The mainstream media and right-wing commentators are skilled at taking one ignorant statement by one individual and using it to promote their political ideology ad nauseum. And the right doesn’t care if they have to mislead, lie, and rewrite history to do it. In this case it was the comments by Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Miami Marlins, who when asked in a Time Magazine interview what he thought of Fidel Castro said, “I love Fidel Castro” and “I respect him.”
While Mr. Guillen’s remarks are unfortunate and surprising, this article will focus on the lies about Cuba that followed the manager’s misguided choice of words.
The lies about Cuba and Castro range from the mild, “everyone in Miami hates Castro”, to the ridiculous, “Castro is Hitler”, a statement I heard on local radio show. Here is some other misinformation that the media often promotes when discussing Cuba and Castro:
1. Everyone in Miami hates Castro. Actually, many third generation Cubans just want the U.S. to have better relations with Cuba and end the U.S. embargo. They don’t care about Castro the way their parents do, for they are Americans now.
While support of the embargo is common among Cuban Americans in Florida, it is not universal. About forty-three percent of U.S. born cubans are against the Cuban embargo, and about 60% of those arriving between 1990-2000 from Cuba oppose it.
Perhaps the newer Cuban arrivals are against the embargo because they have seen the negative impact it has on the health and lives of the people of Cuba while the U.S. born and older Cubans did not live through the U.S. embargo and see its damaging effects.
2. Castro has hurt every Cuban, everywhere. In fact, under Castro, education levels went up in Cuba and they created one of the most cost efficient and in some ways effective health care systems in the world. Cuba has a near 100% literacy rate, comparable with the United States. And while the U.S. ranks 37th on the WHO healh care rankings and Cuba ranks 39th, the U.S. spends about 2.5 times what Cuba spends per capita on health care and has a similar life expectancy.
“”Cuba’s achievements in social development are impressive given the size of its gross domestic product per capita. As the human development index of the United Nations makes clear year after year, Cuba should be the envy of many other nations, ostensibly far richer. [Cuba] demonstrates how much nations can do with the resources they have if they focus on the right priorities – health, education, and literacy.””
— Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, April 11, 2000”
And no, that doesn’t excuse Fidel Castro of his human rights abuses against some, but the facts give a clearer picture of Cuba.
3. Castro and socialism ruined the Cuban economy. After 50 years of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, it’s hard to lay the blame for Cuba’s poverty entirely on Castro’s economic policies. Moreover, “In her last report to the Human Rights Council, the Personal Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Cuba described the effects of the embargo on the economic, social and cultural rights of the Cuban people as “disastrous”.33”
4. The Embargo will bring regime change in Cuba. Can we really believe this after 50 years?
“No one familiar with US practices in the region or elsewhere can possibly believe that the goal of intensive US terror operations against Cuba and harsh economic warfare was intended to “bring democracy to the Cuban people.” That is just propaganda, unusually vulgar in this case.”
5. Castro is Hitler. This was a ridiculous comment I heard on talk radio in Tucson. And yes, Castro has violated the rights of many of his people. But there was only one Hitler, and this lazy hyperbole is used by those who lack the talent to be more nuanced.
6. Castro overthrew a democratic Cuban government. Actually, Castro overthrew the dictator Batista who five years earlier had overthrown the democratically elected Carlos Prio in a military coup.
“The Batista dictatorship was overthrown in January 1959 by Castro’s guerrilla forces. In March, the National Security Council (NSC) considered means to institute regime change. In May, the CIA began to arm guerrillas inside Cuba. “During the Winter of 1959-1960, there was a significant increase in CIA-supervised bombing and incendiary raids piloted by exiled Cubans” based in the US. We need not tarry on what the US or its clients would do under such circumstances. Cuba, however, did not respond with violent actions within the United States for revenge or deterrence.”
6. Things were better for Cubans before the revolution. Cubans lived under the oppressive dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista who imprisoned hundreds of dissidents and turned Cuba into a playground for mafia bosses and sugar companies that profited off of near slave Cuban labor.
Batista was a tool for the Cuban and U.S. bourgeoisie and increased the suffering of the poor under his brief dictatorship. Castro helped many poor at the beginning of his regime by nationalizing the property of the wealthy, land and American businesses, to fund his social programs. The wealthy classes in America didn’t like that and went after Castro. We will never know if his economic socialization program would have succeeded; the U.S. embargo of food, tools, hardware, manufacturing equipment and other tools of industry made Cuban economic advancement impossible.
7. Cubans in Miami and Florida are a monolithic group that share the same ideology. They vary in opinion by age, gender and geography.
9. All Cuban refugees are political refugees. Nope, many have been economic refugees.
“Jorge Ferragut, a Cuban immigrant who founded Casa Cuba, an agency that assists Cuban immigrants arriving in Texas, said in a 2008 article that many Cuban immigrants of the first decade of the 21st century left due to economic instead of political issues.”
“In contrast with the Cuban exiles of the 1960s and the 1970s who left the island for political reasons, the last two waves left mostly for economic reasons.” So when you hear right-wing pundits screaming about all the bloody bodies in the water of those that suffered under the tyranny of Castro, remember that many of those bodies were economic refugees that may have stayed in Cuba were it not for the U.S. embargo. Also remember that many of the recent Cuban immigrants came to Miami and Florida on a plane.
10. All Cubans are conservative. Cubans, just like Mexicans, Chinese, Poles, Irish, Germans, African Americans, are not just one ideology or another. A 2006 Pew Research poll reports that 28% of Cuban considered themselves Republican, and 20% considered themselves Democratic. That’s hardly a monolithic right-wing block of Cuban voters we see in the mainstream media.
The main point is to educate yourself and not buy into the conservative, mainstream media misinformation about Cuba, Castro, and Miami. One should always question the media portrayal of issues, and Cuba is not an exception.