Presidential Candidates Miss Teachable Moment on Cuba’s Human Rights Abuses

Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders has been touting the Communist regime of Fidel Castro.

This presents an opportunity for candidates to enlighten Millennials and such about grim Cuban realities. So far, Democrats are missing out, and the one most at fault may be former South Bend, Ind., mayor, and now former presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate for president of the United States.

Mayor Buttigieg, who dropped out of the presidential race on Sunday, seems aware that Fidel Castro, who died in 2016, was a dictator who oppressed the Cuban people and turned a formerly prosperous country into an economic basket case. That is all true, but there is much more that people, and Pete Buttigieg in particular, need to know.

In 1984, two years after Buttigieg was born, Cuban cinematographer Nestor Almendros (Days of Heaven, many others) produced the documentary Improper Conduct. As Larry Hart noted in the Chicago Tribune, the film is “a full-scale assault on post-revolutionary Cuba that focuses on the regime’s institutionalized oppression of Cuban homosexuals.” Since gay rights is such a black-and-white issue, Hart wrote, “it would be difficult to give a pass to any government that throws gays into forced-labor camps, to name only one of the many ugly measures that Improper Conduct details.”

As film critic Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times, the Castro government took an increasingly hard line against so-called “antisocial” elements. These included “political and artistic dissidents and homosexuals, particularly male homosexuals,” and “any suggestion of effeminacy could be interpreted as counter-revolutionary.” 

This is what happens when a sadistic Stalinist dictator wields absolute power. An openly homosexual presidential candidate should have been the first to decry Cuba’s persecution of homosexuals, and the others should have followed suit. As for the regime’s other repressions, a story popular among Cubans may prove enlightening. 

Soviet boss Mikhail Gorbachev visits Cuba and Fidel invites him to challenge a bull in the area. The bull charges Gorbachev, who jumps the fence in terror. Fidel then enters the arena and calmly whispers into the ear of the bull, who promptly collapses in a heap. Applause rings out and Fidel returns to his seat. 

“What did you tell the bull?” Gorbachev wonders. Fidel responds, “Socialism or death.” 

For further research, see Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China and Cuba 1928-1978

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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