By Hugo J. Byrne
The title of this essay defines a disturbing trend we oftentimes encounter with journalists and analysts of every political persuasion. Our frustration is caused by their tendency to read history from just the standpoint of a certain mindset.
When narrating the past, it is imperative of course to know it. Most authors and journalists have adequate knowledge of history and do present it in an objective and honest fashion. However, with disturbing frequency we encounter a perverse habit to use "history" as a means to advance an opinion on behalf of political or philosophical agendas. Of course, historical events must be considered when observing the present or trying to predict the future. Every philosopher, sociologist or historian does it since the dawn of history. Some achieved unqualified successes, like Niccolo Machiavelli. In due time many others were proved essentially wrong, like Karl Marx.
The difference rests -mostly but not entirely- on the ability to discern reality from a prejudicial perception of it. However, there is another more subtle and insidious cause to err. It is the tendency to simplify and "cut corners." For a serious historian that is a capital sin.
The tendency to confuse past reality with exaggerations and distortions by interested parties is not caused by bad faith, but laziness. It is easier to write about a particular subject of the past without a thorough research for details. Homework can be tedious and is always time consuming.
We do not presume to have a universal knowledge of history, except maybe having some practical insights about the short and tragic history of our country of birth, and how that history relates to our present predicament. It is very frustrating to find so many misconceptions of Cuban past in the context of so much contemporary journalistic work.
Recently radio 790 A.M. of Los Angeles, through one of its various morning "talk shows" (this one called "Ken and Company"), ventured the notion that Havana before Castro was "just a big gambling casino." That absurd belief, nurtured for more than forty years by the Cuban regime and happily echoed by the so-called "liberal" press, is just one among the many myths asking for a prominent niche next to the "Tooth Fairy."
The truth is that in 1958 there were less than ten casinos operating in Cuba. Granted, this business was often blessed by individuals within the Cuban government of the time. In certain cases it was done in cahoots with known mob bosses, and pregnant with all the "kick-backs" and corruption always at the core of such activities. That of course, cannot obscure the fact that even as early as in 1958 there was more gambling in a single block of Las Vegas than in the whole of Cuba, let alone Havana. 1958 Havana a "Big gambling casino?" Please!!
Author Mark Falcoff appears also to be guilty of utter oversimplification in his Sept. 20 letter to "El Nuevo Herald". Falcoff was responding to criticism of his recent book "The morning after", by columnist Ernesto Betancourt. We have not read Falcoff's book or Betancourt's article, and thus cannot analyze them, but we read the letter, and took exception of two totally inaccurate statements on it.
One important inaccuracy is Falcoff's contention that the Cuban regime is "not communist", but rather another paternalistic Latin American dictatorship like Somoza's Nicaragua or Trujillo's Dominican Republic. While Castro's ruling system may be unique in some ways, it is also one of best examples of a contemporary totalitarian state. Falcoff's failure to see that is incomprehensible.
None of the traditional dictatorships plaguing Latin America or the Iberian Peninsula for most of the XX Century were truly totalitarian regimes. Not Primo de Rivera's, or even Franco's -who always kept the "Falange" at bay- or Portugal's Salazar. Despotic political regimes should never be confused with those that exert total control over every important activity in a society. Regimes having such rigid controls are properly called "totalitarian", a term we very often misuse.
Totalitarian rule implies not just a "dictatorial" regime, but also a regulated way of life. Both Franco and Pinochet crushed political dissent and curtailed freedom of the press. "Enemies of the state" were persecuted and jailed or eliminated. However, if you did not get involved in opposition politics, you could move freely both in Spain or Chile under both dictators' rule, associate socially and engage in private business activities. There is ample historical evidence of that.
By contrast, Castro's regime forbids any business transaction that is not fully controlled by his omnipresent state. The so-called "Comités de Defensa de la Revolución" (CDR's) decide who comes and goes in Cuba, and when and where. Every citizen must carry a "carnet de identidad" (ID) within himself or herself at all times. None of that was remotely ever present in Somoza's Nicaragua or Trujillo's Dominican Republic. Falcoff most know all of the above. His inability to draw the obvious conclusion from that knowledge is mind-boggling.
However, Falcoff's worst transgression from reality is lumping Cuba's history in just three simple stages. According to Falcoff, between the "colonial stage" and the one as a "Soviet Satellite", Cuba was just "an American protectorate." Accepting that the Platt Amendment was a serious curtailment of Cuban sovereignty, it is still very debatable whether the relationship between the two countries was just one of Cuban political dependency, even between 1902 and the time of Platt's abrogation in 1934.
After the U. S. departure from Cuba in May 1902, the only real American intervention occurred from Sept.1906 to Jan.1909, and it happened -unfortunately- at Cuba's request. The call for intervention came from both the government and the opposition. The historical record clearly shows President Theodore Roosevelt complying very reluctantly with the absurd Cuban request.
Mr. Falcoff should make a better research on Cuban history, especially the eighteen years elapsing from 1934 to 1952. The public need for historical knowledge is never served by oversimplification.