rewarded his downtrodden countrymen with free health care and education. A scornful Uncle Sam retaliated with a vindictive embargo, but half a century later, according to Newsweek, Castro’s Cuba ranks among “the best countries in the world to live.”
This is the narrative Humberto Fontova perceives in the mainstream media in the United States, and in The Longest Romance the Cuban author provides considerable documentation.
“It would be a great mistake even to intimate that Castro’s Cuba has any real prospect of becoming a Soviet satellite,” wrote Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Lippman. According to Herbert Matthews of The New York Times, Fidel Castro was “one of the most extraordinary men of our age,” and under his care Cuba was “now a happy island.”
CNN founder Ted Turner is an admirer of Castro and has said on record that “he’s trained a lot of doctors.” For Dan Rather, “Castro could have easily been Cuba’s Elvis” and “the adulation for him seems genuine.” For Peter Jennings, “health and education are the revolution’s great success stories,” and Barbara Walters says Castro “brought great health care to his country.” For Morgan Neill of CNN, “Cuba could serve as a model for health-care reform in the United States.”
Ray Suarez of PBS explains that “One of Cuba’s greatest prides is its health care system,” and “the country has much to boast about.” For Eleanor Clift, “to be a poor child in Cuba may in many instances be better than being a poor child in Miami.” And so on, echoed by politicians like Jimmy Carter, who said, “Cuba has superb systems of health care and universal education.”
That sort of ad copy avoids the harsh realities that Fontova charts.
Fidel Castro “jailed political prisoners at a higher rate than Stalin during the Great Terror. He murdered more Cubans in his first three years in power than Hitler murdered Germans during his first six. He came closer than anyone in history to starting a world-wide nuclear war.”
Castro also “converted a nation with a higher per-capita income than half of Europe and a huge influx of immigrants into one that repels the poorest people in the region and boasts the highest suicide rate in the Western Hemisphere.”
Chris Matthews of MSNBC says “everybody who saw Godfather II knows what it was like when Castro took over.” Fontova likes the movie, but The Longest Romance is a better source for pre-Castro Cuba, which had a lot going for it.
The author notes that Cuba established the eight-hour workday in 1933, and before Castro, Cuba had double Spain’s per-capita income, the eighth-highest wages in world. Now, in Fontova’s account, Cuba has a lower credit rating than Somalia, fewer phones per capita than Papua New Guinea, and fewer Internet connections than Uganda. The author makes a case that slaves ate better under Spanish imperialism. And if everybody is so happy with the health care and education, why do so many Cubans flee?
By the author’s count, in 27 years, between 200 and 300 people died trying to breach the Berlin Wall. In twice that period, about 30 times that number, between 65,000 and 80,000 people, died trying to escape from Castro’s Cuba. It remains a Stalinist regime, but, for Fontova, calling Castro a Stalinist “slightly lowballs his repression” because Castro jailed and tortured Cubans at a higher rate than Stalin. Cuba’s current prison population is 90 percent black, including Eusebio Penlaver, the “world’s longest suffering black political prisoner.” Fontova introduces readers to many victims, and he could have included more material about the regime’s repressions.
As Paul Hollander observed in Political Pilgrims, early supporters of the regime such as Jean-Paul Sartre denounced Castro’s persecution of homosexuals, which Cuban cinematographer Nestor Almendros documented in Improper Conduct. In Orlando Jimenez-Leal’s “8A” viewers can see Castro’s show trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa, with his state-appointed attorneys demanding that he be executed.
Add the many reports from human rights groups, and there is no excuse for giving this loathsome regime and its Sado-Stalinist dictator a free pass, much less holding it up as a model. That nonsense continues because, as Fontova shows, some hailed as objective experts hold close ties to the Cuban regime.
Fontova cites Gail Reed, a veteran of the Venceremos Brigade, who served as a correspondent for Business Week and a Havana-based producer for NBC news. She now writes for Huffington Post, which is not exactly up-front about her marriage to Julian Torres Rizo, an officer of Cuba’s DGI, its version of the KGB. In her book Inside the Cuban Revolution, Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations thanks five Cuban DGI agents, including one, Josefina Vidal, who was expelled from the United States in 2003 for espionage. Margarita Alarcon, who writes for the Huffington Post, is also an official of Cuba’s Casa de las Americas, which Fontova says the DGI controls. Margarita Alarcon is also the daughter of Ricardo Alarcon, who served as Cuba’s foreign minister and ambassador to the UN.
By unmasking such agents of influence, The Longest Romance provides a valuable service, though one doubts that anyone in the current administration is paying attention. As for the mainstream media, if they are so wrong about the totalitarian regime of Fidel Castro, why should anybody listen to them on anything else?
Lloyd Billingsley is a contributor to Carolina Journal.