Former US Senator: Let’s Learn a Lesson From Cuba

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Abourezk

I hadn’t known about Donald Trump in 1975 when I first went to Cuba, but I had known about Fidel Castro, who, almost singlehandedly overthrew Cuba’s sitting dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

Batista was gathering a fortune being the big boss of the small island country by selling bits and pieces of it to American corporations and putting the profits in his own bank account.

I thought that American politicians would never be able to outsmart him.

Fidel, on the other hand, did his best to improve the lives of the poor people of the islands, and, to my knowledge, did not need a foreign bank account. His interest was in boosting the Cuban people. He did get a bad rap by cracking down hard on the US corporate gang that was busy stripping Cuba of its resources in return for paying the relatively low price of bribing Batista and his cronies. Those payments gave them the right to suck the life out of Cuba. I’m thinking of the mafiosos who paid a small fee to Batista in return for allowing them to make Cuba a gambling resort for American suckers who were happy to come down from the US and pay for the fun they would have at the expense of the Cuban people, keeping most of them poor while the Batista cabal pocketed whatever money they could squeeze out of the mafiosos who ran the country.
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I admired Fidel and his group for removing that particular noose from around the necks of the Cuban people. So I was very happy to get approval to go to Cuba in 1975 to see the person who brought about the great change to that country.

I was lodged in a beachfront house in a development just outside of Havana, which is where Fidel came to visit me. We sat outside for what came to be a six-hour conversation about everything either one of us could think about. Fidel spoke through an interpreter, although I was told that he was able to speak English, he preferred the safer use of an interpreter.

He told me about the efforts by the CIA to assassinate him, coming close a number of times. He spoke of his efforts to develop cattle, in the early days of the revolution, that would be able to withstand the heat of the Cuban summers and still produce milk. He described the exact formula he developed to cross Brahmas with Holsteins using fractional formulas, which, he said, was a perfect formula to feed Cubans from healthy, cross-bred cattle. He then took me for a ride in his jeep — after kicking the driver out, leaving only the translator, me, and Fidel driving.

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During the trip, he pointed out various locations that he was fond of. When villagers saw the jeep coming into their village, small crowds would gather, all of the people waving and shouting “Fidel!” as though he were a neighbor just coming through their village.

At one point I told Fidel that I had gone to the State Department before coming to Cuba to tell a low-level official that I was headed for Cuba and that I expected to meet with him. “I’m interested in normalizing relations between the two countries. Do you have any message to send with me?,” I asked. The official replied, “Tell him that we’ve done all we could do and that the next move is up to him.” I told Fidel what the official had said, asking if he had any comment. Stroking his sparse beard, Fidel finally said:

Tell them that I could remove the blockade I have around the United States.

When I could laugh no more, I thought that American politicians would never be able to outsmart him.

Waving and shouting “Fidel!” as though he were a neighbor.

I guess that proved true, as he outlived all of his enemies. The American press calls him a “brutal dictator.” I believe that comes from the American press being too shy to call him a revolutionary leader who did more for his people than anyone else. He never hid his own money in offshore banks. To my knowledge, he didn’t steal any money from the Cuban people, nor did he allow anyone else to do so. His primary objective was to improve the lives of his constituents, which is why he set up such a strict security system intended to prevent the CIA from removing him from power, which it tried to do many times. The only Cubans who disliked him were the rich who lost money when he took power. The poor Cubans worshipped him, as we saw during the period of mourning now being shown to us on TV. There was good reason for that, as he changed their lives for the better — shutting down houses of prostitution, shutting down gambling hotels owned by the American mafia, keeping prices low for food and other necessities, though Cuba does find it hard to keep a supply of food and other necessities in the stores.
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I asked his number-two man, who was a real communist, if Fidel ever started out with the idea that he might have a democracy. The number-two man told me that, at the beginning, Fidel sought help from the Eisenhower administration to feed the Cuban people. When then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to help, Fidel had nowhere else to turn but to the Soviet Union, which was happy to have a base in our hemisphere and began to pour money and foodstuffs into Cuba to achieve that end. Had Eisenhower agreed to help Cuba get on its feet after the revolution, Cuba would have been an ally of the US, obviously saving us a great deal of trouble and worry that resulted from his alliance with the Soviets.

Unfortunately we haven’t learned that lesson, as we can see from our current misadventures in the Middle East. Perhaps someday we will have leaders who can tell the difference between enemies and friends.