Humberto Fontova was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1954 and escaped Castro’s revolution with his family in 1961. He is the author of numerous books, including Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant (2005), Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him (2007), and The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro (2013). His books—two of which were translated and published internationally—have made Fontova the ‘go-to-guy’ on Cuban affairs for Fox News for many years. He holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and has also appeared regularly on The O’Reilly Factor, The Sean Hannity Show, Fox and Friends, as well as Glenn Beck TV. The European Conservative‘s Filip Mazurczak recently conducted the following interview with Fontova.
Mazurczak: Your books present the history of Castro’s Cuba in a very informative yet entertaining way. I spent a lot of my time in college arguing with fellow students—and even professors—about communism and how Castro ruined a once prosperous country.
Fontova: That’s very relevant because we recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. You don’t hear a lot of people—even the leftist pundits and those professors you mentioned and that we all know about—speak well of Soviet communism. Most of them will acknowledge that East Germany, for example, was a horrible place. You wouldn’t hear even far leftists say, “Sure, they were separated by a wall and machine gunned if they tried to escape, but doggonit, they had great education and healthcare!” However, you hear that routinely about Cuba.
Here’s the horrifying part: over 20 times as many people—and counting—have died trying to escape communist Cuba as tried escaping communist East Germany. Two 239 people died trying to escape the Berlin Wall, but an estimated 23,000 have died trying to escape communist Cuba. It logically follows, then, that communist Cuba is a much worse place than communist East Germany. But there is still that aura that Cuban communism is different than East European communism.
For one thing, it is ‘cooler.’ Look at how ‘cool’ these guys look! [Pulls out his book, Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots Who Worship Him, which has a T-shirt with an image of Guevara on the cover.] This guy looks much cooler than Walter Ulbricht or Khrushchev! Che looks like Jim Morrison of The Doors, baby! Castro kind of looks like Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead!
That’s the most ironic part. In 1967, Cuban communism indeed was very different from East European communism. It was worse and more oppressive, especially against the very same people who considered Cuban communism ‘cool’. In 1967, the Rolling Stones played in Warsaw, which the Polish regime allowed. Naturally, it was attended mostly by Communist Party officials and their children, but the Stones played in Warsaw at the same time when Cuban kids who clandestinely tried to listen to the Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks, and other Yankee ‘imperialist’ rock music were being herded into forced labor camps for the ‘crime’ of growing long hair, wearing tight pants, and trying to listen to rock music.
What is your personal relationship to Cuba?
I came to the United States with my mom, dad, brother, and sister in October 1961. I was seven years old. We didn’t jump on a raft; back then, you could still pull some strings, fill out some papers, and leave semi-normally. Of course, you could only have the clothes on your back, because the communists stole every penny you earned.
When we were at the airport, just as we were ready to board a plane to Miami, some guards came and grabbed my father [Humberto] and started to drag him off. At that time, the firing squads in Cuba were working triple shifts, especially at La Cabaña [an 18th-century Spanish fortress used to house—and execute—political ‘enemies’ of the Revolution—F.M.]. So, naturally my mom was terrified. She refused to leave. However, my father, who we all thought was headed for the firing squad, said that he didn’t want his children to grow up in a communist country.
When we arrived in Miami, the first thing my mom did was to call Cuba and asked where Humberto was. As she spoke on the phone, she fainted; she had just learned that he was at La Cabaña, which was notorious as interrogation and torture central. My mother was horrified, because she had learned that she’s penniless in a strange land and had just become a widow.
A few weeks later, we moved to New Orleans, where we had some close relatives. In the 1940s and 1950s, many Cubans attended Louisiana State University (LSU), because our economies were similar: sugar cane was a big part of Louisiana’s economy. I had cousins who ended up in New Orleans because they had gone to LSU.
One day in New Orleans, the phone rang. My mom picked it up and screamed again— except that this time it was a scream of joy. It was my father calling from the airport in New Orleans, asking [her] to pick him up. Our family had a happy ending, and my father is now 93 and I still go deer hunting with him.
You can sit on any street corner in Miami and talk to Cubans in their 50s or 60s, and all of them will have a relative murdered, tortured, or imprisoned by the regime. Castro’s Cuba jailed and tortured political dissidents at a higher rate than Stalin: in 1961, one in 17 Cubans was a political prisoner. We have a regime that murdered more political prisoners in its first three years in power than did Hitler’s regime in its first six years in power. This was, of course, before the outbreak of World War II and the Holocaust.
In Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, you write that in 1958 Cuba had the third-highest level of protein consumption in the Western Hemisphere (after the U.S. and Canada) and that the average wages of Cuban farm workers were higher than in Japan and many developed Western European countries. Still, the dominant narrative—especially in liberal American circles—is that Fulgencio Batista was the devil incarnate. What were the Batista years really like?
Certainly, Cuba had political problems, but it didn’t have terrible socioeconomic problems compared to the rest of the world, certainly compared to the rest of Latin America. In 1958, the average Cuban had a higher income than the average Italian. When you hear that Fidel and Che led a peasant revolt against ‘oppressive’ landowners, that’s complete poppycock! According to the International Labor Organization, the average wages of agricultural workers in Cuba were higher than in Belgium, France, and Japan. Cuba had the 13th lowest infant mortality rate in the world and more physicians per capita than the U.S. and Canada. When you hear about good Cuban healthcare, it had a good base to start from—but it went downhill from there.
Before 1959, people were desperate to enter Cuba. I was once on MSNBC, of all places, with Soledad O’Brien right after Fidel Castro had died, and I asked her: “Who jumped on rafts and swam through shark-infested waters to escape Batista?” During the Batista years, Cuba had many more immigrants than emigrants. In 1959, the Cuban embassy in Rome had a backlog of 15,000 people clamoring to move to Cuba. Meanwhile, more Americans lived in Cuba than did Cubans in the United States, although at that time Cubans could freely move wherever they liked.
In 1959, Castro didn’t call himself a communist [nor did he] present his movement as a socioeconomic upheaval. It was presented as political change, a rebellion against the corruption of the Batista regime. Maybe it doesn’t speak well of Cubans in 1959 that they believed Castro’s poppycock generic slogans of change; but so did many Americans: about Obama in 2008; just as many Venezuelans believed in Maduro and Chavez before that.
Where did this myth of the Cuban Revolution being ‘cool’ came from—and why has it persisted for six decades?
When Castro and his men were still so-called guerrillas, they made it a priority of their policies to cultivate the American media. I wrote a book titled: The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro. In it, I quote Che Guevara, who said that much more important than guerrilla recruits were U.S. media recruits to spread their propaganda. Castro wrote in a letter in 1959 that propaganda was at the heart of their struggle. Even the CIA said that in the 1960s Castro’s regime had the most effective propaganda apparatus of any nation in the Western Hemisphere.
All communist countries vetted visas for foreign journalists. But Cuba specialized in this. The regime won’t give journalists visas unless they present its view of things. If you do get a journalist visa and screw up just a little bit, you’re out. This was admitted by the Spanish journalist Vicente Botín, who was booted from Cuba and exposed all this. This has been going on for more than half a century.
When Castro first got sick in 2006 and people thought he was going to die, the London Sunday Times—which a lot of people would consider the most prestigious newspaper in the world—wrote a big article about the Cuban Revolution. Naturally, they parroted all the healthcare propaganda. They published a paragraph that blew me away, saying that Latin America’s right-wing regimes went ‘one step further’ than the Castro regime by murdering a lot of political prisoners.
“One step further”!? They’re implying that the Castro regime did not kill political opponents—yet The Black Book of Communism, which was not published by Cuban exiles but by former communist sympathizer academics in France (and published in English by Harvard University Press: not exactly a right-wing bastion) documented 16,000-17,000 firing squad killings in a country with 6.5 million people at the time. Another 70,000-80,000 Cubans died in other ways, including trying to flee the regime. So, we have a death toll of 90,000-100,000.
You mentioned the Cuban healthcare myth. I remember Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko, in which he travels to Cuba to try to show that it has a better healthcare system than the U.S. And in casual conversations, I’ve heard people say things like: “Cuba isn’t perfect, but at least they have great healthcare.” Where did this myth originate?
Naturally, the Castro regime adored Sicko, and Fidel Castro is on record for calling Michael Moore an “extraordinary American.” Sicko was shown in theaters all over Cuba for free. If you’re a Cuban, you don’t exactly have a lot of cinematic choices, so many Cubans watched it. They were appalled at what they saw, because the hospitals they went to were nothing like what Michael Moore showed. Tropical diseases that had been eradicated from Cuba in the early 20th century—like dengue fever—have returned to Cuba because the healthcare is so bad.
Cuban dissidents who saw Sicko were outraged. So a few of them snuck video cameras into actual Cuban hospitals—[the ones] that everyday Cubans (not the Communist Party elites and foreign tourists) have to visit. Using these little videos, the famous ABC investigative program 20/20 was going to do a special feature on what Sicko didn’t show about Cuban hospitals. The Cuban regime got wind of this and called ABC’s people in Havana and said that if this [were broadcast], their Havana bureau would be booted out. ABC caved in. They showed a very mild, diluted program without [any of] the ghastly aspects.
The dissidents who made these videos had risked their lives, but they were stabbed in the back [by ABC]. Some mutual Miami contacts later got in touch with me, and I sent the footage to Fox News. Sean Hannity showed the disgusting, primitive conditions of the hospitals in which most Cubans are treated. If pictures are worth a thousand words, these videos are worth a billion words.
Whenever CNN and MSNBC talk about Cuba, they often quote a woman named Gail Reid, whom they call a “Cuban health expert.” She’s an American who lives in Cuba and praises the greatness of the country’s healthcare. What they don’t tell you about Ms. Reid—and this has been thoroughly documented—is that she is married to a colonel in Cuba’s secret police and she used to be a member of the Weathermen [later, the Weather Underground—F.M.], the far-left American terrorist group from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Weathermen were brought to Cuba by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Reid’s no “Cuban health expert.” She’s a propaganda expert.
Bill Ayers is a good segue to my next and final question because Ayers’ long-time friend Barack Obama ‘normalized’ relations between the U.S. and Cuba. What are your thoughts about this policy?
There’s nothing wrong with normalizing relations. There’s nothing wrong with travel to Cuba. The issue is that we should get something out of it. We saw President Trump with Kim Jong-un, who’s no better a dictator than Raúl Castro. This is what happens in international diplomacy. When you see Trump doing that, though, you know that he has America’s interests in mind.
The reason why there was an embargo in the first place was that Castro stole—at Soviet gunpoint—billions of dollars of American citizens’ property in Cuba in 1960. It was codified into U.S. law: that until the Cuban regime makes some effort to address these property claims, we can’t have normal relations. Obama just waived that! The Castro regime made absolutely no concessions, however. In fact, those negotiations were handled by Raúl Castro’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, who is a colonel in Cuba’s secret police. You could make a Saturday Night Live skit based on something so ridiculous.
The U.S. returned three Castro spies who had been convicted in American courts of murdering U.S. citizens and stealing valuable American intelligence information. Obama returned them to Cuba, where they received a hero’s welcome. Castro made no changes with regards to sponsoring terrorism and political oppression.
Normalizing relations with another country can be done, but we have to get something out of it. Obama only cared about this for his legacy. Nixon went to China, and Obama went to Cuba. When Nixon normalized relations with China, we at least got something out of it: we got leverage against the Soviets.
Thank you for your time.