Saturday, March 6, 2010

Willy Toledo: We Have Them Over Here, Too

You won't have heard of Willy Toledo. I hadn't either until last week. He turns out to be both a B-list actor and a communist, so you would expect anything he says to be nasty narcissistic twaddle. And you would not be disappointed.

Following the death of the Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata after a hunger strike, this paragon of virtue and clear thinking declared that Zapata was just a common criminal, that the so-called political prisoners in that paradise island were nothing more than terrorists and traitors and that Cuba is a model to be followed by other countries (perhaps if N Korea were to follow the Cuban model the sum of human happiness might be increased slightly, but I would advise other countries to leave it well alone).

The press reported these ramblings (he's a celebrity, after all, so what he says is important) and he was, not surprisingly, criticised. Rather than reflect on the rightness of his words, or even defend them properly, he started whining about the press ganging up on him and denying him the right to free speech. Yes, indeed, a man who has the national media hanging on his every word complains that his right to free speech is being compromised because some people (including me) have dared to disagree with him and this in the context of a discussion about a country which uses brutal force against those try to speak freely, and a man who starved himself to death rather than recognise that Fidel could tell him what to think. Toledo also thinks that comparable human rights abuses take place in Spain every day, which I take to mean that not taking people like him seriously is broadly similar to murdering thousands, imprisoning many more for daring to stand up to you, and condemning your entire country to 50 years of poverty, misery and effective slavery. Given the egos these people have that is probably what he does mean.

The official press in Cuba quickly started planting articles like this one, which creates a criminal past for Zapata, and a touching tale of how he was given the best medical care in an attempt to save him from himself. That's probably what Toledo was quoting, but it's quite obviously made up, in the same way that the figures for longevity and literacy, which place Cuba among the top half-dozen countries in the world, are simply invented by Fidel. Who's going to question them?

For better reflections on Cuba, including comments on the life and death of Orlando Zapata, see this and this.

The Spanish Communist Party has defended Toledo, of course, and complained that he is quiet right and its very beastly and repressive of us to tell him he's wrong. Amazing how liberal these tyrants can become when it's their freedom that's in question (not that anyone is trying to stop him speaking, they are just pointing out that he talks cobblers).

The English Wikipedia page on Willy Toledo consists at the moment of a very brief biography, a filmography and this rather splendid paragraph, which I reproduce in full because I'm sure it'll soon be removed (rightly, as it's not encyclopaedic). I didn't write it, but I have said similar things before about people like him:

"Mr. Toledo is a supporter of the communist regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba, which he considers "a model to follow". Surprisingly he never considered moving to the politically oppressed and economically ruined island. Instead he enjoys the luxuries of capitalism and democracy in Spain, where he has become a wealthy actor and is free to express his opinions without fear of being imprisoned, tortured or killed.

According to some of his critics[,][1] he is just a vulgar example of a hypocritical scum, which would never accept living under the oppression of the communist Cuban regime he so outspokenly defends.

In March 2010, in a round table in support of Sahara independence groups, celebrated in Madrid Spain, Mr. Toledo declared that Orlando Zapata Tamayo was merely a common criminal and not a dissident. He added that "all political prisoners in Cuba were not dissidents but people who had committed terrorist acts against the Cuban Government, acts that constitute treason against the Homeland and a bunch of crimes". He also declared in the same meeting that "the Cuban Government is a victim of a sort of paranoid persecution" by the Western democracies and the international community.[1] He then opined about the Castro regime by saying that «with its defects and virtues, it is a model to be followed in many aspects"."

Sorry most of the links are in Spanish, but those of you who can read them will find it very rewarding.


Vincent said...

I confess to not being very well informed about Cuba but I consider it a paradise compared with the US. Economically backward, yes, but that is not a minus point in my set of values. I shudder at US paranoia and its propaganda of freedom and democracy which I would find much more false and oppressive than the government of Cuba.

I am a British Conservative voter, which I know people would think inconsistent with the above views. Oh well.

CIngram said...

I know where I'd rather live.

The trouble with poverty is that it is only spiritually uplifting for those who have chosen to renounce worldly goods. For those who have it forced upon them it leads directly to misery, hunger, social disorder, poor health and early death. When it is deliberately contrived, as it is in Cuba, and reinforced by the suppression of ideas and of any attempt to alleviate one's own poverty, it is purely evil because the effect it has on the lives of the people is wholly destructive.

There is no reason for Cuban to be so poor. Before the revolution it was one of the more successful countries of Latin America, and in the colonial period there was considerable wealth. There was also massive inequality and exploitation, of course, and I'm not presenting it as a model, but the resources are there, if they could be properly used. As it is, the government has to force the young to work virtually as slaves on the plantations to get anything at all out of the sugar and tobacco crops.

The Cuban exiles you meet in Spain tend to be professional people or athletes, who were given permission to travel and never went back. The stories they tell are similar to those of the desperate working classes who risk their lives to reach Florida. They do not have fond memories of the supposed paradise* they have left behind.

U.S. politics is undoubtedly corrupt, and some aspects of its national identity myth are rather nauseating (both of which are true of many countries, if not all of them, especially the first point) but they have had almost full employment since WWII, there is no real poverty except in some areas of major cities, they can live, work ands travel where they wish, their taxes are very low, they are free to make their own fortunes and their own mistakes, and their lives are almost entirely unaffected by the vanity and posturings of the politicians and other members of the soi-disant elite, who talk mostly among themselves.

When thousands of people each year abandon their homeland and their family, and risk their lives for the chance to be somewhere- anywhere- else, it suggests that the place they are escaping from is no paradise, but a man-made hellhole.

Vincent said...

In response to your last sentence, I am sure thousands of people "escape" from most countries each year, explaining their actions with negative comments on those countries. They are (by self-selection) biased. And again by self-selection, we take note of those whose views echo our own, and consider views which differ from our own as of little account.