Driving home from work on Monday I listened as another useful idiot eulogized Fidel Castro as “a very audacious leader, an outspoken champion of national liberation, national independence.” The same fool assured us that “what the U.S. media misses is why is it that most of the world mourns his passing. It’s not just the mourning of a historic figure, but a figure who actually shook up the planet.” As though that were a good thing.
One wishes Reinaldo Arenas were still alive to quibble with Castro’s hagiographer. Arenas was born in the Oriente province of Cuba in 1943, and joined the revolution as a teenager. He wrote novels, poems and plays, and was first arrested in 1973 for “ideological deviation,” an all-purpose designation. He was charged with being a CIA agent and with “the corruption of minors.” In Castro’s lexicon, that meant he was a homosexual. Arenas was sent to the prison in El Morro Castle, where his only possession besides the clothes he wore was a copy of The Iliad. In his memoir, Before Night Falls (trans. Dolores M. Koch, Viking, 1993), Arenas describes the scene:
“Homosexuals were confined to the two worst wards of El Morro: these wards were below ground at the lowest level, and water seeped into the cells at high tide. It was a sweltering place without a bathroom. Gays were not treated like human beings, they were treated like beasts. . . . The soldiers guarding us, who called themselves combatientes, were army recruits sent here as a sort of punishment; they found some release for their rage by taking it out on the homosexuals. Of course, nobody called them homosexuals; they were called fairies, faggots, queers, or at best, gays. The wards for fairies were really the last circle of hell.”
Arenas served two years in El Morro and in 1980, as part of the Mariel Boatlift, fled to the U.S. He was among the Cubans el Jefe Maximo called los gusanos – “worms” or “maggots.” In 1987, Arenas was diagnosed with AIDS, and three years later he committed suicide in New York City. Arenas titles a chapter in his memoir “The Padilla `Case.’” The reference is to Heberto Padilla (1933-2000), the Cuban poet who, like Arenas, originally supported Castro’s revolution. He was arrested in 1971, locked in a cell for a month, beaten and, in Arenas’ words, “emerged from that cell a human wreck.” He was forced to make a public confession of his “crimes” (much like Stalin’s show trials of 1936-38) and those of other writers, including his wife. International protests resulted in his release, but Padilla was forced to remain in Cuba until 1980, when he fled to the U.S. Here is his poem “The humbled, too” (También los humillados) from A Fountain, a House of Stone: Poems (trans. Alastair Reid and Alexander Coleman, 1991):
“Here it is again, the old humiliation,
looking at you with dog’s eyes,
hurling you against new dates and names.
“Get up fearful one,
and go back to your hole, as you did yesterday,
bowing your head again,
for history is the blow you must learn to endure,
history is that place which affirms us and rends us,
history is that rat climbing the stairs every night,
History is the punk
who also goes to bed with the Whore of Whores.”
The most compelling account of Castro’s crimes is Against All Hope (trans. Andrew Hurley, 1986) by Armando Valladares. Born in 1937, he too initially supported the revolution. As an employee of the Postal Savings Bank of Cuba's new revolutionary government, Valladares committed the ultimate crime: He expressed independent opinions, including philosophical opposition to the Communist system. He was arrested in 1960 and remained imprisoned for twenty-two years. That he survived is miraculous. His book documents decades of unrelieved torture and abuse. Valladares’ “Epilogue” is a single paragraph taken from a statement Castro gave to French and American journalists in the Palacio de la Revolución in Havana in 1983:
“From our point of view, we have no humans-rights problem—there have been no `disappeareds’ here, there have been no tortures here, there have been no murders here. In twenty-five years of revolution, in spite of the difficulties and dangers we have passed through, torture has never been committed, a crime has never been committed.”
Go here to read the speech Valladares made when receiving the 2016 Canterbury Medal from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and here for an article about Valladares published Monday in National Review. See Paul Bonicelli on “Why the Left Loves Totalitarians Like Castro” and the Independent Institute’s tally of Castro’s crimes.