A genuine people-to-people tour of Castrolandia leads to an incredible high school essay

exeter

Philips Exeter Academy is one of the oldest and most prestigious prep schools in the United States.  It costs as much as the most expensive university too.  And the students develop a work ethic that rivals that of the toughest Japanese school: classes from 7 a.m. to 5 pm, monday to friday, plus morning classes on saturday.   Everyone has to participate in a sport.  Classes are small.  Everyone gets a lot of attention.  Everyone is expected to have done the reading, too, and no one has a place to hide when put on the spot.  If you goof off, or break the rules, you get booted out.

After four years at this school, even the hardest of college schedules can seem like a vacation.

It’s also a place that plugs you into the stratosphere of networking from a very early age, and provides you with opportunities that many who live to be 100 never, ever get to experience.  Somehow, one of their students now writes for the Huffington Post.  And what he wrote will surprise you.  It should be assigned reading in every high school around the world.

From The Huffington Post

It’s Time For a Free Cuba

by Nicholas Storozynski, Philips Exeter Academy

In 1958, a senior from my high school named Robert Thurman was expelled for trying to join Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba. I traveled to Cuba this August to see for myself what the legacy of that revolution really is. Any visitor to Cuba can see that the Castro Revolution is a failure.

As a Polish-American, I’m proud that the solidarity movement in Poland helped end communism and bring democracy to Eastern Europe. But why does communism continue in Cuba? Former Solidarity leader and President of Poland Lech Walesa jokes that Americans don’t want change in Cuba because they like having “a Jurassic Park as a museum of Marxism Leninism.”

I met the Nobel Peace Prize winner in July when I was an intern at the Lech Walesa Institute in Warsaw. “We need to fight to ensure that Cubans have legal rights and freedom,” Walesa told me. The Institute has a program called “Solidarity with Cuba,” dedicated to the civil society in Cuba. The goal is for the Cuban people oppressed by the Castro to find solidarity the way that Eastern Europe gained its freedom.

Walesa’s staff briefed me on the situation in Havana, and I found an educational tour that allowed my father and I to enter Cuba legally. The Institute provided me with contact information for dissidents. The itinerary of our official tour was loaded with propaganda about the wonders of Cuba’s medical care and high literacy rate. We asked questions and learned that the medical equipment that does exist is decades old and grossly inadequate. Additionally, the country’s 99 percent literacy rate is a lot easier to come by when the nation considers a first to third grade reading level “literate.”

When we snuck away from the group to meet with regular Cubans, it was clear they were not as happy with the “revolution” as our guides would have had us believe.

Most people live in poverty. Censorship is so strict that Cubans are not allowed on the Internet, and few people are allowed to have cell phones.

People are discontent and organizing themselves to make that clear. A former Cuban Ambassador, Professor Gabriel Calaforra, for example, holds open meetings for young intellectuals to meet and talk at his apartment every Monday night.

While Raul Castro may have eased some regulations imposed on the Cuban people, Calaforra says the outlook for Cubans is bleak. Sure, some Cubans are interacting with foreigners and making connections, “but for the rest of the Cuban youth, the situation is getting worse and worse. They have been living for decades being told that they don’t have to worry for their future because the government will do something for them. In reality, nothing has been done for them,” Calaforra said.

That’s why people beg for money everywhere you go in Cuba. To Cubans, foreigners are “yumas.” There are two currencies in Cuba, the national peso, for Cubans and the convertible peso, or CUCs for “yumas” to buy items brought from Europe.

The Communist system and the U.S. embargo have nearly destroyed Cuba. Most buildings are crumbling and many don’t have windows or roofs. Even Fidel Castro admitted in an interview in 2010 that “the Cuban model doesn’t work for us anymore.”

As the trip went on my father and I kept sneaking away from the tour to meet with real Cubans. I met people my age who were happy to talk with an American. My three years of high school Spanish helped to communicate a lot, but I also found people who speak English. I enjoyed the famous son music of the Buena Vista social club, but I was more interested to hear music that appealed to people my age. I found a CD by an underground Cuban rap group called “I Los Aldeanos.” They rap about the problems and misery that Cubans face.

Amnesty International says that there are more than 70 political prisoners in Cuba. In 2003, their wives and mothers started a group called “Las Damas de Blanco,” The Ladies in White, to protest their
imprisonment. They attend a mass every Sunday dressed in white, and quietly march in white clothing in an act of passive resistance.

Walesa’s staff arranged for us to meet with the Berta Soler, the group’s leader, and three other members. Berta and the other damas told us of the regime’s oppression. We snuck a video camera into an apartment (I will post that interview on my web site).

What does the future hold for Cuba? I will document these issues on my web site until all Cubans are free.

30 thoughts on “A genuine people-to-people tour of Castrolandia leads to an incredible high school essay”

  1. Here is the Huffpo link, if only so that people can add comments there and bookmark the author’s profile in order to find his future articles:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-storozynski/its-time-for-a-free-cuba_b_1858951.html

    Though Philips Exeter Academy does cost a lot (over $40,000 a few years back, probably even more today) apparently it has a huge endowment that pays back well over that much to each student on average. Indeed, many students receive financial aid that covers their entire tuition. Nothing wrong with any of that. I just sort of hope it accepts students based on quality and ability, and not just on who their parents know and play golf with.

  2. Yes, they have a very large number of scholarship students. And a very large percentage of foreign students too.
    Two of my former students teach there. I spent one day up there, teaching class after class, all day long. Most impressive.

  3. It perhaps says something about people of high intelligence that one is quite pleasantly surprised to see one of them — at such a young age! — have enough sense to ditch his official propagandizers and seek the company of ordinary people living in a communist state.

    This is not typical behavior, sad to say. Not typical at all. Could it be that his Polish background has inoculated him?

  4. It’s funny that you would post this right now.

    I’ve been working on a series of articles connecting the rise of Castro, and Hugo Chavez, and Barack Obama’s defense of Manuel Zelaya’s attempt to seize power in Honduras by overthrowing the Honduran Constitution via an unconstitutional popular referendum. Right now, I am trying to organize my thoughts on the third and final in what I call the Roy Neary series.

    What triggered the whole thing off was Obama’s call for “the political and social actors in Honduras to respect Democratic norms, the rule of law, and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

    Manuel Zelaya was engaged in a wholly unconstitutional action, attempting to overthrow the Honduran constitution, and Obama was defending the man, calling for “the rule of law” to be observed.

    It hit me right then that Obama didn’t see adhering to the Constitution as being the “rule of law.”

    (Ranita what does all this have to do with the essay?)

    In my opinion, Cuba is not now, nor has it ever been either Communist, or Marxist-Leninist.

    The political system in Cuba, at best, is (and has been) what I call atheistic feudalism. A feudal society of Lords (Fidel and Raul), vassals (the Communist Party and the CDRs) and of course, the people of Cuba as the serfs. Fidel’s feudal society lacks the estates of the Church, thus the atheistic aspect.

    Communism was a vehicle for Fidel, and a way to protect his position in Cuba while he disposed of his enemies (as well as his and Raul’s rivals), solidified his stranglehold on the people, and set in place a system for eliminating the possibility of a second revolution removing him from power.

    Fidel and Chavez rose to power on the back of a class struggle, Zelaya tried to do the same with his direct democracy referendum attempt.

    Fidel and Chavez succeeded in upending the existing cultural hegemony in both Cuba and Venezuela, by giving the lower classes the sense that it was THEIR class (as represented by both Castro’s and Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolutions) that now dominated the culture, becoming the accepted norm for each respective society, yet, all that happened in each nation was that two despots rose to power.

    For sure, Chavez’s model can’t be as stark as Castro’s, as he lacks the ability to control movement in and out of Venezuela to the degree that Castro controls movement in and out of the island, so a semblance of capitalism and freedom of movement still exist.

    Castro’s Feudalism is grounded on Marx and Gramsci, but Chavez appears to be walking away from that concept with his vague “Socialism of the 21st Century” model.

    In the evolution of this populist socialism that Obama is pushing, I see shades of Castro, Chavez, Marx and Gramsci, and I hope and pray that our Congress has the integrity and courage to do what the Honduran Congress did to Zelaya.

    Listen to Obama’s verbiage about fairness, class disparity, and social justice. His entire core of political ideology was revealed in his “you didn’t build that” statement.

    http://boilingfrogs.wordpress.com/2009/10/04/being-roy-neary/

    http://boilingfrogs.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/being-roy-neary-pt-2/

  5. Everyone, please excuse the rambling rant above, I’ve been working on this third article for a few days, and all the stuff I’ve read is rolling around my heads trying to transform itself into one cohesive thought that I can put on paper.

    I found a document online that may be of interest to some.

    It’s a paper by Salvador Diaz-Verson in behalf of the Institute for U.S. – Cuba Relations called “When Castro Became a Communist”.

    http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/diaz-verson.htm

    As I said, I am not fully convinced that Castro was ever TRULY a Communist, but it’s a great read nevertheless.

  6. No Luis, my father knew Castro *well* both during their law school years, and also during their immediate years prior to Moncada. He was without a doubt a communist; but was not quite as ideologically driven as Raul.

  7. “In the evolution of this populist socialism that Obama is pushing, I see shades of Castro, Chavez, Marx and Gramsci, and I hope and pray that our Congress has the integrity and courage to do what the Honduran Congress did to Zelaya.”

    Luis,

    Without a doubt Obama is trying to establish his own unique flavor of Marxist/Socialist upon the American people. The scariest part is that many Americans cannot understand it as we do because of our own personal experiences.

    That’s why we get attacked when we rightfully call Obama a Communist/Marxist/Socialist.

    I have to agree with raddoc, Fidel Castro was a Communist from his early days as a thug, agitator and murderer in the University of Havana. That he got away with so much thuggery before the Moncada barracks attack is beyond me.

    The rest is history…

  8. I don’t know that anyone can see into another person’s heart.

    I have no doubt that Fidel espoused Communism, and that he embraced Communism in order to achieve his personal goals.

    But I think that he did it because he know that he couldn’t have gather a following by being upfront about his true ambitions, he couldn’t have attracted ideologues like the Directorio Revolucionario, or Camilo to his side by owning up to his plans for a strong man style government in Cuba, with himself and Raul at the helm.

    Fidel rid himself of Camilo because he wasn’t a communist, and of Che because he was. Neither fit his long-range plan.

    Soviet Communism had a semblance of a bicameral Executive, and a barrier that (after Khrushchev’s ouster) was capable of enacting laws which made it difficult for one individual to hold the reigns of power in the USSR to the degree that Khrushchev had held them again.

    In Cuba, the State are the Castro brothers and the Castro brothers are the State. That’s always been the case.

    I guess that if you drop equal portions of feudalism, caudillismo and communism in a blender, along with a heaping helping of delusions of grandeur, you get Fidel and Raul.

    I loath to give either Castro brother any credit for any level of humanity, and in order for me to believe that at any time they believed in the theory of Communism, I have to believe that (however misguided) there was a point in time when those two thugs acted with the well-being of Cuba, and the people of Cuba in mind. In light of everything that’s happened in Cuba since January 1st, 1959, that doesn’t make sense to me.

    Perhaps, the Castro brothers started out embracing Communism à la Nikita, but when Nikita fell, and the Soviet Central Committee split the power in the USSR , Communism lost its luster for the Castros.

    Then again, I may be wrong, which is most often the case than not.

    I hope to live to see the day that a full account of the last half century of the inner workings of the Cuban government is written by someone not afraid to tell the truth. Unfortunately, in Cuba, those people tend to disappear…like Camilo.

  9. Fidel was whatever would get him absolute power and help him keep it. If it hadn’t been communism it would have been something else. He would have embraced classical fascism just as well if it had not already been defeated and discredited. In his early youth, he was attracted to Franco, Mussolini, and yes, Hitler. But you go with what has the best chance of getting you what you want. That’s why, now, after being officially atheist and treating Catholicism like shit for years, Castro, Inc. is playing all nice with the RCC, because it sees gain to be had from it. Again, whatever works. Absolutely no surprise there; what’s appalling and nauseating is that the Vatican would bite on it, instead of doing what it did in Poland.

  10. “Fidel was whatever would get him absolute power and help him keep it. If it hadn’t been communism it would have been something else. He would have embraced classical fascism just as well if it had not already been defeated and discredited.”

    YEAH!

    What he/she said!

    That’s the ticket!

    I wish I could learn to be pithy…

  11. Communism, as a form of collectivism, in my value system is immoral-it has no redemption, it has no place in the dictionary under humanity. Someone who is “humane” can not morally be a communist even if they “misguidedly” think it will improve the physical well being of a people. Castro as a communist is immoral and so for me, has no shred of humaninity in his makeup. It is not just that he is a dictator, it is more than that. Regardless, of how charismatic he may be, and regardless that he could mistakenly think that one economic system could bring greater riches to someone than another, by dint of communistic ideology being based on theft “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” it is immoral and inhumane.
    The irony of all this, is that when anti-collectivist ideology is followed, then improved standards of living for people naturally flow. I get dismayed when (often) I hear our Republican leaders push the pragmatic side of pro-capitlist beliefs, because then I think they have de facto given up the ideological fight and become progressive lights. I think that a big issue in our society is the acceptance perpetrated by leftists/progressives to being “fair” and to being “nice”. It too easily twists into fair being “equal outcomes”, and nice being go alongness and believing all cultures and thoughts have equal values. We need to argue this and instead push fairness of laws, and pleasantness in our discourse and disagreements with others while maintaining our assertions as to what is right.

  12. Thanks, Luis. I do the best I can for renegade “Latino,” but of course, everyone can’t be Geraldo Rivera or Rick Sánchez. Thank God.

  13. raddoc…I am as anti-communist as they come, and am part of a family of intransigent anti-communists.

    SOME of those intransigents initially supported the idea of la revolucion, and that romanticized nature of theoretical communism where everyone gets what they need, and everything is fluffy clouds, baby ducks and kittens.

    They came to their senses, caught on to Fidel’s lies, and either took to the hills, or to the waves.

    I know, like you know, that communism is intrinsically evil because we have directly experienced that it is.

    However, and granting me the fact that it is far easier to be a wealthy communist in a capitalist nation, than it is to live as a citizen of a communist one, misguided and/or naive people who have arrived at the top rung of Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, embrace the theory of communism (the “to some according to their needs” part) as a method of self-actualization because it makes them “feel” good to “advocate” in behalf of the “little people”. Face it, this nation is full of rich lipstick commies.

    Obviously, if they are ever forced to live under practicing communism, they’ll leave the country, with as much money as they can take with them, in a heartbeat.

    I think that many people in Cuba bought into Fidel’s lies,into Communism and an idyllic picture of a better nation under a government “by the people”. I can’t call those people intrinsically evil, I CAN call them foolish, ideological Gilligans, and useful idiots.

    You see Castro as immoral because he is a Communist, I see him as immoral…period. Immoral not as a result of his embracing an immoral political ideology, but an intrinsically immoral individual not beyond embracing an inherently evil form of collectivism in order to realize his dreams.

    You and I don’t really disagree on this, we just agree differently.

  14. I don’t disagree that castro is an opportunist primarily out for himself. However, I also think that based on history, (to me you have to judge action, not motive) he has to labeled a communist. I came to this conclusion from reading, many conversations with Cubans familiar with the activities of young castro, and his involvement in Bogotozo. There are interesting State Dept documents linked here.

    http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/gaitan/gaitancastro.htm

  15. asombra…that word “Latino:, I got into a spat with the Nielsen rating people this week.

    They called to get responses to a survey, and the woman’s second question was “are you Hispanic”?

    I said “no” which threw her off because she’d just confirmed my name.

    So she asked again, and I told her that I wasn’t “Hispanic” because I was born nearly two decades before Nixon invented Hispanics.

    The woman said “excuse me?”, so I told her that I was 17 years old in 1973 when Hispanics were invented, so I couldn’t see how I could be something that did not exist at the time of my birth.
    I didn’t recall being ethnicity-wise reassigned at that time.

    So she cleared her throat and asked if I was Latino, so I responded “what is that?”, and she wasn’t real sure, so I commented that if she wasn’t sure, she wouldn’t really know whether I told her the truth when I answered her question.

    Then I told her, “I’ll tell you what I am…I was born in Cuba, I am Caucasian, a naturalized citizen of the United States, a fan of the Dallas Cowboys (OH! GET OVER IT!), and a Republican. Now, what’s the topic?”

    She said “thank you very much for your time” and hung up.

    I don’t know that I’ll be hearing from Nielsen any time soon.

    They are obviously New York Giants fans.

  16. Thanks for the links Ziva, that’s what I’ve always loved this site.

    Perhaps, somewhere between that time of Fidel as the young ideologue, and Fidel as the man holding the reigns of power in Cuba, he discarded the portions of Communism that would have him relinquish any measure of power to a Soviet-style bicameral Executive, and Communism in Cuba went the way of his promises of restoring the 1940 Constitution and holding free elections.

    He called himself a Communist, but he never structured the government as a classic Communist-style government. So if you have to judge actions, his actions in NOT structuring Cuba’s government to resemble the government of the USSR expose him as a Communist in word/motive, but a despot in action.

  17. Dang-this blog is so rich and there are so many cool things to comment on (and joyfully agree with); es un placer!
    Anyway, my apologies Luis-I meant to cast no doubts on your anti-commie “creds”-from reading your comment at other times also, that is clearly not the case; you are assuredly one of the best of the best, and I am confident that you are stamping out communist pestilence and disease everywhere you travel (and I am thankful for that!). I just got on my anti-commie and anti-Castro high horse 🙂 …and it has no bounds.
    But, many of us do need to refocus our lens and make it clear that if someone espouses communist ideology, they need to read and think what it means, and they cannot hide behind feel good sentiments. We need to call them on it, and I think, give them no quarter. I think Breitbart had it right.

    And regarding Latino or Hispanic-agreed; what they said!

    True Cuba is not the exact structure as Soviet Russia. But that wasn’t a pure perfect communist state either. There never seems to be; and all of the communist apologists and cries that next time they’ll get it right fall short and wrong. It will never work right because of it’s intrinsic beliefs. “Animal Farm” got it right. Phoeey.

  18. No, Stalin was a despot.

    IIRC Stalin and Khrushchev were two of the three people who occupied both positions of power within the Soviet governmental structure simultaneously. After Khrushchev’s ouster, a law was passed to stop that from happening again.

    So while he was in fact a despot, there existed the ability within that frame work to remove him from power. I don’t see any entity within the Cuban government with a similar amount of power ever having existed.

  19. “Fidel rid himself of Camilo because he wasn’t a communist”

    Luis,

    Make no mistake about it, Camilo Cienfuegos (and his brother Osmani) was a Communist.

    My father worked with someone in Cuba (I knew the person as a little kid, he’s long dead) very close to Osmani and Camilo Cienfuegos and verified to my Dad many years ago that both were ardent Communist.

    My father back then asked him that famous question floating in Cuba regarding whether Camilo had disappeared because he wasn’t Communist. This coworker befriended my father and confided in him because they got along well (even though he knew my father wasn’t a Communist or a supporter of the Revolution)and told my Dad in no uncertain terms that Camilo was Communist.

    This story I’m telling you goes back to the mid-sixties…

  20. “However, and granting me the fact that it is far easier to be a wealthy communist in a capitalist nation, than it is to live as a citizen of a communist one”

    “Obviously, if they are ever forced to live under practicing communism, they’ll leave the country, with as much money as they can take with them, in a heartbeat.”

    Nailed again Luis,

    Pitbull was right to bring you as a contributor.

  21. Freedom…

    Nearly everything that I have ever read about Cienfuegos makes the clear statement that he was not a Communist, and while I understand the anecdotal evidence that we all, as Cubans, share about our history, I have figured out that (to the members of my family at least) anyone who: was a Castro sympathizer at any time, a supporter of the overthrow of the Batista government, or held a government job after Castro was a communist. There simply is no greater insult for a Cuban émigré to cast at another individual. That being the case, then it lends to reason that anyone who was as closely associated with Castro as Camilo was, will always be labeled a communist.

    There are credible reports that Camilo himself, while speaking to a group of officers from the 7mo Regimiento de Holguín who were rebelling against Castro, said “No soy comunista y si este proceso enfila hacia esa dirección presentaría batalla y estaría junto a Uds. una revolución verdes como los campos de caña y las palmas”.

    From everything I’ve ever read on the subject, Osmani Cienfuegos was, without a doubt, a communist.

  22. Luis I tell you what I know about Camilo and the source was very reliable.

    As a matter of fact my Dad told me that his coworker friend told him he bought Camilo the suit he wore when he left Cuba.

  23. Well, my old dad knew Camilo too. And according to him, he was not a communist. According to my dad, he really was killed by Castro and his goons because he was too popular with the people. Take that for whatever it’s worth.
    And by the way, Che had no redeeming qualities.

  24. raddoc,

    I agree on the possible reason Camilo was “dissapeared”. He was a shadow to Fidel Castro in the early days of the Revolution. We all know Fidel’s ego that does not tolerate anyone who can eclipse him.

    On Camilo no being Communist, I find that hard to believe as his whole family was anarchists/lefties and his brother Osmani is unwavering pro-Castro.

  25. Camilo’s older brother, Humberto had no known political views, and lived as a simple government employee in Cuba.

    I have a huge family made up of genuinely nice people…with the exception of my great-uncle Pepe who is an abject jackass.

    It’s hard to believe that he is, as the rest of the members of the family are such nice people.

    Esas cosas pasan.

    🙂

  26. Camilo was a none-too-bright bon vivant whose chief interest was getting laid. As is too often the case, Cubans have made much ado about not much.

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