Don’t fall for Castro’s charm
Juan M. Clark, Ph.D., the author of Cuba: Myth and Reality, teaches at Miami Dade Community College, this column is a response to Herald Chairman David Lawrence Jr.’s Nov. 1 column, Cuba and Castro, six hours of " showmanship." Lawrence was one of the American Society of Newspaper Editors delegated who traveled to Cuba and interviewed Fidel Castro.
AS A TEENAGER I participated in the struggle against the Batista dictatorship and for the restoration of democracy in Cuba. By mid-1959 I found that these goals were being betrayed by Fidel Castro, who had promised election and to give up power if the people thought that he was not doing a good job. By mid-1960 it was obvious that he was making "arrangements" to remain in power for a long time.
Forty years is proof. Many young people—such as my younger brother Jose, who had been tortures by Batista’s henchmen, and I thought that the only way to get rid of Castro was by force. Eventually both of us left Cuba and joined what became the 2506 Brigade. My brother served in an infiltration team, while I became the paratroopers’ 81mm-mortar section leader. You know the outcome of the Bay of Pigs.
My brother managed to escape through the Brazilian Embassy, but I was captured and imprisoned until our ransomed release in December 1962.
The POWs had two encounters with the "máximo lider" that are crucial to understanding Castro. He undoubtedly has a special charisma. When he graduated from Belen in 1945, he received the longest round of applause, as a former professor told me. But would you also believe that when he stood in front of us POWs giving a speech at the Havana Sports Arena, where we were detained, he got a good round of applause?
After we were transferred to a temporary prison in the unfinished Naval Hospital, Castro showed up again. He jovially asked how the revolution was treating us. We talked first about the war and eventually about politics.
I posed several questions, including: Why could there not be elections to see what people really wanted? He said that people had made their decision in the Plaza but that he would let me ask workers in a nearby housing-construction project whether they wanted elections. I responded by asking how many of the workers who wanted elections would have jobs the next day. He wasn’t upset by my response, but some in his entourage were. The opportunity to probe workers’ opinions never materialized.
During this conversation (realize that we were in a rather good situation at that point because negotiations for our exchange for tractors were making good progress), he confessed that he had been a Marxist - Leninist since age 19 and before that "an illiterate in politics." He spent about two hours trying to impress us defeated "counter- revolutionaries."
At the end of this encounter, he put his arms on my shoulder and said: "You are a little bit confused. I will send you some books" --- another offer that was never followed up.
These two instances speak volumes about Castro’s personality. He can mesmerize and charm you and make you his admirer if not his follower. He is an extraordinary leader, with a strong megalomaniac tendency, who is capable of believing his own lies. The former professor, whom I mentioned earlier, was very fond of him and told me that he had constantly caught Castro in lies trying to get his way. When confronted, Castro would reply: "father, I can’t help it. This is second nature to me."
This is the simpático dictator. One who has caused unprecedented economic ruin, who acts as omnipotent feudal lord and can get away with it.
I congratulate Lawrence for visiting opposition leaders, particularly Osvaldo Paya whose personal integrity seems to be unquestioned but who, unfortunately, was unrecognized by the pope despite being the outstanding Catholic politician in Cuba today.
We may be witnessing the end of the ineffective embargo ( in contrast to that against South Africa, where world opinion was united). Castro again may be getting his way, masterfully using deceit and lies, as during his days with the Jesuits in Belen School.
Monday, November 23, 1998
The Herald/ Viewpoints