The Catholic Thing
Semper Fidel Print E-mail
By George Marlin   
Friday, 22 May 2009

In April, seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus returned from a Cuban junket giddy over the private audience they had with ailing Communist dictator, Fidel Castro. A mesmerized Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said “I think what really surprised me, but also endeared me to [Castro] was his keen sense of humor, his sense of history, his basic human qualities.” Picture it – Castro cracking humane jokes and charming the visitors – the same Castro who over fifty years sent many Catholics, Protestants, and non-believers who did not agree with him to political prisons, quite a few of whom never returned, something almost everyone has now forgotten. (For just one example of what this meant, click over at Notable on this page.)

No one should be surprised by Congressman Rush’s comment. He’s a member of the latest generation of “useful idiots” who embrace charismatic tyrants. When Castro descended from the Cuban mountains in January 1959 and overthrew the Batista regime, he was portrayed by U.S. sympathizers as a revolutionary freedom fighter who extolled democratic virtues. Even after he abolished human rights, civil liberties, free elections, political parties, independent unions, religious and cultural organizations, and instituted political prisons and forced labor – intellectuals and progressives continued to gush over him.

During Castro’s 1959 visit to the United States, 10,000 (!) members of the Harvard community greeted him on campus with a standing ovation. Novelist Norman Mailer, founder of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, issued this proclamation: “I announce to the City of New York that you [Castro] gave all of us who are alone in this country…some sense there were heroes in the world…. It was as if the ghost of Cortez had appeared in our century riding Zapata’s white horse…. You are the answer to the argument of commissars and statesmen that revolutions cannot last, that they turn corrupt or total or eat their own.”

Mailer wasn’t the only prominent cheerleader: Senator George McGovern found Castro “in private conversation at least, soft spoken, shy, sensitive.” Julian Bond said that Castro’s explanation of his ideological positions made him think of the “connection between socialism and Christianity.” Dan Rather called him “Cuba’s own Elvis”; filmmaker Oliver Stone, “very selfless and moral.” Then there was singer Harry Belafonte who said: “If you believe in freedom, if you believe in justice, if you believe in democracy, you have no choice but to support Fidel Castro.” It’s always worth remembering these sorts of romantic delusions, because they have a way of happening over and over, with disastrous effect.

Here’s the real story of the Castro era: Shortly after seizing power, Castro ordered his henchmen to infiltrate and destroy Catholic parishes. He closed Catholic universities – including his alma mater Bethlehem Jesuit College – and confiscated the property. Hundreds of priests were expelled; Catholic institutions were abolished or marginalized. Those who openly professed their faith were denied higher education and jobs and many were tossed into prison.

In his harrowing memoir of twenty-two years in a Castro prison (1960-1982), Against All Hope, Armando Valladares, a staunch Catholic, vividly describes how he and others endured the terror, brutality, and violence of Castro’s political police as well as decades of solitary confinement, squalid living conditions, and putrid food.

Every time he waivered, Valladares thought “about the integrity of those [prison] martyrs who had died shouting ‘Viva Cuba Libre! Viva Christ the King! Down with Communism!’” “I was,” he wrote, “ashamed to feel so frightened. I realized that the only way to honor the memory of those heroes was to behave with their firmness and integrity. My heart rose up to God, and I fervently prayed for Him to help me stand up to his brutality, and do what I had to do. I felt that God heard my prayer.” That’s the audacity of hope!

Since 1959 over 500,000 people have spent time in a Cuban gulag. The authoritative Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression – written by a team of French intellectuals – reports that there have been 15-20,000 prisoners of conscience; 12-15,000 political prisoners; and 15-17,000 prisoners shot. Over 2 million Cubans, out of a population of 11 million, “voted with oars” and settled in other countries. In 1994 alone, over 7,000 attempting to escape died at sea. When confronted with these facts, the Castro replied: “From our point of view, we have no human-rights problem – there have been no ‘disappeareds’ here, there have been no tortures here, there have been no murderers here…torture has never been committed, a crime has never been committed.”

As is happening with much else of vital historical value, the real story seems to be disappearing down the memory hole. The Organization of American States is dedicated to promoting democratic principles in Latin America and holds “that adherence by any members…to Marxism-Leninism is incompatible with the inter-American systems…and breaks the unity and solidarity of the hemisphere.” Yet it is ready to accept Cuba as a member.

And rejecting what he calls “stale Cold War arguments,” President Obama has called for a new friendly relationship with Cuba that will include the lifting of the embargo, if some political prisoners are released and Cuban taxes on remittances from the United States are reduced.

The reaction to this kinder, gentler approach towards Cuba? Fidel Castro, the last Cold War thug, poked Obama in the eye. In a recent article, Castro accused the president of showing signs of “superficiality” and made it clear that Obama had “no right to suggest that Cuba make even small concessions.”

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.


George Marlin is the author of The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact.

(c) 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (14)Add Comment
written by William Dennis, May 22, 2009
We do have a few radical ideologues representing us in Congress these days! But I ask you, do leopards change their spots? As this Memorial day approaches and the forgetful spout forth their words of appeasment, let us not forget our real representatives.
written by Mark, May 22, 2009
It seems as though the Catholic perspective in this article is implemented simply as a means to criticize Obama's Cuba policy.

I don't mean to question peoples' intentions. However, notice that these imprisoned Catholics said "Viva Cuba Libre" before they said "Viva Christ the King". Maybe these people were political prisoners first and Catholic prisoners second?
Cuba libre
written by Pio, May 22, 2009
The liberals have it half wrong: Fidel is wonderful. He is evil. But this author also has it half wrong by endorsing the boycott. The fact that Cuba has survived 50 years proves that it has failed. The surest way to destabilize the communist stranglehold is to flood it with investment capital and US tourists. Not because we or Fidel are nice, but because history has shown that political freedom usual follows economic growth from capital investment. Let the markets do the Lord's work!
Predictable as Always
written by WJ, May 22, 2009
What point does Marlin think is served by our Tough Guy approach to a third-rate dictator and his sorry demesne except the inflation of his status and the further impoverishment of Cubans themselves? I eagerly await him to call for our ceasing relations with China and with the Saudis. In any case, given the US' own past support (and indeed anti-democratic installment of) equally or more repressive regimes in the Americas, Marlin's insistence on the "vital historical record" is quaint.
To Mark
written by WJ, May 22, 2009
"It seems as though the Catholic perspective in this article is implemented simply as a means to criticize Obama's Cuba policy."

I think you've discovered the interpretive formula for understanding Marlin's essays on this blog.
Economics 101
written by Bustamante, May 22, 2009
If the author believes that embargos are successful in promoting Catholic values, we should also embargo:
- OPEC countries that don't have religious freedom
- China (same reason)
- Europe (secular/liberal persecution of Church)
- Russia (Orthodox heretics who don't recognize the Pope and persecute Uniate Catholics)
- Mexico (anti-clerical)
- Latin America (too nice to evangelicals)
We could survive by trading with Poland, Lithuania, Vatican City and the Philippines.
The Last Thug?
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., May 22, 2009
Brillaint article! Let me just point out that Castro is not the last Cold War thug. Kim Jong-ail, sons of Kim Il-song, whom Stalin put in charge of North Korea, is still alive and executing any one who prays or questions the party line. Another matter on Cuba: A well-meaning US priest recently sent me an artcile that quotes a Cuban bishop as caliing Cuba "ideolgically plural." What an insult to those being tortured for doubting Fidel!
a ?
written by debby, May 22, 2009
i'm completly ignorant on this subject & hope to correct that a little by reading Against All Hope; please everyone educate me. Does this cardinal who does the evil gov't bidding in executing his own family, is he the same who would be called to consider the cause of beautification these very ones his tolerance has condemed to death? isn't this judas behavior? is the vatican silent here? is that ok? like Pius during WW2-other things at work?i feel so sick. another father against his own childre
To Debby
written by Bradley, May 22, 2009
Dear Sister in the Lord, can you please restate your comments in clearer English? I have know idea what you talking about.
Bleeding heart Catholic?
written by John T. Robinson, May 22, 2009
It's ironic that Mr. Marlin's arguments here are just like some of the liberal responses to his recent death penalty column: his heart is in the right place, but he is naive to think that a continued boycott will change anything.
written by JDS, May 22, 2009
You posted... "Marlin's insistence on the 'vital historical record' is quaint." But I cannot find that passage in the article. The closest I found was similar..."vital historical value"...but one does not use quotation marks for similar comments. I find your misuse of quotes to be disingenous at best, and dishonest at worst. By the way, I'm not sure what "quaint" means to you but I would be interested to know if you are disputing the veracity of any of Marlin's article?
to Bradley-sorry
written by debby, May 23, 2009
sorry i realized i combined the Notable w/the article. Please read the Notable Quote. My ?s are: How can the Church keep any one in the place of Shepherd/Father who allows his priests to escort his own children to the firing squad? Is the Vatican still silent? i don't see the difference bet Catholic Poland and Catholic Cuba. why is the Church's response so different? i want to be a faithful, loving daughter of the Church, but i don't want to be ignorant, or naive, which apparently i am.
written by Gunnar, May 23, 2009
Great article. As a dual national with Venezuela, I know the damaging effect of Castro, his influence and ideology have been a destructive force in the hands of Hugo Chavez.

For those of you who attack the author and make apologies for these godless communists who have done everything they can to destroy the faith and separate the Church from Her children; shame on you.

Dreaming about communist utopias is really nice when you live in the U.S., but the reality is something else.
Frame of Reference
written by Dust, May 25, 2009
Just a heads up for the casual reader: WJ is a left wing ideologue. Just in case you may want to discern her/his world view frame of reference in context to what is being written in these columns.

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