A Christmas tree story from Communist Romania

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(My new American Thinker post)

It was Christmas week 1989, and the old Soviet bloc was falling apart and undergoing a birth of freedom.  In Romania, a communist dictatorship collapsed this week:

The end of 42 years of communist rule came three days after Ceausescu’s security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Timisoara. After the army’s defection, Ceausescu and his wife fled from Bucharest in a helicopter but were captured and convicted of mass murder in a hasty military trial. On December 25, they were executed by a firing squad.

Watching all of this was Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh, who left in the late 1970s looking for freedom.  She left her family behind.

She wrote about her Romanian memories, her parents, and a Christmas tree.

Here is the beginning of the article:

As long as I can remember, my Dad came home every December with a scraggly blue spruce, fragrant with the scent of winter, tiny icicles hanging from the branches. The frozen miniature crystal daggers would melt quickly on Mom’s well-scrubbed parquet floor. I never knew nor asked where he had found it, or how he could afford it.

His modest salary of $70 a month barely covered the rent, utilities, and food.

Mom had to work as well to afford our clothes. Prices were subsidized by the government and salaries were very low for everybody regardless of education and skill. We had to make do with very little.

It is a great article and should be read in full.

Merry Christmas!  It is especially meaningful to those of us who understand communism and efforts to celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas, and remember those who are not as fortunate as Americans are.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Fidel Castro and the left that always carried his bags

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As my late father often said, it was really tough to run into so many people who did not understand the truth of Cuba and Castro.

Over the years, Fidel Castro always found someone to pull him out of the hole.

He benefited from international leftists who hated the U.S. so much that they were willing to believe every lie coming out of Cuba, from health care to education.  Not one of these lefties took the time to do a little research and learn that pre-Castro had an excellent private and public health care system.  And Cuba’s literacy rates were among the highest in the Third World.

This was Cuba before Castro’s policies destroyed it:

In the 1950’s Cuba was, socially and economically, a relatively advanced country, certainly by Latin American standards and, in some areas, by world standards.

Cuba’s infant mortality rate was the best in Latin America — and the 13th lowest in the world.

Cuba also had an excellent educational system and impressive literacy rates in the 1950’s.

Pre-Castro Cuba ranked third in Latin America in per capita food consumption.

Cuba ranked first in Latin America and fifth in the world in television sets per capita.

Pre-Castro Cuba had 58 daily newspapers of differing political hues and ranked eighth in the world in number of radio stations.

Cuba’s infant mortality rate of 32 per 1,000 live births in 1957 was the lowest in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world, according to UN data. Cuba ranked ahead of France, Belgium, West Germany, Japan, Austria, Italy, and Spain.

In 1955, life expectancy in Cuba was among the highest at 63 years of age; compared to 52 in other Latin American countries, 43 in Asia, and 37 in Africa.

In terms of physicians and dentists per capita, Cuba in 1957 ranked third in Latin America, behind only Uruguay and Argentina — both of which were more advanced than the United States in this measure. Cuba’s 128 physicians and dentists per 100,000 people in 1957 was the same as the Netherlands, and ahead of the United Kingdom (122 per 100,000 people) and Finland.

Cuba has been among the most literate countries in Latin America since well before the Castro revolution, when it ranked fourth.

To be fair, Cuba had problems, and it was people like my parents who turned against Batista.  However, poverty, misery, and people leaving in rafts were not among them.

Well, it’s over for Fidel Castro.  Maybe we can finally tell the truth about this man and what he did to Cuba and its people.
P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

November 1956: Remembering the people of Hungary

My father, a young banker at the time, tells me that some Hungarian refugees arrived in Cuba after their failed revolution of 1956.  They were hard working people who found their way to Cuba to start a new life.

He met them when they came by the bank to open a checking account for their new businesses and life in Cuba.  He recalls their stories of communism and repression.

Ironically, my parents confronted the same communism and repression in a few years.

It was a long time ago but the bravery of the Hungarian people is worth remembering.

I am a strong believer in reminding the younger generation that freedom is not cheap. In fact, many have paid the ultimate price to fight for it.

Many Hungarians did this month in 1956!

Before Prague 1968 or Poland 1980, there was Hungary, one of the great chapters of human valor of the 20th century.

From mid-October 1956 until the Soviet tanks crushed the revolution, the people of Hungary stood tall against overwhelming odds and indifference from the West:

“From 1945 on the Hungarians were under the control of Moscow.
All wealth of whatever nature was taken from Hungary by the Russians who showed their power by putting thousands of Russian troops and hundreds of tanks in Hungary.
The Hungarian leader, Rakosi, was put in power by Stalin of Russia.
When Stalin died in 1953 all people in Eastern Europe were given some hope that they might be free from Soviet (Russian) rule.
In February 1956, the new Russian leader Khruschev made a bitter attack on the dead Stalin and his policies and in July 1956 in a gesture to the Hungarians, Rakosi was forced to resign. In fact, the Hungarians had expected more but they did not get it.
This situation, combined with 1) a bad harvest 2) fuel shortages 3) a cold and wet autumn all created a volatile situation.
On October 23rd 1956, students and workers took to the streets of Budapest (the capital of Hungary ) and issued their Sixteen Points which included personal freedom, more food, the removal of the secret police, the removal of Russian control etc. Poland had already been granted rights in 1956 which had been gained by street protests and displays of rebellion. Hungary followed likewise.
Imre Nagy was appointed prime minister and Janos Kadar foreign minister. They were thought to be liberal and in Moscow this was felt to be the best way to keep happy the “hooligans” as the Moscow media referred to the protesters. As a gesture, the Red Army pulled out and Nagy allowed political parties to start again. The most famous man to criticise the Russians was released from prison – Cardinal Mindszenty.
On October 31st, 1956, Nagy broadcast that Hungary would withdraw itself from the Warsaw Pact. This was pushing the Russians too far and Kadar left the government in disgust and established a rival government in eastern Hungary which was supported by Soviet tanks.
On November 4th, Soviet tanks went into Budapest to restore order and they acted with immense brutality even killing wounded people. Tanks dragged round bodies through the streets of Budapest as a warning to others who were still protesting.
Hundreds of tanks went into Budapest and probably 30,000 people were killed. To flee the expected Soviet reprisals, probably 200,000 fled to the west leaving all they possessed in Hungary.
Nagy was tried and executed and buried in an unmarked grave. By November 14th, order had been restored. Kadar was put in charge. Soviet rule was re-established.” (The Hungarian uprising of 1956)

One of my heroes was the late Cardinal Mindszenty, who was imprisoned for 8 years and then given asylum at the US embassy. He died in Vienna in 1975 and never saw the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

We Cubans have a special place in our hearts for anyone who stood up to communism.

We salute the brave people of Hungary and how they fought for freedom years ago.
P.S. You can hear CANTO TALK here & follow me on Twitter @ scantojr.

Chile goes right on the anniversary of Allende’s election

(My new American Thinker post)

Forty-six years ago, my father and a couple of friends from Chile were monitoring election reports from Chile on the Spanish short wave service of Voice of America. As I recall, the election results went late into the evening and the next few days. In the end, Salvador Allende was elected president in a four-way race. Eventually, the Chilean Supreme Court had to decide because the winner was under 40%.

It did not take long for Mr. Allende to show his true colors. Allende extended diplomatic recognition to North Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba. He also went after U.S. companies like ITT and Kennecott Copper. It did not take long before Chile’s very stable political system fell into a political and economic crisis. Mr. Allende was eventually overthrown by General Pinochet in 1973.

On Sunday, Chile went to the polls again and the right did well in the regional elections as reported by Reuters:

Chile’s right snatched dozens of mayoralties on Sunday from the governing center-left coalition, in a boost to former leader Sebastian Pinera, the front-runner to lead the conservative coalition in next year’s presidential election.

With over 99 percent of results counted on Sunday night in local elections, the right-leaning Chile Vamos pact emerged as the big winner. It won slightly more votes than President Michelle Bachelet’s left-leaning Nueva Mayoria coalition, despite the left going into the vote with a massive incumbent advantage.

Conservative candidates won the majority of key swing cities, including central Santiago, a municipality inside the capital that is considered an electoral bellwether.

“This reflects that residents are tired of incomplete promises,” the conservative mayor-elect of central Santiago, Felipe Alessandri, told Reuters. “Citizens have made their annoyance at the old practices of politicians clear, and they have made clear that they expect to be listened to.”

We’ve told you before about the Latin American middle class electing President Mauricio Macri in Argentina and in total revolt over the corruption in Brazil. Chile’s results are a huge rejection of President Michelle Bachelet’s efforts to move the country a bit to the left, as Bloomberg reported:

For many voters, Bachelet has gone too far in her attempts to reform the free-market economic model imposed under Pinochet, as the economy posts the slowest sustained growth in more than 30 years.

For another group, she hasn’t gone far enough, while many others were disenchanted after a series of financing scandals tarnished the reputation of parties across the political spectrum.

Chile has been the jewel of Latin American economies. In other words, the leftist message does not play well in a country like Chile with a prosperous middle class. I am very pleased with these results because they reinstate our faith in the middle class.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Solzhenitsyn 1970: Remember when The Nobel Peace Prize went to people who earned it?

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In 2009, Pres BO was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize.  It is still one of the biggest “jokes” in recent memory.    We just learned that President Santos of Colombia got the latest one for working on a peace deal with FARC.

At the same time, this is the same group that gave former Pres Carter and VP Gore a similar prize.  The Carter prize could be defended because of his legitimate work in Central American elections in the early 1990s.  The Gore prize was pure PC nonsense about global warming.

The question is:  What are the judges drinking when they awarded Pres BO the Nobel?  It can not be reality!  Perhaps it was “Obamamania” with a teaspoon of “hope and change”.

The Nobel Peace Prize used to be a serious award.

We remember how Alexander Solzhenitsyn was give the prize back in 1970:

“The best-known living Russian writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, wins the Nobel Prize for literature.

Born in 1918 in the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn was a leading writer and critic of Soviet internal oppression.

Arrested in 1945 for criticizing the Stalin regime, he served eight years in Russian prisons and labor camps.

Upon his release in 1953 he was sent into “internal exile” in Asiatic Russia. After Stalin’s death, Solzhenitsyn was released from his exile and began writing in earnest.

His first publication, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1963), appeared in the somewhat less repressive atmosphere of Nikita Khrushchev’s regime (1955-1964).

The book was widely read in both Russia and the West, and its harsh criticisms of Stalinist repression provided a dramatic insight into the Soviet system.

Eventually, however, Soviet officials clamped down on Solzhenitsyn and other Russian artists, and henceforth his works had to be secreted out of Russia in order to be published.

These works included Cancer Ward (1968) and the massive three-volume The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956(1973-1978).

The Soviet government further demonstrated its displeasure over Solzhenitsyn’s writings by preventing him from personally accepting his Nobel Prize in 1970.

In 1974, he was expelled from the Soviet Union for treason, and he moved to the United States. Although celebrated as a symbol of anticommunist resistance, Solzhenitsyn was also extremely critical of many aspects of American society; particularly what he termed its incessant materialism. He returned to Russia in 1994.
Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure in Moscow on August 3, 2008. He was 89.”

Solzhenitsyn was a great man, writer and hero.  He was willing to write books in a country that did not tolerate dissent.  He was tough and willing to stand up to the Soviet thugs in the Kremlin.

He was exactly the kind of man for a Nobel Peace Prize.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

The left losing in Latin America

(My new American Thinker post)

In the past year, center-right candidates were elected president in Argentina and Peru. In Brazil, a leftist president was impeached and sent home.

So what’s going on? The left is losing, as Simon Romero wrote:

It was not a banner day for Latin America’s leftists.

Colombia rejected a peace deal with Marxist rebels on Sunday, delivering a very public victory to the conservative former president who campaigned passionately against it. On the same day, voters in Brazil handed a resounding defeat to the leftist party that once controlled their country, knocking it down in municipal elections.

It was just another sign of the shift to the right in Latin America. In less than a year, voters have thwarted the leftist movement in Argentina and elected a former investment banker as president of Peru, while lawmakers impeached the leftist leader of Brazil.

“Put simply, conservatives are on the rise in Latin America,” said Matías Spektor, a professor of international relations at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a university in Brazil.

So why is the left losing?

The first is economics, such as the the drop in commodities prices and oil. In other words, you can’t pay for the same welfare state or provide as many government jobs when the price of oil is $50 a barrel rather than $150.

The second is fascinating, as Romero wrote:

The clout of evangelical Christian megachurches is expanding, and they are confronting socially liberal policies and channeling widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Third, the growing middle class in Latin America is sick and tired of paying taxes and not seen roads built. As a friend told me: “Donde estan los puentes” or “where are the bridges”? In other words, you pay taxes but no one is building the bridges promised in the election.

Last, but not least, the lefties turned out to be a corrupt bunch: Lula da Silva in Brazil and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina. They don’t come any more corrupt than those two and both are facing inquiries.

So the near term looks good for politicians who preach free market ideas in Latin America. Of course, this is assuming that they stay free of corruption. Otherwise, they will join the lefties out of power.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

New president but same economy in Brazil

 

 

(My new American Thinker post)

Adios Dilma, Hello Economy!

Brazil has a new president and the economy is now what everybody is talking about, as Simon Romero reports:

The biggest challenge facing Mr. Temer, who largely operated in the shadows as Ms. Rousseff’s vice president before breaking with her earlier this year, is evident: the economy.

Brazil’s gross domestic product has plunged 9.7 percent on a per-capita basis in the last nine quarters. The downturn, which Goldman Sachs likens to a depression, has even exceeded the 7.6 percent decline during the so-called lost decade of the 1980s, when Brazil fought hyperinflation.

Broad swaths of the population are angry with the entire political establishment, especially now that unemployment has surged to 11.6 percent, from 6.5 percent at the end of 2014. More than 1.7 million Brazilians have lost their jobs in the last year while politicians like Mr. Temer have been battling for power.

New president Michel Temer has his own ethical challenges, too. He does have a window of opportunity to win some goodwill from a nation tired of scandals. At the same time, the challenges facing Brazil are more than just economic cycles or a drop in prices for Brazilian commodities such as oil, iron ore and soya.

There is a lot more that Mr. Temer will have to tackle than a very bad case of crony capitalism, as Lauren Weiner wrote:

The country’s economic difficulties and its racial and social stratification rest upon a flawed foundation that can be summed up in a phrase he uses: “state capitalism.” The entwining of political power with economic power is an ill against which every modern democracy fights. Brazilians, though, have not waged the fight effectively.

So time will tell whether Mr. Temer is Pinochet, the man who saved Chile, or Gorbachev, the man who tried to reform communism. Brazil could really use a version of Pinochet and those Chicago boys. Otherwise, Mr. Temer’s presidency will be short and very difficult.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

A victory for the rule of law in Brazil

Dilma Rousseff

 

(My new American Thinker post)

We just learned that President Dilma Rouseff has been ousted from the presidency:

Brazil’s Senate ousted Dilma Rousseff as president Wednesday, voting overwhelmingly to impeach the leftist leader in the culmination of a protracted process that has divided the country.

The vote to impeach Rousseff was 61 to 20. Two-thirds of senators — 54 out of 81 — were needed for impeachment to pass.

Senators broke into cheering and applause after the electronic voting was announced, concluding a process that was given the go-head in December.

My guess is that her mentor Lula will be next. It has not been a good 12 months for the left!

This is a great victory for the rule of law in Latin America, although we warn you that crony capitalism is not going away overnight. Nevertheless, the ousting of Rouseff confirms that corruption has its limits even in a country where people looked the other way as long the economy was booming.

It is a great victory for those of us who see signs in Latin America, from Argentina to Chile to Colombia to Mexico, that a middle class is rejecting the taxes that feed administrative bureaucracies unaccountable to no one.

It will take a while to cleanse Latin America of this chronic corruption. However, this is a step in the right direction for those of who believe that corruption (i.e. crony capitalism) is holding back so much of this region.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Prague 1968 and memories of something called communism

 

(My new American Thinker post)

We read about Putin and Russian troops threatening neighbors.   It’s enough to remind us of another time when the then USSR invaded the then country of Czechoslovakia.   It happened this weekend in 1968:

On the night of August 20, 1968, approximately 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague Spring”–a brief period of liberalization in the communist country. Czechoslovakians protested the invasion with public demonstrations and other non-violent tactics, but they were no match for the Soviet tanks. The liberal reforms of First Secretary Alexander Dubcek were repealed and “normalization” began under his successor Gustav Husak.

It was the second time that USSR tanks under the banner of The Warsaw Pact had crushed democratic impulses in Eastern Europe.    It also happened in Hungary in 1956 when Soviet tanks actually fought with people in the streets.
As a kid, we heard the stories of Cuban political prisoners.  Our family dinner table was a classroom with my parents telling us about communism or reading the latest letter from Cuba.

I grew up admiring the men and women who risked their lives to fight for freedom. Some of these men were Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary, those who tried to cross the Berlin Wall, the guerrillas who fought Castro in The Escambray Mountains and those who tried reforms inside the Soviet bloc.

On August 21, 1968, the Rascals were riding high with a song called “People got to be free“.

It was a pop hit in the US.  It was reality in the streets of Prague.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

August 1968: The week that Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring

(My new American Thinker post)

As a kid, we heard the stories of Cuban political prisoners.  Our family dinner table was a classroom with my parents telling us about communism or reading the latest letter from Cuba.

I grew up admiring the men and women who risked their lives to fight for freedom. Some of these men were Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary, those who tried to cross the Berlin Wall, the guerrillas who fought Castro in The Escambray Mountains and those who tried reforms inside the Soviet bloc.

On August 21, 1968, the Rascals were riding high with a song called “People got to be free”.

It was a pop hit in the US.  It was reality in the streets of Prague:

“On August 21, 1968, more than 200,000 troops of the Warsaw Pact crossed into Czechoslovakia in response to democratic and free market reforms being instituted by Czech Communist Party General Secretary Alexander Dubcek. Negotiations between Dubcek and Soviet bloc leaders failed to convince the Czech leader to back away from his reformist platform. The military intervention on August 21 indicated that the Soviets believed that Dubcek was going too far and needed to be restrained. On August 22, thousands of Czechs gathered in central Prague to protest the Soviet action and demand the withdrawal of foreign troops. Although it was designed to be a peaceful protest, violence often flared and several protesters were killed on August 22 and in the days to come.”

Alexander Dubcek’s mistake is that he called for reforms:

“On January 5th 1968, the party’s central committee nominated Dub?ek to succeed Novotný after the Czechoslovak Party Central Committee passed a vote of no confidence in Novotný.

What happened next must have come as a great surprise to the communist leaders in Moscow. Dub?ek announced that he wanted the Czech Communist Party to remain the predominant party in Czechoslovakia, but that he wanted the totalitarian aspects of the party to be reduced. Communist Party members in Czechoslovakia were given the right to challenge party policy as opposed to the traditional acceptance of all government policy. Party members were given the right to act “according to their conscience”. In what became known as the ‘Prague Spring’, he also announced the end of censorship and the right of Czech citizens to criticise the government. Newspapers took the opportunity to produce scathing reports about government incompetence and corruption.

Dub?ek also announced that farmers would have the right to form independent co-operatives and that trade unions would have increased rights to bargain for their members. Crucially, however, Dub?ek stated that Czechoslovakia had no intention of leaving the Warsaw Pact. Between July and August 1968, he met senior Moscow politicians on the Slovakian-Ukraine border to reassure them that they had nothing to worry about and that what he was trying to achieve would have no bearing on the Warsaw Pact and its ability to compete with NATO. He repeated the same message to all members of the Warsaw Pact on August 3rd 1968.

However, Dub?ek was informed by Moscow that they had discovered evidence that West Germany was planning to invade the Sudetenland and that the Soviet Union would provide Czechoslovakia with the troops needed to protect her from invasion. Dub?ek refused the offer but he must have known that this would count for nothing.

His reassurances about not leaving the Warsaw Pact were ignored and on August 20th/21st Soviet troops (with token forces from other members of the Warsaw Pact) invaded Czechoslovakia. Dub?ek was arrested by released after talks in Moscow. Dub?ek claimed that the talks had been “comradely” and that he was abandoning his reform programme. As a result, Dub?ek remained as First Secretary until April 1969 when he was appointed Speaker of the Federal Assembly until he was expelled from the Communist Party in 1970. Following his expulsion, he was banished to Bratislava where he worked in a timber yard.”

 

Prague ’68 followed Hungary ’56.  It was another signal by the Kremlin that it would not tolerate dissent in any of its satellites.

The Soviet control over Eastern Europe began to crumble in the 1980s.

First, the USSR economy fell apart and no doses of Perestroika did anything to fix it.   You can’t be an economic superpower if your tractors don’t work.

Second, the West stood strong led by every US president from Truman to the first Bush.   It was a good example of bipartisanship and serious leadership.

Third, the Poles in the 1980s completed what the Hungarians and Czechs started.  They revolted and succeeded in bringing down the Soviet empire.

Ironically, it was workers who brought down the “workers’ paradise.

It was many years ago and there are other issues on the table.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember today Alexander Dubcek and all of the men and women who stood up to Soviet tanks.