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Themes Prisoners of Conscience » Carlos Alberto Montaner

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Interviewed March 2011

Carlos Alberto Montaner is an exiled Cuban author and journalist. He was born in Havana in 1943. Soon after the revolution of 1959, he was imprisoned by the Castro regime on charges of participating in terrorist attacks and working with the CIA. Montaner, who was 16 years old at the time, emphatically denied the charges. He later escaped from prison and from Cuba.

In the 1960s, Montaner began writing a weekly column that was soon appearing in almost every Latin American country. In 1970, he moved to Madrid and began writing works of fiction and nonfiction. In 1972 he established a publishing house, Editorial Playor. His most widely acclaimed books include “Informe Secreto Sobre la Revolución Cubana,” published in 1975; “200 Años de Gringos,” published in 1976 on the occasion of the bicentennial of the United States and analyzing the reasons the United States has developed differently than Latin American countries; and “Fidel Castro y la Revolución Cubana” (1984).

It has been estimated that 6 million people now read his weekly columns, and he has lectured frequently throughout the hemisphere about the defense of liberty, economic development, and the important role of culture in the evolution of societies. He is also a regular commentator on CNN’s Spanish-language broadcasts. 

Che Guevara was in La Cabaña, the big political prison of Havana where most of the firing squad executions took place. There were executions all throughout the Island, but in Havana they happened in La Cabaña and El Che directed that military camp for the first months of the revolution, and he did participate in the shootings. He felt a profound contempt towards his enemies and he made a virtue out of cruelty. It’s something that happens to some revolutionaries, the Robespierre mentality. Cruelty against the enemy of the revolution is the virtue of the motherland. El Che participated in that way of acting and he said it.

That’s what sets him apart from others. There are phrases that Che wrote and declared publicly that were terrible. There is a phrase by Che that says, "A revolutionary must be a perfect killing machine" because to him there was no contradiction. There was an ethical and moral justification for killing and murdering anyone who opposed the revolutionary process; it was perfectly normal. So yes, El Che was in fact a true murderer during the first months and in his biography one should note of the hundreds of people that he executed, if not him directly via the firing squad. 

Cuba, an island nation of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean Sea, is a totalitarian state.

Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution and ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. Raul Castro is the current head of state and First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban Constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Raul Castro has said that he will step down from power at the age of 86 in 2018.

Cuba was a territory of Spain until the Spanish-American War. The United States assumed control of the island until 1902, when the Republic of Cuba became formally independent. A fledgling democracy was established, with the U.S. continuing to play a strong role in Cuban affairs.

In 1952, facing an impending electoral loss, former president Fulgencio Batista staged a successful military coup and overthrew the existing government. While his first term as elected president in the 1940s largely honored progressive politics, universal freedoms, and the Cuban Constitution of 1940, Batista’s return to power in the 1950s was a dictatorship marked by corruption, organized crime and gambling. He held power until 1959 when he was ousted by Fidel Castro’s rebel July 26th Movement.

While promising free elections and democracy, Castro moved quickly to consolidate power. By 1961, Castro had declared Cuba to be a communist nation.

Castro’s communist government nationalized private businesses, lashed out at political opponents, and banned independent civil society. As Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union, Cuban-American relations soured, including a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war, after the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting a U.S. naval embargo.

Since the revolution, Cuba has remained a one-party state. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the evaporation of Soviet economic support, Cuba loosened some economic policies, became more open to foreign investment, and legalized use of the U.S. dollar. By the late 1990s, Venezuela had become Cuba’s chief patron, thanks to the close relationship between the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.

The regime continues to exercise authoritarian political control, clamping down on political dissent and mounting defamation campaigns against dissidents, portraying them as malignant U.S. agents. In a massive crackdown in 2003 known as the Black Spring, the government imprisoned 75 of Cuba’s best-known nonviolent dissidents.

The Cuban government does not respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect of human rights. Frequent government actions against dissidents often take the form of attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials.

Cuba relaxed its travel laws in 2013, allowing some prominent dissidents to leave and return to the country. It continues to experiment with modest economic reforms but remains committed to communist economic orthodoxy.

In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Cuba was designated as “not free” and is grouped near the bottom of the world’s nations, with severely restricted civil rights and political liberties.

More on this theme from Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner: Che Guevara “Che Guevara . . . felt a profound contempt toward his enemies and he made a virtue out of cruelty.” Carlos Alberto Montaner: Prison and Contempt for Humanity “I remember as something terrible and unforgettable the farewell of the students who were going to face the firing squad.”

Other videos from Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner: Global Moral Responsibility “Humanity shouldn’t allow that indifferent behavior toward others’ pain.” More +