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Posted August 18, 2005 by I-taoist in Castro's Cuba

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Ask 1,000 people when President George W. Bush’s birthday is, and 999 probably will shrug. Ask 1,000 Cubans when President Fidel Castro’s birthday is, and most likely 999 will know.

Just one of the small and delightful differences between a free country and a communist dictatorship.

Saturday, while Bush and a small group of journalists took a 17-mile mountain bike ride on the president’s Texas ranch, Castro celebrated his 79th birthday to the usual state-mandated fanfare.

Children danced and cut a huge blue-and-white cake for their leader, the longest-ruling government head in the world. The not-so-free press featured front-page stories and photographs accompanied by praise and words of affection.

A letter published on the front page of the Communist Party daily paper, Granma, said: “We celebrate as your own, with the affection and immense admiration that children feel for the most noble, wise and brave father.”

Signed “your people,” the letter also called Castro “dearly loved Fidel” and mentioned his “guerrilla spirit of just ideals” and his “special sensitivity for others.”

Ah, yes, Castro’s legendary and special sensitivity. Gives you chills, doesn’t it? Or the sweats, if you happen to be among those who have disagreed with this particular noble, wise and brave father.

Dissidents, many of them recently imprisoned for a tough-love refresher course, doubtless were singing Feliz Cumpleanos along with the little darlings indoctrinated since birth by parents too afraid to skip one of their neighborhood’s mandatory Communist Party meetings.

By the way, when was the last time you attended a state-mandated Communist Party meeting? When was the last time a family member was arrested for criticizing the government? Just checking.

It is useful sometimes to be reminded of the freedoms we take for granted, and Castro’s birthday seems as good a time as any. What, for instance, does one suppose would happen to Cindy Sheehan’s equivalent in Cuba if she staked out Castro’s home to protest the arrest of her son? Not that Sheehan’s son, who died in Iraq, was taken by the government.

And not, by the way, that Sheehan or anyone else could camp outside Castro’s house. He doesn’t have one. At least he doesn’t have one in which he regularly sleeps. He moves around a lot. When you hold a nation of people prisoner on an island, you are not, in fact, wildly popular. You are, in fact, despised. Quietly. During a visit to Cuba a few years ago, I got a glimpse of that hatred from Cubans who felt comfortable speaking openly with an American journalist. I also got a glimpse of the way official Cuba regards those who prefer freedom.

We were meeting with Ricardo Alarcon, president of the National Assembly of People’s Power, in a small, air-conditioned office, sipping sweet coffee and pretending not to notice Alarcon’s navel, which was peeking through a gap between the buttons of his guayabera.

Alarcon is charming and well educated, a doctor of philosophy and letters who also served for several years as Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations.

He is also one of the founders of Cuba’s Communist Party and is often mentioned as a possible successor to Castro. Alarcon sat facing us, a group of eight or nine reporters, one of whom bravely asked: “What is your policy toward dissidents?”

Alarcon paused a moment and then chuckled. “Well, of course,” he said, “our policy is to sometimes arrest them.”

Earlier this summer, Castro exercised that policy by arresting some 60 dissidents, a dozen of whom reportedly remain incarcerated, while denying that dissidents are a problem.

In July, on the 52nd anniversary of the start of the revolution, Castro spoke to an audience at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana in a style reminiscent of our beloved Baghdad Bob, who steadfastly insisted that no American troops were in Iraq as American tanks trundled behind him.

“The much-publicized dissidence, or alleged opposition in Cuba, exists only in the fevered minds of the Cuban-American mafia and the bureaucrats in the White House,” said Castro. ” ... You would think that the revolution only had a few hours left.”

The audience, which included hundreds of Americans in Cuba as part of an aid program, gave Castro a standing ovation.

That’s the nice thing about being a totalitarian ruler. Everyone agrees with you no matter what you say, and everyone celebrates your birthday. Unless they don’t, of course, in which case, well, sometimes you get arrested.

(Bush’s birthday, just in case things go badly here, is July 6.)

Parker is a syndicated columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. She can be e-mailed at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


  1. Follow up post #1 added on August 18, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    It never ceases to amaze me how many cheap American journalists there are out there to re-hash the old diatribe against Fidel. I guess it bring them the next paycheck. Ms. Parker claims that she was in Cuba a couple years back, but from her over-simplistic comments and vacuous analysis, it could not have been for very long. Where exactly did she get the idea of the “State mandated Communist Party neighborhood meeting”? I am sure the idea came from her (equally ignorant) U.S. State Department handler. Anyone who has lived or spent a significant period of time in Cuba knows that 1. there is a difference between the CDR meetings for the members of the neighborhood and the Communist Party meetings, and 2.attending CDR meetings is NOT mandatory. Equally erroneous are Ms. Parker’ statement that Fidel moves around a lot (he has ceased doing this ever since the U.S. lifted its very real threat of trying to assasinate him a couple decades ago. Her claim that there is a generalized hatred of Fidel (even many Cuban’ who disagree with the specific policies of the government nonetheless guard a deep respect and admiration for Fidel) reveals that she spent too much time with U.S. Interest Section hacks who happily feed this kind of nonsense to unsophisticated journalists. Arrested for NOT celebrating? Hello Ms. Parker, but are you sure you didn’t get on the wrong plane and land up in some U.S. ally State like Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan? Your use of the term “totalitarian leader” show that you obviously did not take Political Science 101 (or if you did, you flunked it). Totalitarian leaders are ones like Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Kim Il Sung, and their ilk. A leader which tolerates a dissident movement (Cuban dissidents who don’t receive $ from the US Interest Section are not arrested, but walking the streets today and even holding press conferences and travelling abroad. I am sure that if I were an American citizen and was receiving funds from Al Qaeda, Homeland Security would arrest me too…maybe send me to Guantanamo base without a lawyer and charges) cannot be described as a totalitarian leader. Anyone spending time in Cuba, meeting Cubans from all walks of life and political persuations, will realized that this IS NOT a “totalitarian” society. I think that from your high perch somewhere in the U.S.A., you are looking down the wrong end of your telescope, with the cap still on.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on August 19, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Dear Gregory: You are totally WRONG to say that “dissidents who don’t receive $ from the US Interest Section are not arrested, but walking the streets today and even holding press conferences and travelling abroad”. You ony have to see what happened to Vladimiro Roca, who does not receive funds from the US Interest Section, when he recently tried to hold a democracy meeting at his house to see fallacy of this statement. Castro ony “tolerates” a dissident movement because of world opinion - he arrested and imprisoned 75 democracy activists in March 2003 because the world’ gaze was on the invasion of Iraq. Cuba may not be a totalitarian society in the sense that it is fairly easy for foreign journalists to find and talk to Cubans who are unhappy with the regime (although invariably they will not give their surnames) but you just try and actually change the government and see how far it gets you. Please also note the synonyms for the word totalitarian: one-party, oppressive, dictatorial and authoritarian - all words which sum up the Castro regime.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on August 19, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    Cubana…If there were only 75 dissidents in Cuba, that would be an infintismally small number for a country of 11 million. I am the first to admit that there are a significant number of dissidents in Cuba (more than 75)...ergo: the vast majority of dissidents are NOT in prison. Moreover, political terms should not be defined using a simple thesaurus. People with a more sophisticated understanding of world politics can differentiate between “totalitarian” and “authoritarian” (which one could use to describe the Cuban government. There is a very important distinction between the two. Don’t you understand this difference?

  4. Follow up post #4 added on August 19, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Gregory: What a load of cojones. So you think you have a “sophisticated” understanding of world politics do you? Talk about arrogant. There is NO distinction between the words totalitarian and authoritarian when it comes to the Castro regime.

    Fact: Cuba is a totalitarian state controlled by Fidel Castro (source: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor report 2004)

  5. Follow up post #5 added on August 19, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    Cubana…wow, you must have gotten straight F’ in university. This source of yours (source: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor report 2004) is from where? Bureau of Democracy of whom? The USA? The United Nations? Your own mind? This just goes to show how intellectually meticulous you are. Please specify. And by the way, in regards to totalitarianism vs. authoritarianism, just read former US Secretary of State Kirkpatrick’ differentiation between the two. Then read a bit of Hanna Arendt. This way you won’t embarrass yourself again with a facile understanding of complex terms.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on August 19, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Gregory: In respect of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor report 2004 this is a US State Department report required to be submitted to Congress under US law. To see what else it says about Cuba please follow the link:


    As regards authoritarian versus totalitarian I really don’t think it matters a dime which word you use to describe Cuba - it is a fact that the Castro regime denies the Cuban people the right to change their system of government. Ergo Castro heads a totalitarian regime.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on August 19, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    Cubana, since you swallow down this US State Department stuff so easily…you must be one of those types that believes Saddam had weapons of mass destruction….hey, it was in a US State Department report!! Probably the Bureau of Democracy. Hahaha

  8. Follow up post #8 added on August 19, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Dear Gregory: well yes Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapons), as he used them on the Kurds!
    However, that does not mean I was in favour of the Iraq invasion, or believed the reasons given. However, I am more likely to take notice of State Department documents than anything that comes from a Cuban government source.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on August 19, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    What about this: since, if I recall correctly, you are British…why don’t you read the biography on Fidel Castro by Leycester Coltman called “The Real Fidel Castro”. This biography does not paint the picture of a bloody, cruel totalitarian despot. And by the way, my Coltman is not some sort of Left-wing admirer. He was the British ambassador to Cuba during the 1990s. Food for thought. And by the way, at the time that Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction (Halajba, 1988), your favorite source the US State Department really liked good old Saddam, since he was a stalwart ally of the West vis-a-vis Iran. Go figure! Regarding the veracity of State Department documents, you should read some of the books out by MIT professor Noam Chomsky on the manipulation of information by the US government. In otherwords, read more sophisticated (I like that word) sources that State Department declarations.

  10. Follow up post #10 added on August 19, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Gregory: I never said that Castro was a bloody, cruel totalitarian despot (in the manner of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc) but he does have many people’ blood on his hands, both at the start of the revolution and more recently. Doesn’t mean him and his regime are not totalitarian. Thanks for mentioning Ambassador Coltman’ book btw - I am meaning to get it for my next trip to Cuba.

    I presume you don’t include anything that emanates from the Cuban government or Cuban government controlled news media in your definition of “sophisticated” sources!!!

  11. Follow up post #11 added on August 19, 2005 by GregoryHavana with 196 total posts

    Nice to see that at least you do not compare Fidel to Pol Pot or Stalin. All leaders have blood on their hands when it comes down to it (Tony Blair and George Bush have a lot more blood on their hands for the illegal invasion of Iraq…). But simply look up Amnesty International reports and compare what they have said about Cuba compared to what they say about some of the nastier little places the Capitalist world is only too happy to support (Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Israel’ occupation of Palestine lands, Colombia, Guatemala…the list goes on). If fact, an empirical analysis of criticisms against Cuba and criticisms against many other countries from the optic of gross human rights violations would show that Cuba does very well. In fact, you WILL NOT find any claim of systematic torture, extrajudicial executions, or disappearances in Cuba in the AI Reports. By the way, I DO NOT include the Cuban media as being a sophisticated source. I believe that the Cuban media is something Cuba could improve significantly.

  12. Follow up post #12 added on August 19, 2005 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Gregory: agree with you totally about those other countries you mention. However (i) two wrongs don’t make a right - just because other countries regimes are revolting doesn’t mean Cuba has to have one similar as well (ii) this is a website to discuss matters about Cuba!

    I notice your qualification “extrajudicial” alongside executions, so you can discount the judicial murder of three men who took a ferry from Havana harbour and tried to sail it to the US.

    It also depends on your definition of torture when you hear of the conditions those dissidents and independent journalists and librarians imprisoned in March 2003 have been subject to and the medical care they have been denied.

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