Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands! My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl.
—Che Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries
President Obama’s recent move to cozy up to Communist Cuba is a crucially important moment not just diplomatically, but as a moral one in regards to human rights, dignity and justice. As we witness a Radical-in-Chief throwing an economic lifeline to a barbaric tyranny, it is our duty and obligation to shine a light on the dark tragedy of the Cuban Gulag — and to reflect on the unspeakable suffering that Cubans have endured under Castro’s fascistic regime.
Until July 26, 2008, Fidel Castro had ruled Cuba with an iron grip for nearly five decades. On that July date in 2008, he stood to the side because of health problems and made his brother, Raul, de facto ruler. Raul officially replaced his brother as dictator on February 24, 2008; the regime has remained just as totalitarian as before and can, for obvious reasons, continue to be regarded and labelled as “Fidel Castro’s” regime.
Having seized power on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro followed the tradition of Vladimir Lenin and immediately turned his country into a slave camp. Ever since, Cuba has distinguished itself as one of the most monstrous human-rights abusers in the world.
Half a million human beings have passed through Cuba’s Gulag. Since Cuba’s total population is only around eleven million, that gives Castro’s despotism the highest political incarceration rate per capita on earth. There have been more than fifteen thousand executions by firing squad. Torture has been institutionalized; myriad human-rights organizations have documented the regime’s use of electric shock, dark coffin-sized isolation cells, and beatings to punish “anti-socialist elements.” The Castro regime’s barbarity is best epitomized by the Camilo Cienfuegos plan, the program of horrors followed in the forced-labor camp on the Isle of Pines. Forced to work almost naked, prisoners were made to cut grass with their teeth and to sit in latrine trenches for long periods of time. Torture is routine.[i]
The horrifying experience of Armando Valladares, a Cuban poet who endured twenty-two years of torture and imprisonment for merely raising the issue of freedom, is a testament to the regime’s barbarity. Valladares’s memoir, Against All Hope, serves as Cuba’s version of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Valladares recounts how prisoners were beaten with bayonets, electric cables, and truncheons. He tells how he and other prisoners were forced to take “baths” in human feces and urine.[ii]
Typical of the horror in Castro’s Gulag was the experience of Roberto López Chávez, one of Valladares’s prison friends. When López went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses in the prison, the guards withheld water from him until he became delirious, twisting on the floor and begging for something to drink. The guards then urinated in his mouth. He died the next day.[iii]
Since Castro’s death cult, like other leftist ideologies, believes that human blood purifies the earth—and since manifestations of grief affirm the reality of the individual, and thus are anathema to the totality—mourning for the departed became taboo. Thus, just like Mao’s China and Pol Pot’s Cambodia,[iv] so too Castro’s Cuba warned family members of murdered dissidents not to cry at their funerals.[v]
The Castro regime also has a long, grotesque record of torturing and murdering Americans. During the Vietnam War, Castro sent some of his henchmen to run the “Cuban Program” at the Cu Loc POW camp in Hanoi, which became known as “the Zoo.” Its primary objective was to determine how much physical and psychological agony a human being could withstand. The Cubans selected American POWs as their guinea pigs. A Cuban nicknamed “Fidel,” the main torturer at the Zoo, initiated his own personal reign of terror.[vi]
The ordeal of Lt. Col. Earl Cobeil, an F-105 pilot, illustrates the Nazi-like nature of the experiment. Among Fidel’s torture techniques were beatings and whippings over every part of his victim’s body, without remission.[vii] Former POW John Hubbell describes the scene as Fidel forced Cobeil into the cell of fellow POW Col. Jack Bomar:
The man [Cobeil] could barely walk; he shuffled slowly, painfully. His clothes were torn to shreds. He was bleeding everywhere, terribly swollen, and a dirty, yellowish black and purple from head to toe. The man’s head was down; he made no attempt to look at anyone. . . . He stood unmoving, his head down. Fidel smashed a fist into the man’s face, driving him against the wall. Then he was brought to the center of the room and made to get down onto his knees. Screaming in rage, Fidel took a length of black rubber hose from a guard and lashed it as hard as he could into the man’s face. The prisoner did not react; he did not cry out or even blink an eye. His failure to react seemed to fuel Fidel’s rage and again he whipped the rubber hose across the man’s face. . . . Again and again and again, a dozen times, Fidel smashed the man’s face with the hose. Not once did the fearsome abuse elicit the slightest response from the prisoner. . . . His body was ripped and torn everywhere; hell cuffs appeared almost to have severed the wrists, strap marks still wound around the arms all the way to the shoulders, slivers of bamboo were embedded in the bloodied shins and there were what appeared to be tread marks from the hose across the chest, back, and legs.[viii]
Earl Cobeil died as a result of Fidel’s torture.
Maj. James Kasler was another of Fidel’s victims, although he survived the treatment:
He [Fidel] deprived Kasler of water, wired his thumbs together, and flogged him until his “buttocks, lower back, and legs hung in shreds.” During one barbaric stretch he turned Cedric [another torturer] loose for three days with a rubber whip. . . . the PW [POW] was in a semi-coma and bleeding profusely with a ruptured eardrum, fractured rib, his face swollen and teeth broken so that he could not open his mouth, and his leg re-injured from attackers repeatedly kicking it.[ix]
The reign of terror against American POWs in Vietnam was just a reflection of Castro’s treatment of his own people. In addition to physical hardships even for those who don’t wind up in prison or labor camp, Cuba’s police state has denied Cubans any freedom at all. Cubans do not have the right to travel out of their country. They do not have the right of free association or the right to form political parties, independent unions, or religious or cultural organizations. The regime has outlawed free expression; it has consistently censored publications, radio, television, and film. There is a Committee for the Defense of the Cuban Revolution (CDR) for every single city block and every agricultural production unit. The CDR’s purpose is to monitor the affairs of every family and to report anything suspicious. A Cuban’s entire life is spent under the surveillance of his CDR, which controls everything from his food rations to his employment to his use of free time. A vicious racism against blacks accompanies this repression. In pre-Castro Cuba, blacks enjoyed upward social mobility and served in many government positions. In Castro’s Cuba, the jail population is 80 percent black, while the government hierarchy is 100 percent white.[x]
Cuban Communism follows Lenin’s and Stalin’s idea of “equality,” wherein members of the nomenklatura live like millionaires while ordinary Cubans live in utter poverty. The shelves in the stores are empty, and food is tightly rationed for the average citizen. Teachers and doctors drive taxis or work as waiters to support their families. Under the system of tourist apartheid, ordinary Cubans are not allowed inside the hotels designated for tourists and party functionaries. There are, of course, police inside every such hotel to arrest any unauthorized Cuban citizen who dares to enter.
The $5-billion-a-year Soviet subsidy that just barely kept the Cuban economy afloat during the Cold War is long gone. And notwithstanding the $110 billion that the Soviets pumped in over the decades, Cuba has become one of the poorest nations in the world. Its sugar, tobacco, and cattle industries were all major sources of exports in the pre-Castro era. Castro destroyed them all.[xi] Because of his belief in “socialism or death,” Cuba is now a beggar nation. Even Haitian refugees avoid Cuba.
Denied the right to vote under Castro, Cubans have voted with their feet. Pre-Castro Cuba had the highest per-capita immigration rate in the Western hemisphere. Under Castro, approximately two million Cuban citizens (out of eleven million) have escaped their country. Many have done so by floating on rafts or inner tubes in shark-infested waters. An estimated fifty thousand to eighty-seven thousand have lost their lives.[xii]
Not content to trust the sharks, Castro has sent helicopters to drop sandbags onto the rafts of would-be escapees, or just to gun them all down. Epitomizing this barbarity was the Tugboat Massacre of July 13, 1994, in which Castro ordered Cuban patrol boats to kill forty-one unarmed Cuban civilians—ten of them children—who were using an old wooden tugboat in their attempt to flee Cuba.[xiii]
These are the heart-breaking stories, and only a few among many, of the Cuban people who have suffered excruciating pain and agony under an evil tyranny that now, as it stands on its last legs, is having its life extended by an American president.
It is food for thought.
[i] For one of the best accounts of the brutality of the Castro regime, see Pascal Fontaine, “Cuba: Interminable Totalitarianism in the Tropics,” in Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism, pp. 647–665.
[ii] Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag, trans. Andrew Hurley (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001), p. 137.
[iii] Ibid., p. 379.
[iv] For China’s case, see chapter 7 of my book, United in Hate: The Left’s Romance With Tyranny and Terror; for Cambodia’s, see John Perazzo, “Left-Wing Monster: Pol Pot,” FrontPageMag.com, August 8, 2005.
[v] Valladares, Against All Hope, p. 378.
[vi] Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, chapter 19, “The Zoo, 1967–1969: The Cuban Program and Other Atrocities,” in Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia 1961–1973 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999).
[vii] Humberto Fontova, Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, (Regnery, 2005). pp. 141–142.
[viii] Rochester and Kiley, Honor Bound, p. 400.
[ix] Ibid., p. 404.
[x] Fontova, Fidel, p. 88.
[xi] Ibid., pp. 14–15 and 49.
[xii] Ibid., pp. 8 and 56–57.
[xiii] Ibid., pp. 157–163.