Hentoff on Castro


From the left, Nat Hentoff refuses to rationalize Castro's human rights violations:

I remain deeply puzzled at those who pride themselves as being on the left who regard the prisoners I have named as the victims of a United States policy of aggression against Cuba that keeps "provoking" Castro to lock up these threats to national security.

Whole thing here.

NEXT: Here Lie the Fossils of Young John Kerry

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s amazing how many friends I have who simply can’t bring themselves to denounce Castro. And, alas, some seem to be adding Hugo Chavez to that untouchable list.

  2. Sad, isn’t it? I know someone who, a dozen years ago, lamented the plight of the Kurds and the evils of George Soros, but now opposes Bush’s liberation of the Iraqi Kurds, and no doubt thinks Soros is a good guy now for his “anybody but Bush” attitude.

  3. It’s always disturbing to hear how partisans in the US respond to various dictators. If a dictator insists that he’s doing it “for the people” then certain portions on the left fall silent, including some people who might, at first glance, seem otherwise reasonable. This lunacy is particularly evident in regard to Castro, but I’m sure somebody could drag up other examples.

    If a dictator claims to be anti-Communist (never mind that many such dictators allow very little economic freedom) then at times various portions of the right have fallen silent, including some people who might, at first glance, seem otherwise reasonable. Nowadays there doesn’t seem to be quite as much of that from the right, but this administration doesn’t always keep the most savory allies in its war on terror.

    Now, the right wing can claim (and has claimed) realpolitik justifications for some of its silence, and some of those might even hold water. But it still bothers me that elements on each side of US politics seem to be selective in which dictators they’ll tolerate, and that selectivity seems to correlate with the rhetoric put out by the dictators.

  4. The strategy or supporting anti-communist dictators worked pretty well.

  5. Thoreau, thanks for putting what I think into words. I’ve seen this kind of behavior from people I otherwise respect from all political persuasions, and it’s disheartening.

    Mark: Chavez doesn’t suprise me as much as Castro. He was elected, and he’s not a dictator yet, so one doesn’t sully oneself quite as much. I imagine people don’t want to criticize him out of fear it’ll encourage another coup attempt, which is sad considering he’s a bad if not malevolent president. Good thing the Venezuelan Supreme Court threw out his attempt to block the upcoming recall.

  6. carl-

    The main explanations I’ve heard for the fall of the Soviet Empire have been:

    1) The inherent unworkability of communism made its collapse a “historical inevitability”.
    2) The cost of an arms race with the US bankrupted the Russians.

    Naturally, people can and do debate the relative importance of each explanation. Not surprisingly a person’s partisan preferences seem to determine which explanation they favor.

    But I’ve rarely heard anybody say “The Soviet Empire fell because anti-communist dictators were in place.” They just don’t strike me as a huge factor.

    Incidentally, isn’t there something slightly ironic about the term “anti-communist dictator”? Sure, not all dictators employ the sort of grossly inefficient centralized planning that characterizes Communism. But how much economic freedom really exists in a dictatorship? If your business can be shut down at any moment should you tick off the secret police, that’s hardly a sign of economic freedom.

  7. Oh, I might add that I favor the explanation that says Communism collapsed under its own weight rather than due to external pressure. Undoubtedly external pressure and the arms raced helped, but I’m staunchly skeptical of gov’t and hence I have a hard time giving US politicians too much credit for the failure of an unworkable system.

    I just picture US politicians patting themselves on the back, saying “Yep, if we hadn’t spent vast sums of government money, that unworkable economic system might not have collapsed! Nothing like lots of government spending to bring down a leviathan state!”

  8. With leftys like of Katarina vanden Heuvel being so thrilled at the polls taken right after 9/11 which showed that American’s trust in government had risen to the highest levels since the 1950s, and with Nat Hentoff working alongside conservatives against the Patriot Act, I sort of forgot that Hentoff was still considered on the left.

  9. I recall hearing that Hentoff spoke at last year’s meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee. Salon and the Economist both ran articles depicting the conference as a freak show of the far right (go ahead, gag at my choice of reading material everybody) but Hentoff, ostensibly a lefty, got a respectful listening.

    I guess that some good ideas can still cut across ideological lines. And that is a good thing.

  10. Thoreau has said so politely and eloquently what I would have clumsily sputtered. (Thoreau is a scientist, so I’m suspecting that he values observable facts as the most powerful tools in the determination of objective truth; it’s been a pretty successful strategy in the world of science and it would be just keen if more people had the courage to apply it to political history and philosophy, two subjects that are constantly crippled by emotional reflexes).

    There is simply no difference between Castro and Somoza or Suharto (who makes Castro look like Vaclav Havel, or Pinochet or or any other of the many mass murderers we supported and armed and protected throughout the Cold War.

    I’m certainly not a liberal or a leftist or whatever it’s called these days, but I think it’s as plain as the noses on our faces that the people who defend Castro are as useless as the people who defend Suharto. Until those on “the left” and those on “the right” can convince those in their own ranks to give up their loyalist, knee-jerk defenses of tyrants simply because to do so would somehow please those on “the other team,” there will be no progress in the development of ethical thought in political matters.

  11. Some years ago I met Karl Hess in person. I could not think of what to say so I said “You are one of my heroes.” He replied, “I certainly hope you get over it.” I think that Nat Henthoff might react in the same way.

  12. Using Spain as the model, I have always believed that the difference between a dictatorship on the right and a dictatorship on the left, was that it is much easier for a right wing dictatorship to move to a market democracy.
    Though I formed that opinion before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  13. Also, there are dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, that though they are dictatorships they are in the strange position of having leaders who are more liberal (as in libertarian) than the population at large.

    In Saudi Arabia, the crown Prince (the guy who really runs the country) is U.S. educated, he wants women to be allowed to drive, he wants various freedoms for his people, but if he pushes too hard for them there will be a conservative backlash and he may end up with his head cut off.

  14. Kwais-

    I’m not convinced that the Saudi and Pakistani leaders are more liberal than the population at large. I’m quite willing to concede that the stated positions of the leaders are more liberal than some of the more vocal, influential, and violent portions of their populations. That is self-evident.

    However, in a society that isn’t free, it isn’t necessarily obvious how to gauge what your average Joe Schmoe Saudi thinks.

  15. …nor is it easy to gauge the sincerity of a dictator’s professed liberal sympathies, when he is apparently (conveniently?) hamstrung by dangerous extremists.

  16. Thoreau,
    I don’t know either for certain. That is just the impression I get. I have heard from talking to teachers that the population of males is split about 50/50 on whether women should be allowed to drive. Judging where people stand on other issues is harder, specially because of the language barrier, and an open hostility to westerners by some of the population. So my methods for gathering information on the feelings of the populace are not scientific, but the impressions I get is that the population at large is for the most part much more consevative than the ruling family.

  17. Also, I don’t judge the royal family by what their public relations in the US, I am judging them by the laws they have passed, or tried to pass recently.

    The fact that in one of the compounds that the religious fanatics attacked here in Saudi Arabia, when they found one of the princes they didn’t shoot him like they shot everyone else, they cut his throat. That might indicate that they are displeased with the liberalism of the royal family.

  18. > Fidel Castro imprisons dozens of peaceful dissidents… …and executes people for hijacking a ferry in order to reach freedom,

  19. But Jean Bart, you’re comparing Spain to other free countries. Since Pinochet, Chile has been the fastest-growing economy in South America. I very much doubt Allende (who brought the country down on himself, without America, regardless of what you’ve been told) would have done so well.

  20. So, we’ve established that when Spain abandoned a right-wing dictatorship it experienced economic growth, and that when Chile abandoned a right-wing dictatorship it experienced economic growth. From that limited data set I conclude that ditching right-wing dictatorships is a good thing.

    As to the general question of left-wing dictators vs. right-wing dictators: I freely grant that a full-fledged communist dictatorship (with grossly inefficient centralized planning) is worse than a sort of run-of-the-mill-could-be-worse right-wing dictator. And an all-out fascist dictatorship on the scale of Hitler is certainly worse than some run-of-the-mill leftist dictator who doesn’t do the full centralized planning but definitely doesn’t show much respect for property rights.

    But if I had to compare a run-of-the-mill leftist dictator with a run-of-the-mill right-wing dictator: Rather than trying out both systems to compare them, I’d probably just skip out on trying either of them and declare a tie.

  21. Thoreau,
    I guess my original statement was that it seems to me that a right wing dictatorship moves more easily to a free market economy than a left wing dictatorship does.

    A confounding variable might have been that in the day, the protecting saint of communist dictatorships was the biggest communist dictatorship. And the protecting saint of right wing dictatorships, was only sometimes a half hearted ostensibly free market US.

  22. Anon,
    I stand corrected, I had been misinformed that Prince Abdullah was educated in the US, which was to explain some recent behind closed doors decisions. However, I looked into it after readion your post, and came to find out you are right.

    That puts a new light on a lot of things. I am going to have to re-examine some of my paradigms.

  23. “Japan, Germany, and Italy seem to have done very well for themselves after ditching their right-wing leaders. So, the severity of the right-wing dictatorship doesn’t seem to be an issue”

    Well, you’re overlooking the fact that all three countries were technologically advanced long before the fascist takeover. You’re also overlooking the Marshall Plan, which was administered by the U.S., at great expense and effort, to rebuild these nations and put them back on their feet.

  24. RE: Lefties and their love for Castro:

    I bet the fact that the U.S. has continually denounced Castro and occasionally attempted to overthrow him has endeared him to knee-jerk blame-America-first types. It’s the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” at work here.

  25. Satvros,

    that is an excellent point. It is quite common to hear those on the left, or those to the left of the US, decry US policies and support opponents of the US.

    In a course on the DDR, the professor actually claimed that “life in the DDR was not all that bad, provided you did not have excess demands”. And the thought that the human is capable to achieve on his own was rejected as “american propaganda that murders the poor and the black (sic)”. and these highly educated professors were serious. one even had a year at Cincinnati in the US!

    Whether it is a left-wing or a right wing dictatorship (how would south africa fit into the suggestion that “right wing dictatorships have an easier transition?), the key word is “dictatorship”. and economic and social liberalization, especially meaning reduced government intervention into both spheres, will improve the lot in the aftermath of either system.


  26. Andrew-

    For once, I agree with you.

    Ironically, the best way for him to loose his “cool” status would be to end the embargo. One photo of an American CEO shaking hands with Castro while negotiating to build a factory, and he’d be seen as a sell-out. Suddenly, the left would be up in arms over “sweat shops” in Cuba (never mind that these “sweat shops” would probably pay 3x as much as the average Cuban makes in a state-owned enterprise).

    So let’s lift the embargo and turn the American left against Castro. If we can trade with China, we can trade with Cuba.

  27. RE: Lefties and their love for Castro:
    I bet the fact that the U.S. has continually denounced Castro and occasionally attempted to overthrow him has endeared him to knee-jerk blame-America-first types. It’s the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” at work here.—Stavros

    You are on to something there. Fund an investigation.

    Plus side for liberals liking Castro:
    1. the above
    2. Castro with his beard is a throw back to hippi-dom.
    3 There is that strong rebellious association with Che.
    4 Castro lives in a land of NO winter.
    5 His loyal subjects drive vintage automobiles.
    6 everyone can master basic reading in Spanish
    7 Cubans have taken over Miami, relieving white liberal guilt of conquest
    8 Castro likes to talk a lot more than anything else.

    The negative side to liberals liking Castro:
    1 The closest the USSR & USA ever came to nukes was over him.
    2 Castro dresses in military gear.
    3 Cubans try to flee to America all the time (the appeal)
    4 Castro has a wall of ocean to keep his people in.
    5 Castro is c-rumored to have killed Kennedy.
    6 Castro smokes, and worse, smokes cigars.
    7 Castro killed and plucked a chicken in a NYC hotel room.
    8 He is from too far to the south of Boston & NYC.

    Why conservative like and dislike Castro.
    The opposite of the above.

    Why Libertarians dislike Castro:
    Castro got rid of gambling, private property, prostitution, most of the alcohol and drugs and any other freedom thought pleasurable.

    Why sport fans like Castro:
    Cubans come to the US to play ball.
    Cuba doesn’t enter a team in the World Series.

    Why England likes Castro:
    The island helps divert the warm gulf stream north.

    Why his wife Mirtha likes Castro:
    Fidel can’t leave the island to bother her.

    Why his wife dislikes Cuba:
    Fathers get children after divorce, so he got to keep the son.

    Why Fidel doesn’t like himself:
    He is in a prison of his own making.

    What Castro likes about himself:
    He doesn’t have to look at himself in the mirror each morning to shave.
    He doesn’t have to see those he sent to the wall.
    He doesn’t have to see those dissents he jailed.
    “K-daffy” & the UN aren’t going to condemn him.

  28. Thoreau

    I suppose you expected an argument from me, but I am of two minds about it…partly for the reason you just stated. And it might keep the American sugar industry from destroying the ‘glades.

  29. I actually wasn’t writing that in anticipation of an argument. I just had a funny image in my mind of lefties calling Castro a sell-out the way that hard-core fans always call a band a sell-out when it signs a record deal.

  30. ” One photo of an American CEO shaking hands with Castro while negotiating to build a factory, and he’d be seen as a sell-out.”

    Castro has done that with EU CEOs.
    Castro would thrive on US loans and investments.
    Let him die and let the Miami-cubans go in and claim their property.
    Most of all, I wish Castro could come to a reality
    of what he has done to people, good people,
    and to himself, before he dies.

  31. Hank,

    “Since Pinochet, Chile has been the fastest-growing economy in South America.”

    That would be Brasil actually.

    “I very much doubt Allende (who brought the country down on himself, without America, regardless of what you’ve been told) would have done so well.”

    So? Its a false choice.

  32. kwais,

    “A confounding variable…”

    Another confounding variable is their state when they entered these dictatorships. Chile has always been muc better off than Nicaragua, for example, no matter what form of government those nations had. Accordingly, one would have to find nations with similar histories, demographic factors, resources, etc. in order to make a proper comparison.

  33. kwais,

    My point about Hitler, etc. was that many people who defend Franco’s spain tend to argue that it also more favorable than say a communist dictatorship because it wasn’t expansionary (which is a lie anyway, since Franco tried to absorb Portugal into Spain on several occassions) like many communist dictatorships have been. Right-wing dictatorships have, in other words, been just as expansionist in their designs as communist or left-wing dictatorships have been.

  34. kwais:

    “In Saudi Arabia, the crown Prince (the guy who really runs the country) is U.S. educated”

    Execuse me, but the crown prince can barely read/write. He never had any formal education. Perhaps you meant one of his sons/nephews?

  35. thoreau:
    “So let’s lift the embargo and turn the American left against Castro. If we can trade with China, we can trade with Cuba.”

    That’s right.

    Funny thoughts about Castro “selling out” too. 😀

    All this talk about right-wing dictators, left-wing dictators…….isn’t it just about authoritarian versus anti-authoritarian?

    I think the left and right meet at both ends and we, the liberals, make up the center.

    Different traditions, yes, but overall the same programme and philosophy..lack of freedom.

  36. Oh hell,

    The whole Chomskyite contention that the US “supported” anti-communist third world dictators has always been the overblown boilerplate of shallow leftist journalism, anyway.

    The US (like any other civilizised country) will always default to a civil relationship with any nation that qualifies for UN membership, and isn’t otherwise hostile to America.

    It has always been the interest of America, as the world’s largest economy, to support expanding trade.

    During the cold war, the US was quick to proffer arms to any regime interested in acquiring them, rather than have them develop sources elsewhere.

    The US has been a weak champion of human rights (prior to 9/11 the incentives were weak) but the Communist bloc has been antithetical to liberty, and the UN and the EU are unlikely to ever be effective champions of freedom (or even very interested).

  37. Andrew,

    “The whole Chomskyite contention that the US ‘supported’ anti-communist third world dictators has always been the overblown boilerplate of shallow leftist journalism, anyway.”

    Really? I suppose that explains the heavy U.S. support for say Suharto and Lon Nol (amongst others). Please, take your ahistorical non-sense elsewhere.

    The U.S. had client states just like the USSR did; and they gave them lots of support – military and otherwise – in spite of whatever human rights abuses those client states committed. Indeed, these relationships were far more intertwined than your luke-warm description attempts to portray them as.

    The US (like any other civilizised country) will always default to a civil relationship with any nation that qualifies for UN membership, and isn’t otherwise hostile to America.

    “The US has been a weak champion of human rights…”

    Actually, in many instances it has been the enemy of human rights; at least when that position was seen as more important, or when the individuals involved were deemed not worthy of this “universal” value. Reagan’s backing of Nicolae Ceaucescu is a perfect example of this, BTW. The Romanians took a hard F/P line against the Soviets and Reagan immediately obliged by granting aid in numerous forms; never mind that his own State Department was warning him that Ceaucescu was running soviet-style gulags in Romania.

    “…but the Communist bloc has been antithetical to liberty…”

    That’s not really an excuse.

    “…and the UN and the EU are unlikely to ever be effective champions of freedom…”

    I would say that they are on par with the U.S.; American willingness to overlook and also aid in the human rights abuses in the central asian republics is proof alone of how little interested the U.S. government is in these issues.

    Anyway, I did appreciate your doctrinaire attempt to whitewash the historical record.

  38. Andrew,

    Just reiterating what JB said (with surprisingly delightful restraint!), but your post represents exactly why the U.S. government isn’t trusted by a lot of the rest of the world. Neither you nor it, it would seem, have the intellectual or moral courage to say that it’s wrong to hand a mass murderer more ammunition while he’s blowing the heads off of women and children. Until the U.S., and apologists like yourself, muster that courage, the U.S. will be undeserving of trust or respect in its international dealings.

  39. There is a difference between Castro and Pinochet.

    Under Castro per capita income is 1/2 what it was before he took power.

    Under Pinochet Chile advanced economically (the Chicago Boys) and privatized their social security system. Plus Pinochet left office voluntarily.

    Seems like important differences to me.

    Now you may very well be correct that Pinochet’s means were no better than Castro’s. The ends however are greatly different.

    With copper prices on the rise Chile looks to profit handsomely from the current economic situation.

  40. “The strategy or supporting anti-communist dictators worked pretty well.”

    Wrong. The Soviet Empire fell from the inside out, not the outside in. The only thing our depradations in the Third World did was give the corrupt, decrepit system a good hook for its claims of fighting for justice.

  41. Les,

    I’m with you.

    I trust the French and the UN. The French will do anything for money (Naval excersises with the PRC to intimidate Taiwan on election eve) and the UN runs at the first sight of trouble and sucks the dics of dictators.

    Therefor the US can’t be trusted.

    I agree with the French position. America screwed France’s $100 bn deal with Saddam. America can’t be trusted.

    America only acts in its own interest. Where as the much more moral and upstanding French only act in their own interest. I’m with you. Compared to the French and the acknowledged crook running their country America ought to be ashamed. Bush is just so clever in hiding his crookedness.

    Did I say Bush was clever?

    Pardon, moi. Vive la France.

  42. Did I mention Saddam’s deal with France was an OIL deal?

    What is with the French and oil?

    It appears that the French AND the UN may have been in on the oil scam.

    What is a matter with them? Haven’t they heard of no blood for oil? (Iraqi blood not counting of course until the Americans occupied the country).

    It also appears that a lot of pre-war pro-Saddam positions were bought by Saddam. Which is why the war in Iraq was wrong. Or something. I forget.

    Oh, yeah. The French and the UN. Great forces for good in the world. America should follow their example.

    Say aren’t the French having to pay Taiwan for bribing the military contract administrators in that country? Well at least that explains France’s siding with tthe PRC. Alliances mean nothing when there is money to be lost or made.

    A fine example to the world. France can be proud.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.