Friday, November 22, 2019

President John F. Kennedy's assassination, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Cuba

“We are prepared to fight them and answer in kind. U.S. leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe.” - Fidel Castro, September 6, 1963*

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy on November 22, 1963
Fifty six years ago on November 22, 1963 John F. Kennedy was assassinated. At 12:30pm Central Standard Time the Kennedys in their convertible limousine turned off Main Street at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. As they were passing the Texas School Book Depository, President John F. Kennedy was shot twice and slumped over toward First Lady Jackie Kennedy. The governor of Texas was also hit. At 1:00pm President Kennedy was pronounced dead.

Seven days later on November 29, 1963 President Lyndon Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover discussed the FBI investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on the White House telephone. The conversation was recorded and is now part of the public record. Hoover described to Johnson the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald after the shooting. Hoover also discussed Oswald's pro-Castro and anti-American associations.

On September 15, 2015 the international media reported on a newly declassified memo from the CIA concerning presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald that reported the following:
Three days after the shooting in Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963, Lyndon B Johnson was informed that Oswald had visited the Cuban and former Soviet Union embassies in Mexico City on 28 September 1963 to arrange visas.
The Daily Mail reported that the memo had "remained a secret until [September 15, 2015], when the CIA released 19,000 confidential documents from the 1960s."

German documentary filmmaker Wilfried Huismann described the circumstances surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the subsequent cover up by the Johnson White House with the tacit approval of Robert Kennedy in his 2006 documentary Rendezvous with Death. At the time of the film's release he gave an interview in Deutsche Welle on January 5, 2006 titled "Castro ordered Kennedy's Assassination." Below is an excerpt from the article:
DW-WORLD: We know that Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy. But who ordered his assassination and why? 
Wilfried Huismann: We settled the question of why in three years of research on this documentary in Mexico, USA and Cuba. Oswald had been an agent for the Cuban intelligence services since November 1962. He was a political fanatic and allowed himself to be used by the Cuban intelligence services to kill John F. Kennedy. It was a Cuban reaction to the repeated attempts of the Kennedy brothers, above all the younger Kennedy, Robert, to get rid of Fidel Castro through political assassination -- a duel between the Kennedys and the Castros, which, like in a Greek tragedy, left one of the duelists dead.
Declassified records in recent years corroborate Huismann's argument.

CIA documents, released in October of 2017, speculate that Oswald's motive for killing Kennedy was that he was "enraged after reading a detailed article in his hometown newspaper in New Orleans in September suggesting that his hero Castro had been targeted for assassination by the Kennedy administration." Oswald sought vengeance on Castro's behalf.  This was an embarrassment for the CIA and the White House that had repeatedly tried to assassinate Castro, and that President Kennedy's murder was blowback.

Another declassified CIA document, released in October 17, 2017 cites Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs and later U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Thomas C. Mann who said "he had a 'feeling in his guts' that Castro paid Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate the 35th president on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas." 

John Kennedy had not been a fan of Fidel Castro and his revolution.  Four months after the assassination of her husband the First Lady recorded a series of interviews in 1964 about what life was like in The White House. The tapes were kept under seal by the Kennedy Library until September 2011.  On September 11, 2011 First Lady Jackie Kennedy's tapes were featured in the book Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.

Cliff Kincaid from Accuracy in Media reported on what the former First Lady had to say about Cuba, the Castro revolution and how President Kennedy had viewed it.
"Jackie indicates that the Kennedys accepted the view of one of their family friends, Ambassador Earl E.T. Smith, that The New York Times and the State Department were largely responsible for Castro’s rise to power and the fall of Fulgencio Batista. 
Smith said that the U.S. government facilitated Batista’s downfall by withdrawing support for his government. But Smith also said that “Until certain portions of the American press began to write derogatory articles against the Batista government, the Castro revolution never got off first base.” 
Smith said that Matthews’ columns “eulogized Fidel Castro, portrayed him as a political Robin Hood, and compared him to Abraham Lincoln.” 
While JFK had no sympathy for Batista, he thought it was “awful” that President Eisenhower, a Republican, had permitted Castro to visit the U.S. after his seizure of power in Havana, said Jackie, going on to cite Smith’s book, The Fourth Floor, on how the U.S. State Department had paved the way for Castro’s takeover. The title is a reference to the officials responsible for Cuba policy who were on the fourth floor of the State Department."
This blog has been critical of The New York Times and its historic bias favoring Fidel Castro and the communist regime in Cuba. It was surprising to find that Jackie Kennedy was also critical of how The New York Times covered Cuba, and the role it played in Fidel Castro's rise to power. Kincaid from Accuracy in Media cites additional excerpts related to Cuba.
“We knew Earl Smith then, who’d been Eisenhower’s ambassador at the time,” said Jackie in the tapes featured in the book Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. “When we were in Florida—that’s all Earl could talk about. Yeah, then Jack was really sort of sick that the Eisenhower administration had let him [Castro] come in and then The New York Times—what was his name, Herbert Matthews?” Jackie adds, “I can remember a lot of talk about it and wasn’t—didn’t even Norman Mailer write something?” 
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was interviewing Jackie, interjects, “Norman Mailer was very pro-Castro, yeah.” 
When Schlesinger noted that Smith had written a book about Castro being a communist and working with the communists, Jackie replied, “Yeah—The Fourth Floor? Well, he was always saying his troubles with the State Department—I remember there was a man named Mr. Rubottom he kept talking about. And how hard it was—warning against Castro and how just it was like, I don’t know, dropping pennies down an endless well. He just never could get through to the State Department. So, I suppose he thought he was a Communist, yeah.” 
Roy Rubottom was the Assistant Secretary of State at the time of Castro’s seizure of power. 
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy addressed Brigade 2506 at the Orange Bowl in Miami on December 29, 1962 where he was given a flag of the Brigade and President Kennedy pledged that their flag would be returned to them in a free Havana.




Ten days prior to President Kennedy's assassination on November 12, 1963, in a White House memorandum, the continued commitment of the Kennedy Administration to pursue an aggressive policy to overthrow the Castro regime is clear:
(f) Support of Autonomous Anti-Castro Groups. The question was asked from where would the autonomous groups operate. Mr. FitzGerald replied that they would operate from outside U.S. territory. He mentioned two bases of the Artime group, one in Costa Rica and the other in Nicaragua. Also it was hoped that the autonomous group under Manolo Ray would soon get itself established in a working base, possibly Costa Rica. Mr. FitzGerald said that much could be accomplished by these autonomous groups once they become operational. A question was asked as to what decisions remain to be made. Mr. FitzGerald replied that we were looking for a reaffirmation of the program as presented, including sabotage and harassment. When asked what was planned in sabotage for the immediate future, he said that destruction operations should be carried out against a large oil refinery and storage facilities, a large electric plant, sugar refineries, railroad bridges, harbor facilities, and underwater demolition of docks and ships. The question was also raised as to whether an air strike would be effective on some of these principal targets. The consensus was that CIA should proceed with its planning for this type of activity looking toward January.
Following the President's assassination within a year these operations were mothballed and Fidel Castro would remain in power for the next half century, then replaced by his brother in a dynastic succession.

 


In the recordings, Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid also reported that "although JFK authorized an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, Jackie alludes to the failure to follow through with adequate military force. 'I mean,' she said, 'the invasion in the beginning and then no air strike—half doing it and not doing it all the way…' The result was a slaughter of anti-communist Cubans in the invasion force and a victory for the Castro regime."


*"Los líderes norteamericanos deben pensar que si están cooperando con los planes terroristas para eliminar a líderes cubanos, ellos mismos no estarán seguros" -Fidel Castro

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

How the Castro regime expanded misery in Cuba

Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. - Margaret Thatcher, February 5, 1976



November 14, 2019

A Publication of the Cuban Studies Institute
 
Impact of Socialism in Cuba 

 *By Jaime Suchlicki


One of the first economic measures introduced by the Castro revolution after 1959 was the 50% reduction in rents people paid for apartments and single-family residences. This Urban Reform Law was hailed as a victory for the lower and middle classes, and a measure that would stimulate the economy since now renters would have more money to spend.

The result was very different. The law had a snowballing effect on the economy. Investors in apartments and commercial real estate refused to further invest. The real estate industry was paralyzed. Cement plants, plumbing companies, wood manufacturing, electronic factories and many more related enterprises closed, many went bankrupt. The economy entered a period of stagnation which never to recovered.

Other “revolutionary” or socialist laws such as the “Agrarian Reform Law” which confiscated, without payment, privately own land had similar results, also the confiscation of large and small businesses produced an economic paralysis and threw hundreds of thousands of workers to the unemployment lines.

All these measures and actions of the government were accompanied by a demonization of capitalism, private enterprise and moneymaking. Business enterprises, as well as money, were considered evil. “Money is the evil intermediary” said Fidel Castro, “between what man produces and what man consumes.”

Two years after the beginning of the revolution the economy entered into a major down spiral. Massive unemployment developed; inflation became out of control; all commercial and industrial production was paralyzed.The country rapidly followed this socialist phase with a Marxist-Leninist period with rationing of most products, militarization of society, alliance with the Soviet Union, conflict with the United States and the migration of more than 2 million Cubans. The economy never recovered. The middle and upper classes were destroyed, and the workers joined the ranks of the unemployed,underemployed or of the state, working for miserable wages.

* Jaime Suchlicki, Professor Emeritus, University of Miami and Director and founder of the Cuban Studies Institute, CSI, a non-profit research group in Coral Gables, FL. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro& Beyond, now in its 5th edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of the PAN, 2nd edition, and Breve Historia de Cuba. 

Published by The Miami Herald, November 13, 2019

 https://cubanstudiesinstitute.us/principal/economic-impact-of-socialism-in-cuba/ 

Impacto económico del socialismo en Cuba

Una de las primeras medidas económicas introducidas por la revolución de Castro después de 1959 fue la reducción del 50% en los alquileres que los inquilinos pagaban por apartamentos y residencias unifamiliares. Esta Ley de Reforma Urbana fue aclamada como una victoria para las clases bajas y medias, y unamedida que estimularía la economía ya que ahora los inquilinos tendrían más dinero para gastar.

El resultado fue muy diferente. La ley tuvo un efecto negativo para la economía. Los inversores en apartamentos e inmuebles comerciales se negaron a seguir invirtiendo. La industria inmobiliaria se paralizó. Las plantas de cemento, las empresas de fontanería, la fabricación de madera, las fábricas electrónicas y muchas más empresas relacionadas cerraron, muchas se declararon en bancarrota. La economía entró en un período de estancamiento del que nunca se recuperó.

Otras leyes “revolucionarias” o socialistas como la “Ley de Reforma Agraria” que confiscaron, sin pago, tierras privadas tuvieron resultados similares, también la confiscación de grandes y pequeñas empresas produjo una parálisis económica y lanzó cientos de miles de trabajadores a las líneas de desempleo.

Todas estas medidas y acciones del gobierno fueron acompañadas de una demonización del capitalismo y la empresa privada. Los negocios, así como el dinero, se consideraban malvados. “El dinero es el intermediario malvado”, dijo Fidel Castro, “entre lo que el hombre produce y lo que el hombre consume”.

Dos años después del comienzo de la revolución, la economía entró en una gran espiral descendente. Se desarrolló un desempleo masivo; la inflación sedes controló; toda la producción comercial e industrial quedó paralizada. Elpaís siguió rápidamente esta fase socialista con un período marxista-leninista con racionamiento de la mayoría de los productos, militarización de la sociedad, alianza con la Unión Soviética, conflicto con los Estados Unidos y la migración de más de 2 millones de cubanos. La economía nunca se recuperó. Las clases medias y altas fueron destruidas, y los trabajadores se convirtieron en desempleados, subempleados o empleados del estado, trabajando por salarios miserables.

*Jaime Suchlicki es Director del Instituto de Estudios Cubanos, CSI, un grupo de investigación sin fines de lucroen Coral Gables, FL. Es el autor de Cuba: De Colón a Castro y más allá, ahora en su quinta edición; México: de Montezuma al ascenso del PAN, 2ª edición, y de Breve Historia de Cuba

Publicado en inglés por el Miami Herald, noviembre 13, 2019

https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article237308304.html






Sunday, November 17, 2019

Failing to liberate Cuba in the 1990s, led to a resurgance of Communism in the Americas

"The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility."- Václav Havel IHT (21 February 1990)

Protest in Washington DC on November 16, 2019 against Nicolas Maduro.
Address at Freedom Plaza with Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Bolivians protesting Maduro

On Friday, November 15th I was contacted by one of Venezuelan organizers of a protest on the following day coinciding with massive protests  in Caracas, Venezuela and asked to speak. This is my draft of the document I used that day to address the crowd at Freedom Plaza as its final speaker.


George Santayana observed that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Today in Latin America history is being repeated and communism has returned to pose an existential threat in this hemisphere.

Today I am attending this protest with a poster of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. This Cuban opposition leader was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was a Sakharov Prize Laureate and was murdered together with youth leader Harold Cepero in 2012 by Cuban State Security. Today Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, and scores of other political prisoners are rotting in Cuban prisons and their lives are in peril.

The same Cuban state security agents and political police that took control in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and that today are trying to take control in Chile, and return Evo Morales to power in Bolivia are not to be underestimated.

The communist regime in Cuba has long term political and strategic objectives that it has patiently pursued for decades.

To Venezuelans: There are plenty of reasons to protest
Consider the case of Venezuela. The Castro regime's interest in Venezuela began from the earliest days of the Cuban communist dictatorship.

Rómulo Betancourt, was a man of the left, the first democratically elected president of Venezuela following the fall of the military dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958. He had met Castro in 1948, and at the time both agreed that Latin America had to change. One of the first things that Fidel Castro did when taking power in 1959 was to visit Betancourt in Venezuela on January 23rd, assuming that he would find an ally.

Venezuelan President-elect Rómulo Betancourt meets Fidel Castro in 1959
But Castro met a Venezuelan leader who, over the years, had become critical of communism, a leader who even in the 1930s had said that he "did not agree with the interference of the Soviet Union in European countries. " During the above mentioned visit in 1959, Betancourt recommended that Cuba not fall into the hands of the Soviet Union and that Cuba hold free elections.

In 1960 Ernesto "Che" Guevara was giving unsolicited advice calling for Betancourt to use the firing squad against his "rightist opponents." In 1963, the Congressional Quarterly reported how:
"Riots led by Communists and other pro-Castro elements in Caracas [in the autumn of 1960] took the lives of 13 persons and injured 100. Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Cuba, and Betancourt ordered out the army to end the rioting, which he termed an attempt to “install a regime similar to that in Cuba.”
The Venezuelan president "believed that trade and diplomatic relations should be broken with the governments that came to power through coups, regardless of whether they were left or right. Thus, in 1961, Venezuela broke relations with Cuba and became one of the promoters of the exclusion of the island from the OAS, which was achieved in January 1962."

Cuban Communist leader Blas Roca
However, the Castro regime continued to agitate for the overthrow of democracy in Venezuela with a strategic aim. Cuban Communist leader Blas Roca, told a Havana rally on January 23, 1963 that when the communists gained full control and “make themselves owners of the great riches in oil, aluminum and everything their earth imprisons, then all of America shall burn.” A cache of three tons of weapons was found on a Venezuelan beach in November 1963 that was to be used to disrupt the democratic elections there.


Fidel Castro would continue to agitate for revolution in Venezuela. A well documented incident occurred on May 8, 1967 and was reported by Francisco Toro in The Washington Post who described how:
"Two small boats carrying a dozen heavily armed fighters made landfall near Machurucuto, a tiny fishing village 100 miles east of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Their plan was to march inland and recruit Venezuelan peasants to the cause of socialist revolution." 
An all night gun battle with the Venezuelan military led to nine guerrillas dead, two captured, and one who had escaped.

President Betancourt understood that the Castro regime was an existential threat to democracy in the Americas. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis he mobilized two Venezuelan destroyers and a submarine to take part in the quarantine of Cuba.

Betancourt's successor in the presidency, Raúl Leoni Otero, took over in 1964 and remained in office until 1969 and pursued the policy of containment and isolation. Failing to violently overthrow Venezuela's democracy, Fidel Castro publicly renounced the exportation of revolution (although he continued the practice -- see Nicaragua and the rise of the Sandinistas in 1979 and the trafficking in drugs in Colombia to finance guerillas to overthrow the Colombian government in 1983) and began making overtures to the Venezuelan government that those times were over.
.
Venezuelan democrats forgot the nature of the Castro regime.

Venezuela's President Carlos Andres Perez, unknown, Fidcl Castro, dictator.
Diplomatic relations were restored between Venezuela and Cuba in December of 1974, oil deliveries resumed, and the democratic government of Venezuela under Carlos Andres Perez's first presidency advocated Cuba's readmission to the Organization of American States.

At the start of his second presidency (1988 - 1993), Carlos Andres Perez invited Fidel Castro to his inauguration.

President Carlos Andres Perez, Fidel Castro, and Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez
Eastern Europe was liberated in 1989. Thirty years ago today the Velvet Revolution started in Czechoslovakia. The Sandinistas were driven out of office in fair and free elections in 1990. On Christmas Day 1991 the Soviet Union peacefully dissolved.  This was the moment for a democratic hemisphere to press a democratic transition in Cuba, but instead they assumed that the regime in Cuba would fall on its own.

They were wrong. Fidel Castro had rejected Gorbachev's reforms and banned Soviet publications.  This failure of solidarity in the Western Hemisphere would return to haunt Latin America.

In 1990 following a request made by Fidel Castro to Lula Da Silva the Sao Paulo Forum was established with the goal “to reconquer in Latin America all that we lost in East Europe.”  The FSP is a communist network comprised of over 100 left wing political parties, various social movements, and guerrilla terrorist organizations such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Chilean Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR).

In 1992 Hugo Chavez was involved in a failed coup against the Andres Perez government. Pardoned by Andres Perez's successor, Rafael Caldera, in March 1994 Hugo Chavez made his way to Cuba later that same year where he was received by Fidel Castro as a hero not a failed coup plotter.

Fidel Castro greets Hugo Chavez in Cuba on December 13, 1994
Four years later, in a reaction to generalized disgust with corruption endemic to the Venezuelan democratic order epitomized by the Carlos Andres Perez administration the former coup plotter was elected president.

President Rafael Caldera with Dictator Fidel Castro in Colombia in 1994
President Caldera, who had pardoned Chavez, handed power over to him in 1999. Together with Fidel Castro, as a mentor, Chavez began the process of turning a flawed democratic order into the totalitarian regime it is today.

Daniel Ortega Nicaragua, Nicolas Maduro Venezuela and Evo Morales, Bolivia.
Venezuelan money backed by Cuban spies and military personnel consolidated Chavez's rule and expanded their power base by flipping other countries. Nicaraguan strongman Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2006, along with the Sandinista Party.  In Bolivia, Evo Morales took power in 2006 and allied with the Sao Paulo Forum and developed close ties with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Rafael Correa achieved the same results in Ecuador in 2007 and would hang on to power for a decade, and today is helping to destabilize his successor, who has not followed in his foot steps.

Official channels announced that Hugo Chavez died on March 5, 2013 and was replaced by Nicolas Maduro, a hardcore communist, an individual who spent a lot of time in his early 20s in Cuba being trained by the Union of Young Communists and Pedro Miret, an official close to Fidel Castro.

Over the past six years Maduro has proven himself to be Havana's man, and Venezuela has been turned into a second Cuba. Complete with fake elections that only underscore that democracy has departed that South American country.

On July 19, 2017 the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro testified before US lawmakers that “[t]here are currently about 15,000 Cubans in Venezuela ... It’s like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.”

Venezuela had a strong and vibrant democracy for forty years, that successfully defended itself from Castroism, promoted democracy in the region, but when it bought into the enemy's lies and mistook the Castro regime for a friend the die was cast for the tragedy currently unfolding. Young Venezuelans are today paying with their lives for the mistakes made by Venezuelan politicians a generation ago.

This is a moment when positive change is possible. Democrats in this hemisphere should learn from the Sao Paulo Forum, and revitalize the Organization of American States into a structure that will strategically and patiently pursue democracy across the Western Hemisphere.

We are all responsible and we must collaborate together, and pursue freedom for all countries in the Americas, including Cuba.  History should teach that failing to do so in the 1990s is what brought and imposed this failed ideology on tens of millions in the Western Hemisphere.

Waiting to speak









Saturday, November 16, 2019

Havana at 500: 440 years of progress and 60 years of neglect

Requiem for a great metropolis at 500

Havana, Cuba B.C. (Before Castro)
 La Habana, Havana for Gringos, is a great city that deserves to be honored and celebrated especially on its 500th anniversary. The Spanish still feel close ties to Havana and Cuba. Remember that for 383 years of its history a Spanish flag flew over Cuba.

On August 25, 1515 Spanish Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded  San Cristóbal de La Habana, on the southern coast of Cuba, near what is today the town of Surgidero de Batabanó in Mayabeque province.

Havana's founder
Four years later on November 16, 1519, Havana was founded at its present location. Havana would thrive and flourish for centuries. Theodore Dalrymple in a 2002 essay "Why Havana had to die" described in shorthand the evolution of this great metropolis.
"No words can do justice to the architectural genius of Havana, a genius that extended from the Renaissance classicism of the sixteenth century, with severe but perfectly proportioned houses containing colonnaded courtyards cooled and softened by tropical trees and shrubs, to the flamboyant art deco of the 1930s and 40s. The Cubans of successive centuries created a harmonious architectural whole almost without equal in the world. There is hardly a building that is wrong, a detail that is superfluous or tasteless. The tiled multicoloration of the Bacardi building, for example, which might be garish elsewhere, is perfectly adapted—natural, one might say—to the Cuban light, climate, and temper. Cuban architects understood the need for air and shade in a climate such as Cuba’s, and they proportioned buildings and rooms accordingly. They created an urban environment that, with its arcades, columns, verandas, and balconies, was elegant, sophisticated, convenient, and joyful."
My father who left Cuba during the Batista dictatorship described Havana as a place of music. Walking block by block there were different groups playing live music in different cafes, night clubs and gathering places. The Malecon was the place to people watch. 

Havana was a vast place where people of social classes, races, and religions worked and partied together.


The Castro regime and its sympathizers try to portray what existed before in the most unfavorable light possible, but reality has a way of crushing their propaganda campaigns.

On April 24, 2019 The Guardian reported that "in 1958, Cuba had 511 cinemas, and Havana alone had 130 – more than either New York or Paris at the time. Carolina Sandretto documents the now largely forgotten buildings for the book Cines de Cuba, published by Skira." Think about this, the Castro regime portrays Cuba as a place where the vast majority lived in grinding poverty with only a small wealthy elite living well. If that is true then why were there 381 movie theaters outside of Havana?


The arrival of the Castro regime in 1959 would usher in six decades of decay and destruction that continue to the present day. Dalrymple makes the argument that this neglect was due to ideological considerations.
I suspect that the neglectful ruination of Havana has served a profoundly ideological purpose. After all, the neglect has been continuous for nearly half a century, while massive subsidies from the Soviet Union were pouring in. A dictator as absolute as Castro could have preserved Havana if he had so wished, and could easily have found an economic pretext for doing so.  Havana, however, was a material refutation of his entire historiography—of the historiography that has underpinned his policies and justified his dictatorship for 43 years.
According to this account, Cuba was a poor agrarian society, impoverished by its dependent relationship with the United States, incapable without socialist revolution of solving its problems. A small exploitative class of intermediaries benefited enormously from the neocolonial relationship, but the masses were sunk in abject poverty and misery. 
But Havana was a large city of astonishing grandeur and wealth, which was clearly not confined to a tiny minority, despite the coexistence with that wealth of deep poverty. Hundreds of thousands of people obviously had lived well in Havana, and it is not plausible that so many had done so merely by the exploitation of a relatively small rural population. They must themselves have been energetic, productive, and creative people. Their society must have been considerably more complex and sophisticated than Castro can admit without destroying the rationale of his own rule. 
In the circumstances, therefore, it became ideologically essential that the material traces and even the very memory of that society should be destroyed.
This neglect is not just an aesthetic disaster but a human one as well. When buildings collapse people are hurt and some die. On November 7, 2019 a 13-year-old girl and her mother "died after the collapse of a housing unit located in the garage of the remains of a house on 21st Street, between 30th and 34th, in Havana’s Playa District."

Prado y Neptuno, Hotel Telégrafo, La Habana, Ca. 1955
 Fabian Flores writing in Havana Times on July 16, 2015 reported that a building in the historic center of Havana collapsed at dawn leaving four dead, including a three-year-old child, and three others injured.  A two-story building located at number 409 Habana St., between Obispo and Obrapía Streets in Old Havana crumbled in seconds. This collapse "took the lives of Henola Alvarez Martinez, 3, Jorge A. Alvarez Rodriguez and Glendys Amayi Perez Kindelan, both 18, and Mayra Paez Mora, 60, according to a statement released last night by the Havana Provincial authorities."

Havana, Cuba in the 21st Century
American journalist Tracey Eaton has written that Havana is collapsing building by building. In 2009 Ray Sanchez writing in the South Florida Sun Sentinel said that "Havana's historic architecture at risk of crumbling into dust." In 2016, The Guardian reported on "uncollected rubbish, overflowing sewage and water leaks" in Havana.

Paradoxically, the decline and collapse of Soviet assistance coincided with an intensification of preserving the historic center of Havana to attract tourism.  When the Soviet Union was heavily subsidizing the Castro regime tourism was not needed, and Havana was neglected and allowed to fall into absolute ruin.

Havana is crumbling away. This dictatorship has developed an art for creating ruins that inspired a documentary by that name. Meanwhile UNESCO and local preservationists are trying to save remnants of this once great metropolis. On this 500th anniversary let us remember what Havana once was and could be again.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Honoring Lech Walesa: Freedom's champion who led the Solidarity Movement and helped free Poland

"We hold our heads high, despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless." - Lech Walesa, August 30, 2009.


Meeting Lech Walesa at a NED event honoring him.
Met one of my hero's a couple nights ago. Lech Walesa, the electrician who started a labor union that overthrew a dictatorship in Poland and opened the path to the liberation of Eastern Europe in 1989.

Earlier this week, he spoke before a congressional committee on Capitol Hill and was honored at a National Endowment for Democracy event where he also spoke.

Lech Walesa, the 1983 Nobel Peace Laureate, who thirty years ago on November 15, 1989 addressed a joint session of the United States Congress.

Six months earlier on June 4, 1989 Poland had its first free elections in over half a century following round table talks earlier that year. This would not have happened if not for Lech Walesa and the Polish Solidarity Movement that had obtained guarantees for workers following a strike in the Gdansk ship yards in 1980. With Poland's freedom, the rest of Eastern and Central Europe followed and the Berlin Wall was torn down after dividing Berliners and killing scores of Germans for 38 years.

It could have all ended badly. In China, the Tiananmen Square massacre took place on the same day as the Polish elections that ushered in thirty years of freedom and prosperity.

In Latin America, despots returned in Nicaragua and sprung up in Venezuela. Fidel Castro died of old age never having to face justice and the regime founded by him and his brother continues to wreak havoc in Cuba and in Latin America.

In February 2009 Lech Walesa was barred from entering Venezuela by Hugo Chavez, and ten years later under the regime of Nicolas Maduro ones is seeing the results of Chavismo.

Throughout these years, Lech Walesa would remain a friend of the Cuban dissident movement. He joined the call for an international investigation into the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in July of 2012.

Today, we remember his speech from thirty years ago, celebrate his legacy, and strive to continue his struggle for freedom.



We the people 
Lech Wałęsa addresses joint session of the United States Congress November 15, 1989

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the Cabinet, distinguished members of the House and Senate.

“We the People”. With these words I wish to begin my address. I do not need to remind anyone here where these words come from. And I do not need to explain that I – an electrician from Gdansk – am also entitled to invoke them.

I stand before you as the third foreign non-head of state invited to address the joint Houses of Congress of the United States. This Congress, which, for many people in the world, oppressed and stripped of their rights, is a beacon of freedom and a bulwark of human rights. And here, I stand before you, to speak to America in the name of my nation. To speak to citizens of the country and the continent whose threshold is guarded by the famous Statue of Liberty. It is for me an honor so great, a moment so solemn, that I cannot find anything to compare it with.

People in Poland link the name of the United States with freedom and democracy, with generosity and high mindedness, with human friendship and friendly humanity. I realize that not everywhere is America so perceived. I speak of her image in Poland. This image has been strengthened by numerous favorable historical experiences, and it is very well known that Poles repay warm heartedness in kind.

The world remembers the wonderful principle of American democracy: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

I do remember these words. I, a shipyard worker from Gdańsk, have devoted my entire life, along with other members of the Solidarity movement, to the service of this idea: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Against privilege and monopoly. Against violations of the law. Against the trampling of human dignity. Against contempt and injustice.

Such, in fact, are the principles and values reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln and the founding fathers of the American Republic, as well as the principles and ideas of the American Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. These principles are pursued by the great Polish Solidarity movement; a movement that is effective.

I know that Americans are idealistic, but at the same time, practical people, endowed with common sense and capable of logical action. They combine these features with belief in the ultimate victory of right over wrong. But they prefer effective work to making speeches, and I understand them very well. I am not a fan of speeches. I prefer facts and work. I treasure effectiveness.

Ladies and gentleman, the fundamental and most important thing that I would like to tell you about is that the social movement bearing the beautiful name “Solidarity”, born of the Polish nation, is an effective movement. After many long years of struggle, it bore fruit and the results are there for all to see today. It set the direction and developed a way of action that has affected the lives of millions of people speaking different languages. It has swayed monopolies,

And the struggle was conducted without resorting to violence of any kind, a point that cannot be stressed too much. We were being locked up in prisons, deprived of our jobs, beaten, and sometimes killed. And we did not so much as strike a single person. We did not destroy anything. We did not smash a single window pane. But we were stubborn. Very stubborn. Ready to suffer, to make sacrifices. We knew what we wanted, and our power prevailed in the end.

It was a consistent and persistent movement, never giving up. And that is why after all these hard years, marked by so many tragic moments, Solidarity is today succeeding and showing the way to millions of people in Poland and other countries.

Ladies and gentleman, it was ten years ago, in August 1980, that the famous strike began in the Gdansk shipyards that led to the emergence of the first independent trade union in communist countries, and soon became a vast social movement, supported by the Polish nation. I was ten years younger then, unknown to anybody but my friends in the shipyard, and somewhat slimmer. And I must frankly say that it was important. I was an unemployed man at that time, fired from my job for earlier attempts to organize workers in the fight for their rights. I jumped over the shipyard wall and rejoined my former colleagues, who promptly appointed me leader of the strike. This is how it all began.

When I recall the road we travelled, I often think of that jump over the fence. Now others jump fences and tear down walls. They do it because freedom is a human right. But there is also another reflection that comes to mind when I think of the road behind us. In those days, at the beginning, many warnings, admonitions, and even condemnations reached us from many parts of the world.

“What are those Poles up to?” we heard. “They are mad!” “They are jeopardizing world peace and European stabilit!” “They ought to stay quiet and not get on anybody’s nerves”. From those voices we gathered that other nations have the right to live in comfort and prosperity, they have the right to democracy and freedom, and it is only Poles who should give up these rights so as not to disturb the peace of others.

In the days before the Second World War there were many people who asked: “Why should we die for Gdańsk, isn’t it better to stay home?” But war soon paid them a visit. And they had to start dying, for Paris, for London, for Hawaii. This time, too, there were many who complained: “There is that Gdansk again, disturbing our peace!”

But the recent developments in Gdańsk carried a different message. This is not the beginning, but the true end of that war. That was the beginning of a new, better, democratic, and safe era in the history of our world. It is no longer a question of “dying for Gdańsk”, but of “living for it”.

Looking at what is happening around us today, we may affirm that the path of struggle followed by Poland in quest of human rights, a struggle without violence and characterized by typical Polish stubbornness and firmness in the quest for pluralism and democracy, shows many people today, and even nations, how to avoid the greatest dangers of conflict.

If there is something threatening European stability today it is certainly not Poland. Poland is driving towards its own profound transformation; transformation achieved through peaceful means, through evolution, negotiated with all the parties concerned, which makes it possible to avoid the worst. And perhaps is held up as a model for many other regions. For, as we know, changes elsewhere are not so peaceful. Peacefully and prudently, with their eyes open to danger but not giving up what is right and necessary, the Poles gradually paved a way for historic transformations.

We are joined along this way, to various extents, by others: Hungarians and Russians, Ukrainians and the people from the Baltic states, Armenians and Georgians, and in recent days East Germans. We wish them luck and rejoice each success they achieve. We are certain that others will also take road we have followed, as there is no other choice!

So now I ask, is there is any sensible man understanding the world around him who could justifiably say today that it would be better for the Poles to keep quiet, because what they are doing is jeopardizing world peace? Could we even dare say that Poles are doing more to preserve and consolidate peace than many of their frightened advisors? Could we not say that stability and peace is under greater threat from countries which have not yet brought themselves to carry out far-reaching and comprehensive reforms, which do their utmost to preserve the old and disgraced ways of government, contrary to the wishes of their societies?

Things are different in Poland. And I must say that our task is viewed with understanding by our Eastern neighbors and their leader Mikhail Gorbachev. This understanding lays the foundation for new relations between Poland and the Soviet Union, relations which are much better than before. These improved mutual relations will also contribute to stabilization and peace in Europe, removing useless tensions.

The Poles have a long and difficult history, and no one wants more than we do peaceful coexistence and friendship with all nations and countries, and particularly with the Soviet Union. We believe that it is only now that the right and favorable conditions for such coexistence and friendship are emerging. Poland is making an important contribution to a better future for Europe, to European reconciliation. And also to the vast and important Polish-German reconciliation. To overcoming all the divisions and the strengthening of human rights on our continent. But it does not come easily for Poland.

In the Second World War, Poland was the first country to fall victim to aggression. Her losses in terms of human life and national property were the heaviest. Her fight was the longest; she was always a dedicated member of the victorious alliance and her soldiers fought in all the world theatres. In 1945 Poland was, theoretically speaking, one of the victors. Theory, however, had little in common with practice.

In practice, as her allies looked on in passive consent, an alien system of government was imposed in Poland, without a president in the Polish tradition, unaccepted by the nation, together with an alien economy, an alien law, and an alien philosophy of social relations. The legal Polish government, recognized by the nation, and leading the struggle of all Poles throughout the war was condemned, and those who remained faithful to it were subjected to the most ruthless persecution. Many were murdered. Thousands vanished somewhere into Russia’s East and North. Civilian repression without soldiers of the underground army that fought the Nazis. And it is only now that we are discovering their bones in unmarked graves scattered among the forests.

This was followed by persecutions of all those who dared to think independently. All the solemn pledges about free elections in Poland that were made in Yalta were broken. It was the second great national catastrophe following the catastrophe of 1939. When other nations were joyously celebrating victory, Poland was again sinking into mourning.

The awareness of this tragedy was doubly bitter, as the Poles realized that they had been abandoned by their allies. The memory of this is still strong in the minds of many. Nevertheless, the Poles took to rebuilding their devastated country, and in the first years following the war they were highly successful. But soon a new economic system was introduced, in which individual entrepreneurship ceased to exist, and the entire economy ended up in the hands of the state, run by people who were not elected by the nation.

Stalin forbade Poland to use aid provided by the Marshall Plan; aid that was used by everyone in Western Europe, including countries which lost the war. It is worth recalling now that great American plan which helped Western Europe to protect its freedom and peaceful order. And now is the moment when Eastern Europe awaits an investment of this kind, an investment in freedom, democracy, and peace. An investment adequate to the greatness of the American nation.

The Poles have travelled a long way. It would be worthwhile for all those commenting on Poland, often criticizing Poland, to bear in mind that, whatever Poland has achieved, she achieved through her own effort, through her own stubbornness, her own relentlessness. Everything was achieved thanks to the unflinching faith of our nation in human dignity, and in what is described as the values of Western culture and civilization. Our nation well knows the price of all this.

Ladies and gentleman, for the past fifty years, the Polish nation has been engaged in a difficult and exhausting battle. First to preserve its very biological existence. Later to save its national identity. In both instances, Polish determination was there. Today, Poland is rejoining the family of democratic and pluralistic countries, returning to the tradition of religious and European values. For the first time in half a century, Poland has a non-communist and independent government supported by the nation.

But in our past there looms a serious obstacle. A great danger. Our long subjection to a political system incompatible with national traditions, to an economic system incompatible with rationality and common sense, coupled with a stifling of independent thought and disregard for national interest has led the Polish economy to ruin, to the verge of utter catastrophe. The first government in fifty years elected by the people and serving the people has inherited from the previous rulers of the country the burden of an economy organized in a manner which prevents it from satisfying even the basic needs of its people.

The economy we inherited after almost five decades of communist rule is in need of overhaul. This will require patience and great sacrifice. This will require time and means. The present condition of the Polish economy is not due to change, as it is not specifically a Polish predicament. All the countries of the Eastern Bloc are bankrupt today. The communist economy has failed in every part of the world. One result of this is the exile of citizens of those countries, by land and by sea, by boat and by plane, swimming and walking across borders. This is a mass scale phenomenon, well known in Europe, Asia, and Central America.

But Poland has taken its new road and will never be turned back. The sense of our work and struggle in Poland lies in our creating situations and prospects that would hold Poles back from seeking a place for themselves abroad; that would encourage them to seek meaning in their work and hope for a better future in their own country, their own home. One sometimes hears that people in Poland do not care to work well. But even those who say this know that Poles work well and effectively, if only they see the sense and usefulness of their work. The working people know their arithmetic too. They are working much harder and in worse conditions than their opposite numbers abroad, and on top of that, they are paid much lower wages. The economic system around them is absurd. To make matters worse, every several or dozen years, the country suffered a new crisis, a new crunch, and time and time again it has turned out that past efforts went to waste. Show me the people who would have worked well stuck for decades under such a system. Wouldn’t they too have succumbed to pessimism?

The system has to be changed and the Poles have taken it upon themselves to change it. I know that America has her own problems and difficulties, some of them very serious. We are not asking for charity, we are not expecting philanthropy. But we would like to see our country treated as a partner and a friend. We would like cooperation under decent and favorable conditions. We would like Americans to come to us with proposals of cooperation, bringing benefits to both sides. We believe that assistance, extended to democracy and freedom in Poland and all of Eastern Europe, is the best investment in the future and in peace, better than tanks, warships, and warplanes; an investment leading to greater security.

Poland has already done much to patch up the divisions existing in Europe, to create better and more optimistic prospects. Poland’s efforts are viewed with sympathetic interest by the West; and for this thanks are in order. We believe that the West’s contribution to the process will now grow. We have heard many beautiful words of encouragement. These are appreciated, but being a worker and a man of concrete work I must tell you that the supply of words on the world market is plentiful, but the demand is falling. Let deeds follow words now.

The decision by the Congress of the United States about granting economic aid to my country opens a new road. For this wonderful decision, I thank you warmly. And I promise you that “this” aid will not be wasted and will never be forgotten.

Ladies and gentleman, from this podium I am expressing words of gratitude to the American people. It is they who supported us in the difficult days of Martial Law and persecution. It is they who sent us aid. They protested against violence. Today, when I am able to freely address the whole world from this elevated spot, I would like to thank them with special words. It is thanks to them that the world “Solidarity” soared across borders and has reached every corner of the world, and thanks to them the people of Solidarity were never alone.

In this chain of people linked to Solidarity there were many, many Americans. I wish to mention here with warm gratitude our friends from the United States Congress, the AFL-CIO trade unions, from the institutions and foundations supporting freedom and democracy, and all those who lent us support in our most difficult moments. They live in all states, in large and small communities of your vast country.

I thank all those who through the airwaves or printed word “spread the truth”. I also wish to say thank you and to greet all Polish-Americans who maintained warm contact with their old fatherland. Their support was always priceless for us.

I wholeheartedly thank the President of the United States and his administration for its involvement in my country’s affairs. I will never forget the then Vice-President, George Bush, speaking over the tomb of the reverent Jerzy Popiełuszko, the martyr of Poland. And I will never forget President George Bush speaking in Gdansk, in front of the monument of the falling shipyard workers. It is from there that the President of the United States was sending a message of freedom to Poland, to Europe, to the world.

Pope John Paul II once said: “Freedom is not just something to have and to use, it is something to be fought for; one must use freedom to build one’s personal life as well as the life of the nation.” I think this weighted thought can equally well be applied to Poland and America. I wish all of you to know and to keep in mind that the ideals which underline this glorious American Republic, and which are still alive here, are also alive and well in faraway Poland. And although for many long years efforts were made to cut Poland off from these ideals, she held her ground and is now reaching for the freedom to which she is justly entitled.

Together with Poland, other nations of Eastern Europe are following this path. The wall that separated people from freedom has collapsed.