In 1975, the National Council of Churches, an organization of about 30 mainline religious denominations, published an informational pamphlet entitled Cuba: People-Questions. Written in perfect irony-free Albanian-farm-report prose, the pamphlet offers church members a short history of U.S.-Cuban relations.
"All through the 1960s," it begins, "the U.S. did its best to make Cuba buckle under." America used "cold war tactics," blackmailed Cuba's neighbors, "slapped a trade blockade around the island," and even trained a CIA-led army to "act against the revolutionary government." Thankfully, the pamphlet explains, the Cuban people "overwhelmed the invaders" at the Bay of Pigs, and so allowed Fidel Castro to continue providing "free or virtually free" health care and education. "Later on the leaders are to call that socialism. The poor people call it great."
The pamphlet goes on to mock the thousands of penniless refugees who have fled Castro's regime, dismissing them as plutocrats "disgruntled with the equalization process" who have since been "'liberated' from their positions of wealth." It applauds the "guerrilla and other grass roots movements" around the world that are "drawing courage from Cuba." It ends with this paragraph:
The Cuban people, as well as Fidel, have always made careful distinctions between the U.S. government, which they oppose, and the U.S. people, with whom they feel an affinity. In short, the Cubans think their revolution is proceeding apace -- and it is the American revolution that is in trouble. It is their fond hope that as U.S. citizens prepare to commemorate the bicentennial of 1776, a new spirit will put them more in touch with their roots . . . and with reality.
You can't order Cuba: People-Questions from the National Council of Churches' website (the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in Washington, however, has reprinted parts of the pamphlet as a public service). But if you're interested in slightly more sophisticated pro-Castro propaganda, the NCC is still providing it. Tons of it.
By now, anyone who has followed the saga of Elian Gonzalez knows that the NCC is deeply involved in the story. NCC officials were instrumental in convincing Greg Craig, the Washington lawyer whose previous clients have included Bill Clinton and John Hinckley, to represent Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Last week, the NCC chartered the jet that flew Juan Miguel to Washington. From its offices in New York, the NCC press office has issued statement after statement demanding that the U.S. government return Elian to Cuba. At every point, the NCC's positions on the case have been indistinguishable from those of the Cuban government, down to its insistence that the boy not be given American citizenship.
Why would a church group spend so much time and money propagandizing on behalf of an atheist government famously intolerant of religious expression? The official NCC explanation makes vague references to "human rights." The more accurate answer might be: habit. The National Council of Churches has long gone far beyond the call of fashionably liberal Protestantism in its defense of Fidel Castro.
Over the years, the NCC has produced a mountain of paper relating to Cuba -- books, statements, Official Declarations. Much of it has consisted of predictable (though in some cases, not entirely baseless) attacks on the U.S. embargo. But the NCC has also published a number of first-person accounts of life in revolutionary Cuba. Most of them could pass for press releases from the Cuban ministry of tourism. One such travelogue, characteristic of the genre, is an account of a church delegation's trip, entitled Summary Report of a 1976 Visit to Cuba. The report dwells lovingly on "the spotless state of the streets," "the purposefulness of the people as they commuted to and from work," the "vibrant and positive theological awareness" of state-sanctioned churches. Then it goes over the top.
Even allies of the Cuban regime rarely defend Castro's methods of social control. The NCC has often seemed more than happy to. The country's Stalinist Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the 1976 report notes approvingly, are now "being administered with maturity and confidence." The political indoctrination of elementary school students? A positive good, the report declares:
Bright children between the ages of five to fourteen years volunteer [sic], after parental consent is given, to dedicate themselves to complete knowledge of and for the Revolution at the provincial Palace of Pioneers. Our group was absolutely impressed by the level of learning, zeal and intelligence of the young boys and girls. Their educational training is truly remarkable.
Can political naivete account for statements like this? It's plausible; other defenders of 1970s totalitarianism have since repented, or at least become New Democrats. The NCC, however, has never renounced its infatuation with Third World police states. As late as 1983, Paul McCleary, the head of the NCC's international office, testified before Congress in defense of Vietnam's infamous reeducation camps. At the time, tens of thousands of political prisoners had died in the camps. McCleary described one he visited as resembling "a small tropical resort area." In general, McCleary concluded, "the entire process of reeducation is one reflecting the government's commitment to encouraging and enabling people to exercise their rights, restored as full participants in Vietnam's future."
The NCC has never apologized for McCleary's statement. Nor, apparently, has it revised its view of Cuba. The NCC boasts that, all told, it has "adopted over 130 resolutions denouncing human rights violations in many countries." This is true. NCC administrators are avid resolution-adopters. Since 1951, the NCC has written resolutions attacking an awe-inspiring array of injustices, from racism at Bob Jones University to the tragedy of non-union lettuce. It has produced at least three statements expressing solidarity with American grape-pickers. It has weighed in on matters as esoteric as Japan's alien registration law and the crisis in Micronesia (whatever that was). It has never called on Fidel Castro to bring democracy to Cuba. NCC resolution-writers have been staunch in their support of gay rights. Yet they have never pitched a fit about Castro's longtime policies of sending homosexuals to labor camps and of quarantining AIDS patients.
Then there is the matter of religious freedom: There isn't much in Cuba. Castro expelled thousands of priests when he took power in 1959. He declared the island an atheist state, closed Christian schools, banned religious publications and radio stations, made it illegal to proselytize in public. In 1969, he eliminated Christmas.
Christmas returned a couple of years ago, after a personal appeal from the pope. Religious liberty did not. There are still no Christian media outlets in Cuba (in dramatic contrast to the rest of Latin America). Pastors are still arrested. Home churches are routinely shut down. You'd never know any of this from listening to the leaders of the National Council of Churches. At the moment they're too busy arranging charter flights for Greg Craig.
Last year, Joan Brown Campbell, then the general secretary of the NCC, took one of her many trips to Cuba. At a rally in Revolution Square in Havana, Campbell shared a stage with Fidel Castro. At one point she addressed the crowd of 100,000. Characteristically, Campbell used her platform to make a call for freedom -- not from totalitarianism in Cuba, but from the tyranny of its capitalist neighbor. "We ask you to forgive the suffering that has come to you by the actions of the United States," she said. The crowd cheered.
Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.