``Cuba is an anachronism in our hemisphere, an anachronism on the face of the Earth,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked the other day. ``And the whole international community should be condemning Cuba.''
Who could disagree? In a ruthless crackdown just four weeks ago, the Castro regime rounded up 75 peaceful dissidents - economists, journalists, pro-democracy petitioners, even a poet or two - and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 28 years. The combined total of their sentences was a stunning 1,454 years. One US official characterized it as "the most despicable act of political repression in the Americas in a decade." No less barbaric was the fate of three Cubans who attempted to escape Castro's island gulag by hijacking a ferry to Florida: They were killed by firing squad. Of course the whole international community should be condemning Cuba.
But it isn't. Last week Cuba was elected to a new three-year term on the UN Commission on Human Rights. There it will serve with such other human rights luminaries as Libya (which chairs the commission), Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Saudi Arabia. The American ambassador, disgusted by the commission's deference to the foremost human rights violator in the Western Hemisphere, walked out. No other country followed suit, not even the democracies. So much for the outrage of the "international community."
At least the UN commission didn't issue a statement defending Castro's dictatorship. That is more than can be said for the 160-plus "artists and intellectuals" - well, that's what Reuters calls them - who decided this would be a good time to issue a "declaration of support" for Cuba. Their statement parroting Castro's claim that the United States is plotting to topple him, warns that Washington's "harassment against Cuba could serve as a pretext for an invasion." Two entertainers, Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, are among the signers. So are a few Nobel laureates, including such icons of the left as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Rigoberta Menchu.
Why do people like this come to Castro's defense? He is a thug, a lifelong enemy of freedom, democracy, and tolerance. Doesn't that matter to them? Over the years he has murdered or imprisoned thousands of Cubans whose only crime was to disapprove of his Stalinist misrule. Thousands more have lost their lives while attempting to flee the misery and persecution of life under Castro. Doesn't that matter to them?
Glover, Marquez, and Belafonte are hardly unique. Celebrities, journalists, and other illuminati have long gushed with admiration for Cuba's communist despot. Many make the pilgrimage to sit worshipfully at his feet. Just last month, Newsweek reported on "the latest group of New York-based VIPs" who were headed with Yoko Ono for "a whirlwind three-night stay in Havana culminating with dinner (at about $6,500 a head) with Fidel Castro." In February, history-twisting filmmaker Oliver Stone beatified Castro as "one of the earth's wisest people, one of the people we should consult."
For 44 years Castro has strangled Cuban liberty, and for 44 years his "progressive" acolytes have been giving him ovations. In "Useful Idiots," her devastating new book on the left's ignoble Cold War history, Mona Charen rounds up some telling examples. There was Norman Mailer's early rhapsody to Castro, for example ("You were the first and greatest hero to appear in the world since the Second War"). And Jesse Jackson's 1984 cheerleading at the University of Havana ("Long live Cuba! Long live the United States! Long live Fidel Castro! Long live Martin Luther King! Long live Che Guevara! Long live Patrice Lumumba! Long live our cry of freedom!").
Castro and communism turned Cuba into a place so bleak and suffocating that ordinary people throw themselves into the ocean to escape it. Yet a chorus of enthusiasts is ever ready to paint a glowing picture of Cuban life. During the Elian Gonzalez affair in 2000, Charen notes, some US journalists simply couldn't fathom why Elizabet Broton, Elian's mother, would want to leave such a paradise.
"What was she escaping?" wondered ABC's Jim Avila. "By all accounts this quiet, serious young woman who loved to dance the salsa was living the good life, as good as it gets for a citizen of Cuba." Her hunger for freedom baffled him; all he could see in it was a tragic and wrongheaded choice: "An extended family destroyed by a mother's decision to start a new life in a new country, a decision that now leaves a little boy . . . forever separated from her."
Colin Powell is right: Cuba's dictatorial regime is indeed an anachronism, cruel and repressive and backward. But it isn't only Castro who keeps the Cuban people down. It is also the groupies who sing his praises and the sycophants who ignore his crimes. They give aid and comfort to a tyrant, and their collaboration will not be forgotten.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.