By Hugo J. Byrne

At the end of 1997 I received a generous National Review gift subscription from a friend actively supporting domestic conservative causes. When the subscription expired I decided not to renew it. The magazine's editor, Mr. William F. Buckley Jr., in a "personalized" letter requested a few lines from me stating the reasons for my decision.

What follows is my response to Mr. Buckley's request, which I believe may be of public interest, must specially to Cuban American readers. In spite of the fact that this letter was written some time ago, I believe we are still facing the reality described on it.

Mr. William F. Buckley
"National Review"
New York.

Dear Mr. Buckley:

I am not entertaining the hope that you will personally read these lines. But I feel an urge to answer the request on the postscript of your letter seeking my renewal subscription to N. R.

I enjoyed reading your magazine and yes, I am giving it up. While supporting (95%) of your editorial policies and most certainly regarding myself as a "conservative" in the American contemporary definition of the word, I found to my frustration one basic issue in which we drastically disagree.

I confess that I am partial on the subject, but taking sides never precludes the use of reason. Therefore I have debated that subject in papers, radio and TV. During those debates I failed to find any single serious or valid argument on the opposing side of the issue. The subject could be defined in one word: Castro. I very strongly disagree with N. R. stand against the trade embargo on Castro.

United States could ignore Cuba only at its own peril. Cuba is the largest, most populated and historically influential island in this Hemisphere (Greenland is almost barren and some serious geographers regard it as a continent). Cuba is also the home of a noble and courageous people struggling for liberty for almost 200 years. That fight, the longest, bloodiest and most costly of all wars for independence in the history of this continent, seemed to have arrived to a successful conclusion when the Cuban Republic was established in 1902.

Unfortunately the seeds of Cuba's return to European despotism were planted in the wake of a very shortsighted decision taken by the first independent governments of Cuba, while implementing its immigration policies. Cuba encouraged the assimilation of more than 600,000 European immigrants in less than 20 years. Fear of Cuba's becoming a second Haiti with similar chaos and squalor led the administrations of Estrada Palma, Gomez and Menocal to open wide Cuban doors to European influx.

They strove to "balance" the ethnic make up of the Cuban population, which was over 75% black or mulatto at the turn of the 20th century. This policy succeeded well beyond their hopes with Cuban whites peaking at 72% according to the 1952 census.

However, like most decisions taken out of fear, the European wave did not bode well for Cuba's future. Relying on the advantage of the common language, Havana welcomed back the very nationality -and generation- responsible for the colonial regime's war against Cuban independence. Over 85% of the new comers came from Spain. The overwhelming majority of them were decent people, hard workers eager to seek a new life in a most promising land. Their contribution to Cuban progress during the earlier years of the Republic cannot be overstated. Unfortunately some others carried with them the smoldering resentment of a recent and humiliating defeat. They were consumed by an intense hatred, not only against the United States (The Spanish American War is referred to as "El Desastre" in Spain's primary schools to this date), but also against the young Cuban Republic. When we try to understand Castro and the evil he has unleashed upon the Cuban people -as well as his notorious loathing for everything American- we have to start by learning that his father Angel Castro and his maternal grandfather Francisco Ruz were both former Spanish colonial soldiers who struggled earnestly against Cuban independence from 1896 to 1898.

When I came to the United States I was a political exile from Cuba, and even though I have lived most of my life in this great Republic, which I love and defend (serving honorably in the U.S. Army while some natives like former President Clinton were running around like headless chickens trying to avoid the draft), even though I became U.S. citizen long ago, and was at heart a full fledge "gringo" before, I cannot and shall never forsake my place of birth. To oppose the embargo would be tantamount to that forsaking, for knowing the source of the present Cuban dilemma I also know the unilateral lift of the embargo would only make things easier for Castro's crimes and worse for the U.S. and Cuba.

Granted, the embargo by itself cannot bring the downfall of the regime, most specially if only applied with timidity. However, the idea that ending it would somehow undermine the regime or help to improve the lot of the Cuban people is laughable. The notion that such lifting could be positive for our economy is spurious as well. Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist during forty years using a mostly free enterprise system. So did Juan Vicente Gomez in Venezuela and Mexico's Porfirio Diaz. Even the former Mexican corporate dictatorship of PRI ruled basically the same way. So called "Area Dollar" is used by Castro in a fashion that would make Adam Smith turn in his grave. Foreign investors pay the salaries of their employees in American dollars to the Cuban masters. They in turn pay the hapless Cuban serfs the same numerical quantity in devaluated Cuban pesos (1.00 Cuban peso = $0.16).

What we often fail to understand is the fact that misery in totalitarian regimes of the Castro brand happens by design and not by chance. Castro inherited a wealthy and prosperous country and very purposely destroyed that wealth in a matter of months. Ration cards are not a product of mismanagement but a tool of enslavement. Total economic control over the population insured Castro's total political control. That is why his concessions to free enterprise are always subject to reversion at a minute's notice. An American unilateral end of the "embargo" would only extend Castro's ability to exploit, now confined to Cuban territory, to the American taxpayers.

Castro would never undercut peacefully or negotiate his control over Cuba. We are not dealing here with the traditional "strongman" or the typical Latin American nation. That should be obvious by now to anybody familiar with the Cuban exodus to the U.S. since 1959. Even today, while the old tyrant appears to be the victim of senile deterioration, Castro's peers are not Trujillo, "Papa Doc" Duvalier or Somoza, but rather Stalin, Hitler or Mao.

For all those practical reasons I oppose as an American, any unconditional lifting of the "embargo." For the American people there is not one single gain in the event of that unilateral action. While not denying some American business could make a little profit, it is also clear that Castro is out of cash and void of credit (since 1986 Cuba's unpaid international debt exceeds 16 billion dollars and continues growing). Therefore Uncle Sam would be the only possible guarantor of such business enterprises. The banks advancing the credit could always pass the bill to the U. S. Treasury and we taxpayers could get the same shaft we got when at the inglorious end of the former "Soviet Union" 80 billion dollars in bad loans were added to our still bulging national debt.

Mr. Buckley, I am a man of faith, just like you. And just like you I observed with intense trepidation the Pope's visit to Cuba in 1998. According to Christian gospel God shall pardon those that truly repented. Has Castro repented? The answer to that question is a resounding no. By his own admission the tyrant is proud of his crimes. Then why is the Pontiff acting as if Castro had repented? Why is the Pope critical of Castro's victims instead? Are Cuban Catholics in the verge of a schism, or are they the true believers?

If and when you can satisfy these questions and concerns I may reconsider and possibly renew my subscription to N.R.

Hugo J. Byrne

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