Reflections on the Resident’s unilateral decision to re-open diplomatic channels with Cuba…
by John F. Di Leo
A long time ago, on an island not too far away, a pair of brothers was ejected from a good Jesuit school. The one was reportedly a better student, the other less impressive, but together, they preferred other things – politics, rabblerousing, war.
When the brothers grew up, they fell in with a bad crowd – the worst of crowds, in fact. Far across the oceans, Chinese communists were consolidating their power, Soviet communists were drawing an iron curtain down the center of Europe, Korean communists were settling in for the long haul in Pyongyang, Vietnamese communists were revolting against the French in Hanoi.
And of all the things to do in the world of the 1950s – from music to manufacturing, from Wall Street to Madison Avenue, from acting to travel – the Western economies were booming; it was a great time to be alive – of all the choices they had in the Western world, these two brothers looked instead all the way to those distant communist hellholes, and said, yes, that’s the life they wanted for themselves.
In their 20s, they joined, then led, a Leninist revolutionary band. Cuba was and is a small country; it wasn’t hard to rise to the top. Before you knew it, Fidel and Raul Castro, along with their vicious friend Che Guevara, were the leaders of The Movement, and a few years later, they were the rulers of Cuba.
The Castros ordered the nationalization of Catholic schools (even though Jesuits from their old school had successfully lobbied the Batista government to release the brothers from prison just a few years before). The Castros nationalized and closed, or simply destroyed Christian churches, and banished or killed priests or nuns who had served in them.
The Castro brothers evicted, imprisoned, or killed thousands of managers in foreign-owned businesses throughout Cuba – one of their primary beefs was the fact that foreign investment employed so many of their countrymen; they would rather see their fellow Cubans unemployed than being managed by non-Cubans.
The Castro brothers nationalized some $75 billion (in 1960 US dollars) worth of American property and businesses when they took over, which was of course instantly worth far less to the new junta, once those competent managers were evicted, imprisoned or killed.
Fidel became the dictator; brother Raul was the enforcer. Raul’s title was Minister of the Armed Services, but, like any crime gang, the job was less formal – it was to supervise the executions, to write the contracts or do the killing himself.
The history books are full of examples – the hundreds of the prior government officials, the hundreds of the prior government’s police, the hundreds of humble bureaucrats, or reporters, or housekeepers, or clerks, whose only crime was to cross the path of the Castro brothers at some point in their half century of dictatorship.
There’s one particularly famous incident – the 72 people summarily executed without trial in one 24-hour period in 1959 at Raul’s order, buried by a bulldozer, perhaps remembered because of the easily memorable figure, six dozen at one time.
But the vast majority of Raul Castro’s killings were of such bulk that the details were lost to the history books, blending in with so many others.
263 outside of Santiago in 1959… 11 peasants in the Sierra Maestra, just for refusing or being unable to serve as guides… 272 people in one two-week period in January 1959 alone…
Some of the victims’ names are remembered, like Colonel Cornelio Rojas, but the majority of the thousands murdered by Raul Castro, either at his brother’s order or at his own person whim, are forgotten by history, fading away in the fog of distant revolution. If you left behind children and grandchildren, they’ll remember you; if you were slaughtered before you had a chance to get married, have children, and live your adult life, then you may leave no one behind to keep your memory alive and call out for justice, however long it may take.
It was long understood that the brothers had a complimentary division of labor – throughout their reign, Fidel enjoyed exercising power as the dictator, and Raul enjoyed shooting people. Fidel was known as the speechmaker; Raul was feared as the manager of death squads. “Minister of the Armed Forces” sounds so much better to the ear than “serial killer,” doesn’t it…
As the years went by, Raul worked ever more closely with their sponsors in the Soviet Union. They identified places in which to replicate what they had done in Cuba. With Cuban soldiers and Soviet weapons and ammunition, they traveled the world, fomenting revolution in Africa, South America, Asia… The 1960s and 1970s were the years in which the disease of communism was spread by Cuban advisors, all at the direction of Fidel and Raul Castro.
And so, when after a long and vicious rule, Fidel finally grew too sick to continue as dictator, he passed the top job to his brother in 2006, as his reward for unwavering fraternal loyalty, and mass murder on his brother’s behalf, for so many decades.
The death squads never shut down; Raul Castro remained the enforcer from the 1950s to the present. The thousands and thousands of political prisoners and other unfortunate victims at home – and the hundreds of thousands of victims of Soviet-client revolution-spreading in Angola and Mozambique, Nicaragua and El Salvador, Venezuela and Algeria – all these casualties of 20th century communism can trace their suffering, poverty, injury, and death back to Raul and Fidel Castro.
Unlike Russia, East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, which overthrew their Soviet-era rulers and formed new governments… unlike the Chinese communists and the Vietnamese communists, who had no such revolution but have gradually replaced old line Stalinists with ostensibly more “open and tolerant” socialists… Cuban remains stuck in time, still ruled by the very same mass murderers who started it all, sixty years ago.
Other formerly communist countries deserve a fresh start – of course – but that has no bearing on this one. Cuba has had no such internal change of leadership. Their dictator today is the very man who gave the orders to kill dozens of Americans and thousands of his countrymen, the very man who led the destruction and theft of billions of dollars worth of American property.
Statutes of Limitations
Ever since antiquity, civilized people have recognized a need for some time limit on criminal prosecution, and on civil prosecution as well, for that matter. Statutes of limitations, as they’re called, recognize that key evidence may be lost over time… that witnesses forget, move, or die… so governments forbid prosecution after too much time has passed. Perhaps a year, perhaps five, perhaps seven; virtually all legal systems recognize that if a person hasn’t been prosecuted for a minor infraction for years, it may no longer be in the government’s best interest to try to prosecute him now.
But even while governments institute these limits, they also recognize that, just as not all crimes are alike, not all time limits should be alike either.
Many countries set a longer statute of limitations on sex crimes, and most eliminate the limitation entirely on homicide. Under commonly accepted standards of international law, crimes against humanity, and particularly, war crimes such as the Nazi operators of WWII death camps, must have no statute of limitations whatsoever.
Also worth noting is “Continuing Violations” doctrine, a universally-recognized approach stating that a criminal with a pattern of ongoing crime cannot be limited by when the crime spree began, but should only be dated from the most recent incident. So a burglar who’s been robbing the same house for twenty years doesn’t get a break just because he got away with it the first five; we should still prosecute him for the times he has robbed the house in these past five.
And what can we learn from this today?
Cuba and the Question of Normalizing Relations
The American left has, for all their talk of “human rights” over the years, inexplicably, never been bothered by the brutalities of the Castro Brothers’ rule of Cuba. Not during the revolution (“well, it’s a revolution, after all…”), not during the consolidation of power and bloodletting of the 1960s (“well, they were just starting out, they probably needed an iron fist…”), not even today, 55 years in, as the Cuban secret police still round up people, throw them in jail, and throw away the key, without the commission of a real crime, without any filing of charges.
Life under the Leninists is a life in continual “revolution mode.” If there is to be a statute of limitations on the evils of the Cuban regime, there’s still plenty to prosecute them for. The theft of USD 75 billion may have been half a century ago, but there’s plenty of fresh blood on the brothers’ hands, to cover up the old, dried blood of decades long past.
As the American Left declares “It’s been 50 years; get over it!” or as even some confused voices on the right say, “It’s been 50 years and the boycott isn’t working; time for a change!”… the fact is that they’re all wrong, on every count.
While many of the crimes were indeed 50 years ago, thousands of those crimes have no statute of limitations. Under international law, Raul and Fidel Castro should be recognized as both war criminals and dictators guilty of crimes against humanity. They should be prosecuted, not bowed down to.
The other charge is more of a challenge, because it’s based on a false premise. To say the boycott isn’t working is to misunderstand what the boycott is for.
Our boycott against Cuba’s current regime is not solely intended to force the regime to buckle, or to convince the Cuban people to somehow rise up and overthrow the Castros. That would always have been welcome, but it was never the only reason.
In fact, we closed our embassy, ended diplomatic relations, and severed all economic activity with Cuba because the Cuban regime was in the hands of a band of criminals who had robbed Americans – American investors, American businesses, American citizens – of USD 75 billion in property and business activity…. And they had kidnapped Americans, and killed Americans, and killed so many more of their own people too, that the United States had no choice but to acknowledge a fact: that the nation of Cuba was now in the hands of criminals. Not just any criminals, but criminals who had specifically stolen from us.
Imagine our struggling nation today if that USD 75 billion had never been stolen from our business community. That’s 1960 dollars, remember. Imagine what that would have continued to grow, produce, and multiply into, after 55 years. Our struggling, generous nation could not afford to lose that money, and yet, the Castros stole it from us, weakening our economy – just a little, but still, enough – to do us damage, contributing to the economic suffering we have today.
If the Cubans had overthrown the Castros, we could have justified starting over, a blank slate, as we did with Russia, East Germany, Hungary and Poland when the USSR fell.
Or if the Castros had finally died, of natural causes, then too we could have justified starting over. Once they’re out of the picture, the United States can be magnanimous and evaluate the benefits of reestablishing relations with our island neighbor.
But not while the Castros still live.
No, not while the Castros continue to commit tyrannical crimes ranging from beatings to life imprisonment to murder. There isn’t enough paper in Appleton to type up the indictment on these serial killers.
When Louis XIV said “L’etat, c’est moi” (I am the State), he defined a concept that these United States were designed to reject: the idea that the king is the nation, that the political leader is not just a representative and servant of the nation, but is the very personification of the nation… that good things for the country really accrue to him, that bad things for the country only really happen to him.
This concept, rejected by legitimate republican governments like the United States and Canada and Israel, lives on in the absolute dictatorships of communist countries. In Cuba, the Castro brothers are the state; the state isthe Castro brothers.
To normalize diplomatic relations with these monsters –with these very villains who have been responsible for so much evil in the world over the past half century, so very many deaths, so much suffering – is to give one clear message to the world:
That if you rob the American investor by nationalizing his business, his land, his bank, his home… if you abuse, imprison or kill American travelers in your country… if you manage or serve in a proxy war against the United States or its allies on innocent foreign soil… and you can wait it out long enough, the United States government will eventually tire of holding it against you.
The message that normalization would send is that the United States has a short memory, and will eventually give in, for no concessions at all, if an enemy is just patient.
When we consider today’s global economy, in which American employers and investors hold trillions of dollars worth of property and goods in other countries all over the world, do we really want to send that message?
Do we dare take a chance, that today’s capitulation “probably” won’t inspire some other tinpot dictator tomorrow to nationalize our oil wells, or our manufacturing plants, or our distribution centers, located in any of 200 other countries across the globe?
Yes indeed, “Normalization” sends a message… but it’s no message that anyone looking out for America’s best interests would ever want to send.
Copyright 2014 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago based international trade compliance manager and lecturer. A writer, actor, and recovering politician, he is old enough to remember the Cold War, and to remember which side Cuba was on at the time.
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