Isla de la Esclavitud

“The most equal multiracial country in our hemisphere, it would be Cuba,” explains Nikole Hannah-Jones, Howard University professor and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Hannah-Jones is also prime mover of the “1619 Project,” which contends that the United States was founded for the sole purpose of perpetuating slavery. 

Back in 2008, as a staff reporter for The Oregonian, Nikole Hannah-Jones authored “The Cuba We Don’t Know.” On a junket to the Communist nation, Hannah-Jones met a young man “who bemoaned the racism he felt as a black Cuban,” and believed he had no future. Hannah-Jones cited “codified racism,” but did not tie it to Cuba’s legacy of slavery, which the author and many others might not know. 

Cuba’s 800,000 African slaves were more than twice the number in the United States. Cuba did not abolish slavery until 1886 and there was no Cuban equivalent of America’s  historically black colleges. By some estimates, only one-third of Cubans are whites, with two thirds composed of blacks and those of part-African ancestry. That profile bears a stark contrast to those in Cuba’s ruling Communist Party.

Fidel Castro and brother Raul were one generation out of Europe and none of Castro’s revolutionary band was black. Current Communist boss Miguel Diaz-Canel is as white as Frosty the Snowman, and on his watch the regime has added new political prisoners. As Amnesty International’s Erika Guevara-Ross explains, “For decades, Cuba has stifled freedom of expression and assembly by locking up people for their beliefs and opposition to the government.”

The Castro regime proved so repressive that Cubans would flee at first opportunity, in anything that floated. Many perished at sea but the United States welcomed those who made it. In April 1980, Fidel Castro suddenly announced that all Cubans wishing to emigrate could board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana. Some 125,000 Cuban “Marielitos” as they became known, made it to U.S. shores. One group, all black, made their way from Florida to San Diego, California. One of them, Eduardo Rodriguez, was a teacher and told me some things I hadn’t known. 

Eduardo had been into the archives and calculated that the African slaves brought to Cuba had a more nutritious diet than Cubans under the Castro regime. One of the Marielitos had toiled in the cane fields for months and his payment was “el derecho de comprar una bicycleta,” —the right to buy a bicycle. So wages were also a problem, and that, too, hearkened back to slavery.

The Isla de Pinos, or “Isle of Pines” to the south, was the site of the infamous Presidio Modelo prison where Fulgencio Batista had imprisoned Fidel and Raul Castro, and where they, in turn, imprisoned dissidents such as Huber Matos and other political prisoners. In 1978, the Castro regime renamed Isle of Pines, Isla de la Juventud or the “Island of Youth. According to Rodriguez, Cubans called it the Isla de la Esclavitud, or the “Island of Slavery.” That applies to all of Cuba, where the totalitarian government controls everything. 

As Cuban cinematographer Nestor Almendros (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “Days of Heaven,” and “Billy Bathgate”) documented in “Improper Conduct,” Fidel Castro banished homosexuals to forced labor camps. Nikole Hannah-Jones made no mention of those camps in her 2008 commentary. On the other hand, she did tout “what Cuba has accomplished, through socialism and despite poverty, that the United States hasn’t.”

Armando Valladares documented Castro’s repressions, including the torture of political prisoners. His memoir, Against All Hope, was published in 1986 but managed to escape the notice of Hannah-Jones. So did Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims, which documented glowing accounts of the Cuban regime by foreign intellectuals. New Left icon Abbie Hoffman said Castro was “like a mighty penis coming to life, and when he is tall and straight, the crowd immediately is transformed.”

For American leftist academic Saul Landau, Fidel Castro was “a man who has been steeped in democracy.” For novelist Norman Mailer, Castro was “the first and greatest hero to appear in the world since the Second World War.” For Angela Davis, Communist Party USA candidate for vice-president in 1980 and 1984, “Fidel was their leader, but most of all he was also their brother in the largest sense of the word.” And so on. When William F. Buckley, Jr., had Hollander on his “Firing Line” program he called it “Why are our intellectuals so dumb?” 

As Orlando Jimenez-Leal showed in the film “8-A,” Castro held a show-trial for General Arnaldo Ochoa and fellow officers, and their government attorneys demanded that their clients be executed, which they were. Fidel Castro called American jazz the “music of the enemy” and jailed trumpeter Arturo Sandoval for listening to the Voice of America. Saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera defected in 1981 but it was 10 years before the Castro regime would allow his family to join him. 

All this, and much more escaped the notice of Nikole Hannah-Jones in 2008, and in 2021 it’s all part of the Cuba she either doesn’t know or won’t discuss. 

Sado-Stalinist Fidel Castro established the revolution for the sole purpose of entrenching Communist power over the Cuban people. The nation remains a veritable isla de la esclavitud, with an all-white Communist dictatorship oppressing a largely black population. The composite character David Garrow described in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama normalized relations with this loathsome regime, with no demand for democratic reforms, free elections, or human rights.

Cubans have been taking to the streets rejecting communismo, denouncing la dictatura, and demanding libertad. They are also hungry, because regimes barren of liberties are also barren of groceries. For the addled Joe Biden, it’s all about COVID, and his Department of Homeland Security boss Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant, takes it to another level. 

“If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States,” proclaims Mayorkas, the modern equivalent of bounty hunters who returned slaves to their masters. Cubans have seen it all, and are willing to take the risk. 

As the New York Times reported in 2014, after eight failures Leonardo Heredia and friends cobbled together a boat using a Toyota motor, scrap stainless steel, and plastic foam, and made it on their ninth attempt. Others perished at sea but as a Cuban who identified himself as Yannio La O told the Times, “it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” That was the understanding of Eduardo Rodriguez and his fellow Marielitos, and it comes through in the jokes Cubans tell: 

Back in the day, Fidel Castro asked Soviet boss Mikhail Gorbachev if he wanted to try fighting a bull. Gorbachev gave it a shot but the enraged bull promptly chased him back into the stands. Fidel then approached the bull and whispered something in its ear. The bull promptly collapsed dead on the ground. The amazed Gorbachev asked Fidel “what did you tell the bull?” The dictator replied, “socialism or death.” 

That’s the way it is in Cuba and if current trends continue Americans will face the same choice.

About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

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