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Never underestimate a man whose name means "He Who Can Conquer Mountains"
September 26, 2011 2:15 PM   Subscribe

After months of struggle to get his family out of Cuba, Orestes Lorenzo got his response. Raúl Castro, then Minister of the Armed Forces, declared "If he had the balls to steal one my MiGs, then he can come back and get his family himself!" In hindsight, that was probably the wrong thing to say.

Elite fighter pilot Major Lorenzo took off on a routine training flight in 1991, tense in his MiG-23BN, the most advanced fighter in the Cuban Air Force, with a two thoughts on his mind. The first one: defection. As soon as he was clear of land he hit the deck and streaked towards the United States. The second: his family.

Thus began the public struggle of the Cuban defector-turned-refugee against the government of Fidel Castro for the release of Lorenzo's wife and two young sons. For nearly two years it played out across the front page of the Wall Street Journal and ended up involving the U.S. government, the Queen of Spain, Mikhail Gorbachev, Fidel Castro, and the United Nations, to no avail.

Increasingly frustrated, he did the only thing he could think of: he got his hands on a plane and flew back to get them.
posted by Cobalt (68 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now, THAT guy has cojones.
posted by Mcable at 2:23 PM on September 26, 2011


Great story, lovely final image: "The Cessna was covered with salt."
posted by chavenet at 2:24 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The linked article originally appeared in Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine. I know because I was on the staff at the time. In fact, I edited that article (written by another editor on the staff, David Savold). Here's the weird thing--I was just thinking about that article last night. I hadn't thought of it in years.
posted by Man-Thing at 2:28 PM on September 26, 2011 [23 favorites]


Get me Greengrass on the phone! NOW!
posted by villanelles at dawn at 2:28 PM on September 26, 2011


Thank you for this story!
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 2:31 PM on September 26, 2011


Great story! It reminded me of the escapes out of East Berlin in the Cold War days. This would make a great movie as well!
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:43 PM on September 26, 2011


Wow! That is amazing. I can't imagine all the emotions he was feeling for that 100minutes.
posted by Sweetmag at 2:48 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great story. Thanks for posting. Amazing what one can do when truly motivated.
posted by Argyle at 2:50 PM on September 26, 2011


Inspiring story -- thanks for posting! It's scary to think of all that could have gone horribly wrong.
posted by Triplanetary at 2:56 PM on September 26, 2011


It's scary to think of all that could have gone horribly wrong.

I know, right? Having Pizza Hut for lunch before a flight?
posted by Hoopo at 3:15 PM on September 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Very inspiring. I wonder what happened to this guy and his family in the intervening years?
posted by caddis at 3:20 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great story, lovely final image: "The Cessna was covered with salt."

Some of which seems to have gotten in my eye here.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:29 PM on September 26, 2011


I'm as sensitive to the relentless anti-Cuba propaganda from the usual suspects as the next guy, but facts are facts: ultimately, Cuba is a failed state from a human perspective. The final arbiters of the quality of life, are the people who are subject to that life, which includes the people who vote with their feet. People leaving a country are not proof positive that life is bad and the state is evil - as long as the state does not prevent them from leaving. That's where Cuba is a failure. It keeps its people prisoners. It's really a giant prison, even if many (most?) of the prisoners are there of their own free will. The Soviet Union - along with their various satellites - was exactly the same way. What was amusing was the disconnect between the official propaganda, and the reality - the Soviet Union recognized two greatest punishments: the worst was execution, the second worst, was expulsion from the Motherland. Of course, millions dreamed of being terribly punished with the second, alas, to no avail.

Of course, there is the flip side to this: people vote with their feet to leave, and many countries are at least willing - perhaps eager - for them to go. Only other countries are not willing to accept them. That's when politics comes in again. We'll accept anyone from Cuba (when Castro emptied his prisons and insane asylums for the Mariel boatlift, he said he "flushed a toilet"), but seem strangely reluctant to accept people just as oppressed - if not more - from the vicious regimes we support.
posted by VikingSword at 3:47 PM on September 26, 2011 [12 favorites]


I think what you're saying applies to most of Latin America and the caribbean, Viking sword. Cuba isn't exactly the only country that people leave.
posted by moorooka at 3:58 PM on September 26, 2011


I think what you're saying applies to most of Latin America and the caribbean, Viking sword. Cuba isn't exactly the only country that people leave.

Sure. But that was not my point, as I made explicit. There are many people leaving Latin American countries. But only Cuba, to my knowledge, tries to prevent their citizens from leaving - and that's the key (pardon the pun) to what makes it a prison.
posted by VikingSword at 4:03 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cuba, however, is a totalitarian police state, with total control of the means of communication by the state, a pervasive surveillance infrastructure and a Kafkaesque infrastructure of repression that can be subtly brought to bear against those not smart enough to keep their mouths shut and comply. Granted, the right-wing dictatorships the CIA helped set up (in Brazil, Chile, &c.) were just as oppressive, though those regimes have all collapsed now.
posted by acb at 4:07 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


VikingSword : I know it's not quite the same thing but in America you cannot leave the country unless you can afford a $250 passport fee. Additionally, if you've taken part in say a civil disobedience protest against the war, you can easily find yourself on a no-fly list and/or a federal charge which makes it impossible to get into many countries that have agreements with the United States - such as Canada. It is also a Federal offense to transfer more than 10K cash out of the country without prior approval. Should you decide to take 8 or 9K in cash or gold with you on an airplane while leaving the country you are very likely to get that amount confiscated as suspected "drug" or "terrorist" money unless you are one of the upper classes who can get around such things.

I am most definitely not saying that we are like Cuba here but I am saying that we are going in a direction that I find uncomfortable.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 4:09 PM on September 26, 2011 [11 favorites]


acm: Cuba, however, is a totalitarian police state, with total control of the means of communication by the state, a pervasive surveillance infrastructure and a Kafkaesque infrastructure of repression that can be subtly brought to bear against those not smart enough to keep their mouths shut and comply.

I'm thinking Fox News. I'm thinking no third party candidates allowed (in the news or on televised debates) save the Tea Party. I'm thinking of the monitoring of ALL cell phone calls in the country (lookin' at you AT&T) . I'm thinking Patriot Act and I'm thinking the long lost Bill of Rights and I'm also thinking gulp
posted by Poet_Lariat at 4:14 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


I wonder what Michael Moore has to say about this
posted by Renoroc at 4:23 PM on September 26, 2011


My former BIL made it out on a raft with his father, mother and sister in 1995. He didn't have permission, a passport, gold, silver or indeed, anything but the clothes on his back.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:38 PM on September 26, 2011


Fuckin' A.

This guy makes me proud to be male. We need to get back to being a country that deserves this level of immigrant. I just wish we knew how to do it, but letting these guys in help.
posted by djrock3k at 4:38 PM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Lorenzo and his wife were on Leno. He was interviewed by Larry King. And, you can be his friend on Facebook.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:41 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Raul Castro considered this man's wife and children to be Raul Castro's property just as much as that MiG.

That is feudalism, pure and simple.

Cuba is a throwback to Europe prior to the Burgher Revolts of the high Middle Ages. Cubans are deprived of a right secured to most Europeans by the 1370s.
posted by ocschwar at 4:47 PM on September 26, 2011


I'm thinking Fox News. I'm thinking no third party candidates allowed (in the news or on televised debates) save the Tea Party. I'm thinking of the monitoring of ALL cell phone calls in the country (lookin' at you AT&T) . I'm thinking Patriot Act and I'm thinking the long lost Bill of Rights and I'm also thinking gulp

OTOH, America has a plethora of dissenting voices internally (both in the mainstream press and smaller publications), and also no impediment to accessing foreign sites. And attempting to read Mother Jones or the Guardian (or, indeed, this MetaFilter thread; the Blue is hosted in the US, isn't it?) won't result in an early-morning visit from the secret police.

None of these things hold in Cuba.
posted by acb at 4:49 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Exciting story - thanks for posting!
posted by Horatius at 4:56 PM on September 26, 2011


Good god, an aviation story originally published in Air and Space about my in-laws' native country, a Cold War escape story not unlike a post of my own several years ago, on Metafilter and I, aviation freak, find the resulting discussion thread generally distasteful with the exception of Man-Thing's interesting comment? And on the same day, cortex nukes an axe-grindy Obama post and I hate the fact that post is gone too? I think it may be time for me to take a break.
posted by mwhybark at 5:49 PM on September 26, 2011


Wow, that made me cry. What an excellent story.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:50 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hope Michael Bay never reads this.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:12 PM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Great story, what a badass.
posted by chemoboy at 6:36 PM on September 26, 2011


"The Cessna was covered with salt."

And his balls were covered with motherfucking adamantium.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:12 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Radio Marti carried his appeals across the Florida Straits to Cuba

Funny, I happened pick up that station on shortwave the other day while messing around with a new radio. They were broadcasting from Greenville, NC. Regretfully I don't speak Spanish, so I don't know what the message was.
posted by exogenous at 7:30 PM on September 26, 2011


This guy can legitimately say that Raul Castro is his bitch.
posted by azpenguin at 8:00 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


VikingSword : I know it's not quite the same thing but in America you cannot leave the country unless you can afford a $250 passport fee.--Poet_Lariat

A passport is not required to leave the country. It is only required if you want to come back.

Of course other countries may not let cross the border without that passport.
posted by eye of newt at 9:27 PM on September 26, 2011


That is feudalism, pure and simple.

Feudalism? How so?

with total control of the means of communication by the state, a pervasive surveillance infrastructure


I can't speak for the rest of what you say, but this I can sort of vouch for. A good friend of mine is the son of Cuban and Czechoslovakian refugees. He and his brothers have been to Cuba a couple of times. There may have be some degree of paranoia but my friend tells me he and his brothers noticed there were men in suits watching them conspicuously on more than one occasion.
posted by Hoopo at 11:55 PM on September 26, 2011



I do not speak Spanish, but this YouTube video appears to be a short interview with Lorenzo and his recently-reunited family shortly after touchdown on the tarmac. The salted Cessna is presumably the plane in the background.

He looks completely exhausted, but understandably very happy.
posted by Hypnerotomachia at 11:57 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rescue my family LIKE A BOSS.
posted by luminarias at 12:32 AM on September 27, 2011


Thanks for a great story, David and Man-Thing and Cobalt!
posted by hat_eater at 12:49 AM on September 27, 2011


Arguably, the USA and Cuba have different concepts of freedom. In the USA, the "freedom" to be richer than others is highly valued. In Cuba, the "freedom" to enjoy good healthcare and education are highly valued. To a large extent it's a matter of priorities.

Also arguably, Cuba would not be a "prison" were it not for the USA, who have enforced an illegal economic blockade against them for decades, combined with a policy of allowing all immigration from Cuba - with the express purpose of making things difficult for the Cuban state.

All this aside, this is a great story - thanks.
posted by iotic at 2:05 AM on September 27, 2011


Arguably, the USA and Cuba have different concepts of freedom. In the USA, the "freedom" to be richer than others is highly valued. In Cuba, the "freedom" to enjoy good healthcare and education are highly valued.

The USA also values the "freedom" to hold and express opinions dissenting from those of the state, and to associate and communicate freely without official state approval, somewhat more highly than Cuba does.

Also arguably, Cuba would not be a "prison" were it not for the USA, who have enforced an illegal economic blockade against them for decades, combined with a policy of allowing all immigration from Cuba - with the express purpose of making things difficult for the Cuban state.

There's some truth there; apparently (according to David Priestland's The Red Flag) Cuba didn't move towards a full Soviet-style dictatorship until after the Bay Of Pigs invasion; before then, the government was happy to maintain a more pluralistic system (though made the mistake of expropriating US business interests or something similar).
posted by acb at 2:13 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


So anybody thought of what would happen if this happened in reverse in any other nation? I mean, lets say, the US put some Iranian people on a no-fly list for whatever reason and an Iranian pilot happened to come back to save them because they wanted to come back. Would you be rooting the same way?

The US happens to encourage leaving Cuba by pretty much automatically making Cubans citizens of the US. Oh also, the trade embargo which screws Cuba. So, yeah, people WILL leave. Regardless, methinks that if it were any other country I don't think the support would be quite as unanimous.
posted by lizarrd at 3:07 AM on September 27, 2011


Any other existing country or any other country? Does GDR count?
posted by hat_eater at 4:25 AM on September 27, 2011



Sis - Castro set up a great healthcare system, and stands up against bullying tactics of the US.
Dad - The man cancelled Christmas. There are cartoon villains who haven't even done that.

Undoubtedly, the embargo is evil, and is the single biggest prop holding the Castro regime upright - but the Cuban government is not a good one.

To be honest, I think once the Castros have passed on, Cuba will be a 1st world nation in very short order. They have the bones of a good infrastructure in place, and a very industrious, cultured and orderly society. As long as they can keep the radical right penned up back in Miami, they'll do fine in the transition to democracy.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:33 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The US happens to encourage leaving Cuba by pretty much automatically making Cubans citizens of the US. Oh also, the trade embargo which screws Cuba. So, yeah, people WILL leave.

This would be a valid argument if Cubans left only for the US. However, many of them want to leave for anywhere but Cuba. Quite significant numbers are emigrating to Europe (notably Spain, Germany and Italy), and they resort to extreme measures to make it.
posted by Skeptic at 5:06 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks Cobalt - that story made my day and then some.
posted by pandabearjohnson at 5:28 AM on September 27, 2011


Kudos to the guy for settling the score with panache, but lets not forget that the most notorious prison operation in Cuba is run by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. I would like to take that log out of our collective eye before heaping criticism on Cuba.
posted by dgran at 5:53 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Slap*Happy:

... the Cuban government is not a good one [...] They have the bones of a good infrastructure in place, and a very industrious, cultured and orderly society

So who are those good things down to? Batista?

Sure the Castro regime hasn't been ideal, but they're haven't been pure evil either.
posted by iotic at 7:16 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hypnerotomachia - I noticed in the video that the wife is wearing a bright orange shirt as mentioned in the article. Pretty neat find.
posted by Horatius at 7:51 AM on September 27, 2011


Thanks for the kind words, guys. I'm very happy you liked it.
posted by Cobalt at 8:53 AM on September 27, 2011


So who are those good things down to? Batista?

It's worth noting that, while pre-Castro Cuba wasn't all fun and dances (OK, literally speaking, there was a lot of fun and dances), it wasn't at all a Third World country, even if its wealth was unevenly spread. This wealth went back to Spanish colonial times, when Cuba was known as the "Pearl of the Caribbean", and was significantly wealthier than Spain itself. The first Spanish railway was built in...Cuba.

Cuba's wealth further increased after its independence. The island was uniquely provided to cater for the US market. Just before the Revolution the standard of living in Cuba was comparable to that of the Southern US. The per capita GDP was several times that of its former colonial master, which moreover languished politically and culturally under the Franco regime. By contrast, Cuban cultural life under Batista positively flourished. I don't want to defend Batista, who was a brutish kleptocrat by all accounts, but trying to defend the Castro regime by comparing it to it's predecessor is perhaps less flattering than you may think. There's a reason why 1950s cars still dominate Cuba's streets...
posted by Skeptic at 9:57 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


So who are those good things down to?

Cubans.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:14 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The poor were starving under Batista. That's pretty grim. Meanwhile, the wealthy Bacardi set and the Mafiosi prospered, so yeah "it wasn't at all a Third World country, even if its wealth was unevenly spread" is technically true, but I don't think it's really a point in favour of the pre-revolution conditions.

Under Castro, the poor have decent healthcare and education guaranteed. Cuba is now a much better place to be a poor person than it was pre-revolution. And let's face it, it's probably better to be poor there than in the Southern US, too. Undoubtedly however, for the rich, the quality of life is/was better in the USA, and in Batista's Cuba.
posted by iotic at 10:14 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, this story made me cry like a baby, but my skeptical side keeps asking, that if things were so bad as to make this so daring, what kind of man would abandon his wife and children behind with the very horrible people he is fleeing?

Was there some assurance I missed that he knew before he left the rest of his family wouldn't be punished by authorities in lieu of his flight? If so... then yes, the guy is a damned hero. But if no? I can't get behind that as brave. What if his wife was gang raped as punishment, or just disappeared?

So.. maybe I missed where he knew they would be ok? Maybe the subject was high profile at the time and the more nasty elements of the Cuban government had their hands tied? I've just never even heard of this story before.

For the record, I am of the belief that there are a lot of good things about Cuba, as well as a lot of failures- but that is a bigger and more complex topic for another place and time.

I am steadfastly in favour of the right to mobility for all humans, and support whoever wishes to leave where they are to make a better, more stable life for their families.

And Holy christ, do his kids have the pot on 'bring your dad to school' day.
posted by Bushidoboy at 10:24 AM on September 27, 2011


Cuba is now a much better place to be a poor person than it was pre-revolution.

A Cuban would say: Thank God, because now everybody is poor!
Have you looked at the stats I linked to? In pre-Revolutionary Cuba there were nearly as many doctors per capita as in Europe.
And I wonder whether you have visited the place. "Free healthcare" is a sham, when even ibuprofen is rare. Same with "free education", when there is little to do with said education afterwards, neither in the way of gainful employment, nor in that of cultural expression.
I cycled through Cuba a couple of years ago, and the only things that flourished were prostitution and the black market. So much for the Batista Mafiosi.
posted by Skeptic at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2011


Was there some assurance I missed that he knew before he left the rest of his family wouldn't be punished by authorities in lieu of his flight? If so... then yes, the guy is a damned hero. But if no? I can't get behind that as brave. What if his wife was gang raped as punishment, or just disappeared?

The Castros aren't stupid. They know that dictators who routinely resort to such measures generally end up badly, whereas those who use more subtle measures generally live longer. While the onset of the Revolution was certainly bloody, I don't think that people are easily "disappeared" these days. Repression is much more subtle and far more effective. Remember that everything, jobs, education, healthcare, housing, even food, is in the hands of the state. Somebody who makes himself noticed to the ubiquitous Revolutionary Defense Committees may find himself without a roof (notice in the article that the wife "had to go live with her parents"). His gifted child may be redirected towards vocational training. His parents' medicines may suddenly become "unavailable". Next month's food stamps may "get lost"...not that this happens often, you know, but people know that they happen. That keeps most people in line.
posted by Skeptic at 10:47 AM on September 27, 2011


Have you looked at the stats I linked to? In pre-Revolutionary Cuba there were nearly as many doctors per capita as in Europe.

I have. GDP is pretty irrelevant when the mass of the people are starving. Those doctors also, weren't tending to the people in most need of their skills. They are now.

I wonder whether you have visited the place. "Free healthcare" is a sham, when even ibuprofen is rare.

I have visited Cuba. One day looking out from my casa particular I saw a women standing in her doorway, looking like a poor woman in any third world country. Then she started coughing, and pulled an asthma inhaler out of her pocket. That would simply never happen in any third world country without a socialist government.

The one time when people were really poor in Cuba was when the USSR fell apart, and due to the ongoing US embargo times were seriously hard for the mass of Cubans - until the plan to rebuild the economy based on tourism started to take off. This brings us back to the story in the original post, which happened at this time of extreme poverty. I can hardly blame a lot of Cubans for wanting to leave at that point, to be honest, though I don't think it's as simple as blaming Castro for the poverty they experienced.

It's certainly true, in my experience, that prostitutes and taxi drivers seemed to be making more money than doctors and teachers in Cuba, and that the economy and social situation left a lot to be desired. However, it's also clear that the aim of improving the mass of people's lives from the situation pre-revolution has been adhered to, and has been successful, fallacious arguments regarding GDP notwithstanding.

there is little to do with said education afterwards, neither in the way of gainful employment, nor in that of cultural expression.

I really don't think that's true - there are clearly plenty of opportunities in, for example, tourism, healthcare, education and the arts.
posted by iotic at 11:01 AM on September 27, 2011


Those doctors also, weren't tending to the people in most need of their skills. They are now.

In Venezuela?

Strangely enough, you seem to believe that, before the Revolution, Cuban doctors were only moved by the profit motive, whereas now, thanks to their successful transformation in homo sovieticus medicinalis, they are altruistically going to sacrifice themselves and keep practicing medicine while they see their taxi driver neighbour earn ten times their pay. Weird.

That would simply never happen in any third world country without a socialist government.

Except that Cuba wouldn't be a Third World country without that government. As you can see in my link above, at the time of the Revolution, Cuba was more or less on a par with Italy, Argentina or Uruguay. I don't think that scene would have surprised you in Italy, Uruguay or even Argentina, and it isn't as if those three countries had been paragons of good governance since the '50s.

Besides, I had my own epiphany in a casa particular. It happened when I pulled out a couple of boxes of ibuprofen from my satchel and I noticed the eyes of my host (a nurse in one of those public hospitals) go all beady...In your place, I would wonder whether the woman from the inhaler had got it from Cuba's excellent public healthcare system, or rather from a relative abroad.

I really don't think that's true - there are clearly plenty of opportunities in, for example, tourism, healthcare, education and the arts.

Tourism: having experienced the Cuban tourist sector, I can't help thinking that a) it isn't the most talented or motivated workers who get those nice jobs, and b) there would be a lot more opportunities in Cuba's tourist sector if it wasn't for the regime.

Healthcare: Sure, if you want to subsist on a diet of rice, beans and rancid pork.

The arts: Yes, as long as you tread the Party line. Show some dissent, and all bets are off.

Education: First, see healthcare. Second, the purpose of education shouldn't be just to educate educators.
posted by Skeptic at 1:21 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Except that Cuba wouldn't be a Third World country without that government.

Cuba wouldn't be a poor country without the US government, more to the point.

As you can see in my link above, at the time of the Revolution, Cuba was more or less on a par with Italy, Argentina or Uruguay.

No, the link says the GDP was relatively high. Anyone who knows anything about Cuba under Batista will tell you it was a hotbed of mafia and money-laundering activity, which would no doubt explain the GDP being high than say, neighbouring Haiti.

To paraphrase, I said "poor Cubans were starving under Batista", to which you replied, "but that's alright, because the rich people were bringing the average up". Are you sure that line of reasoning is defensible?

I can see that I won't win this argument, as despite being yclept "Skeptic" you are a subscriber to that curious brand of doublethink in which Capitalism = Freedom, and anything based on communalistic ideology = Evil, regardless of any blatantly obvious social benefits.
posted by iotic at 1:41 AM on September 28, 2011


Even wanted terrorists prefer to flee Cuba.
posted by Skeptic at 1:43 AM on September 28, 2011


To paraphrase, I said "poor Cubans were starving under Batista", to which you replied, "but that's alright, because the rich people were bringing the average up".

Nonsense. That is your own strawman. Cuba had in fact quite a sizable middle class in the 50s, of which the Castro brothers themselves, sons of a poor Spanish immigrant who had done well, were a prime example. As you'll see from my link above, the literacy rate was 79%, well above that of the rest of Latin America.

Anyone who knows anything about Cuba under Batista will tell you it was a hotbed of mafia and money-laundering activity, which would no doubt explain the GDP being high than say, neighbouring Haiti.

Only die-hard pro-Castro propagandists would pretend that the only reason for Cuba's higher per capita GDP before the Revolution was the Mob. Cuba was an industrialized country, far more prosperous as a whole than Haiti. Read Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana". It will give you a taste of what pre-Revolution Cuba was like, its corruption, but also its prosperity.
posted by Skeptic at 1:53 AM on September 28, 2011


Cuba wouldn't be a poor country without the US government, more to the point.

Yes, because without the US government's ludicrous Cuba policies, the Cubans would probably have rid themselves of their regime a long time ago. Otherwise, Cuba's poverty has much more to do with the regime's preposterous bureaucracy than with the embargo.

No, the link says the GDP was relatively high.

It says a lot more than that, with detailed standard of living figures. Before the Revolution, Cuba simply wasn't the Third World caricature that Castroists pretend.

you are a subscriber to that curious brand of doublethink in which Capitalism = Freedom, and anything based on communalistic ideology = Evil, regardless of any blatantly obvious social benefits.

Doublethink? How about trying desperately to find some good in a regime that tramples human rights, has condemned its population to poverty and despite its purported "socialism" currently gets a not-insignificant part of its income from prostituting its youth?
posted by Skeptic at 2:03 AM on September 28, 2011


It seems to me, only die-hard anti-Castro propagandists, to invert your turn of phrase, would argue so hard for a situation pre-revolution in which there was apparently nothing to revolt against. A revolution requires a lot of people to be deeply unhappy with their lot, right? According to you they had nothing to be unhappy about.

desperately to find some good in a regime that tramples ...

Haha, really? I'm astounded by how desperately hard you're trying to see good in country that has better healthcare, infrastructure, education and lower violent crime rates by a mile than neighbouring Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Haiti, as well as uh, hell, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana and the Ozarks.
posted by iotic at 2:18 AM on September 28, 2011


iotic It's astounding that you accuse me of "doublethink" for criticising Castro's "accomplishments". Considering the nature of the Castro regime, George Orwell must be rolling in his grave.

It seems to me, only die-hard anti-Castro propagandists, to invert your turn of phrase, would argue so hard for a situation pre-revolution in which there was apparently nothing to revolt against. A revolution requires a lot of people to be deeply unhappy with their lot, right? According to you they had nothing to be unhappy about.

Again, you pick on a nice strawman. You'll see that at no moment I've actually defended the Batista regime. I've even literally called it corrupt and brutish. My point was, however, to answer to this post of yours:

They have the bones of a good infrastructure in place, and a very industrious, cultured and orderly society

So who are those good things down to? Batista?


And point out that, before Castro, the Cuban society was already industrious and cultured. Moreover, having travelled from Havana to Santiago in a 1950s train, I can also point out that even much of the infrastructure was already in place before the Revolution and that, if anything, the regime has run it down (see the dilapidated state of Havana's buildings).

Apart from that, I must disabuse you. A revolution doesn't necessarily require a lot of discontented people, just a handful of determined individuals. And that was definitely the case of the Cuban revolution, when Castro quickly seized the power vacuum after Batista fled the island following the fall of Santiago. Even Castro's own propaganda insists heavily on the fact that the revolutionaries were just a handful (though "backed by the hearts of the whole of Cuba, blah, blah, blah...". I've been to the Garnma museum, I know the drill.)
posted by Skeptic at 2:45 AM on September 28, 2011


It's astounding that you accuse me of "doublethink" for criticising Castro's "accomplishments". Considering the nature of the Castro regime, George Orwell must be rolling in his grave.

I accuse you of doublethink - and the whole way in which generations of Americans have been brought up to believe that the ideals of communism/socialism/marxism (based as they are, on belief in community and social betterment) are inherently evil, and that capitalism is inherently good - because it is doublethink. Heaven forfend Orwell's terminology should be used to describe the brainwashing in a capitalist regime, rather than a communist one. Hell, was 1984 even about communism?

A revolution doesn't necessarily require a lot of discontented people, just a handful of determined individuals.

I look forward to the coming revolutions in Italy, Argentina and Uruguay - apparently equivalent to Batista's Cuba.
posted by iotic at 3:44 AM on September 28, 2011


I accuse you of doublethink - and the whole way in which generations of Americans have been brought up to believe that the ideals of communism/socialism/marxism (based as they are, on belief in community and social betterment) are inherently evil, and that capitalism is inherently good

a) I am not American.

b) "Doublethink" does not mean what you think it means, even though it was carefully explained in "1984":

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.

Pretty much all of this applies to the Castro regime, in particular the part which I've just highlighted.

c) I find the ideals of communism/socialism/marxism quite admirable. Their implementation in so-called "real socialism", as in Cuba? Not so much. It comes perhaps from having experienced it first-hand, not just in Cuba, but also in Romania and East Germany.

d) Yes, "1984" was about communism, or at least "real socialism" (portrayed as IngSoc), of which Orwell had experienced a handful in Spain. Just like "Brave New World" was about capitalism. Orwell also wrote "Animal Farm", which is an even more specific criticism of the likes of the Castros.

I look forward to the coming revolutions in Italy, Argentina and Uruguay - apparently equivalent to Batista's Cuba.

Italy, Argentina and Uruguay, were indeed economically and socially comparable to Batista's Cuba in the 1950s. Coincidentally, all three countries went through substantial political turmoil subsequently. The Italian Communist Party was a force to beckon (indeed, only substantial CIA shenanigans and some vote-cooking possibly prevented it from winning national elections). And Ernesto "Ché" Guevara was of course an (upper middle-class) Argentinian himself.

Thing is, although none of those countries has been exactly a beacon of good governance since the 1950s, none managed to fuck up their economy as egregiously as Castro's Cuba.
posted by Skeptic at 4:24 AM on September 28, 2011


a) I didn't say you were. You are, however, following a typically American line of attack against Castro.

b)

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.

The bold segments are relevant to the characterisation of Castro and the Cuban state as evil and not having any good qualities - typically by Americans but also evinced by yourself.

The underlined sentence at the end seems rather ironic in light of this debate.

c) Good, ok. I also find the ideals admirable, and also have some experience of this form of governance - enough to agree that it's far from perfect in most implementations. But also enough to have noticed that the poor are visibly better off in for example, China, Kerala, and yes, Cuba.

d) Well, Big Brother in 1984 is more representative of a totalitarian state with shifting "ethos" and a revisionist take on its own history - somewhat abstracted from the model of communist states although perhaps, yes, inspired by them.

George Orwell fought on the side of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and so was hardly vehemently anti-socialist. He was depressed by the way communist states such as the USSR ended up, as totalitarian governments.

I'm glad to note that you agree that "US government's ludicrous Cuba policies" have been a bad thing. The Cuban revolution was over 50 years ago. The fact that Cuba has managed to survive, economically and politically, as a self-determining entity in the face of extreme economic sanctions from their neighbour, one of the largest superpowers in the world, shows they can't have been doing everything wrong.
posted by iotic at 5:08 AM on September 28, 2011


But also enough to have noticed that the poor are visibly better off in for example, China, Kerala, and yes, Cuba.

Few people, apart from the Chinese Communist Party (which is about to receive a billionaire into its Central Committee) would call China "socialistic" these days. Even fewer people would pretend that it is a decent place for poor people, although it is definitely better than when it took its communism seriously. As for Kerala, it is a federal state in a vibrant, if imperfect, democracy. And, besides its left-wing politics, it has other aspects that set it apart from the rest of India, notably a much higher degree of Christianisation which weakens the scourge that is the caste system.
posted by Skeptic at 8:40 AM on September 28, 2011


If we can get back to the article for a sec...

After he had been flying for about 15 minutes, Lorenzo started to descend until he was flying about ten feet above the waves.

Holy shit.
posted by cereselle at 9:20 AM on September 28, 2011


besides its left-wing politics, it has other aspects that set it apart from the rest of India, notably a much higher degree of Christianisation which weakens the scourge that is the caste system

Yeah, Christians have had such a non-divisive influence on the Indian Subcontinent.

Anyway ... enough! We don't agree.
posted by iotic at 10:01 AM on September 28, 2011


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