Conan O’Brien overlooks dark side of Cuba

CONAN IN CUBA: Late night talk show host Conan O'Brien appears in Havana during a taping of a special that was due to be aired on Wednesday.
CONAN IN CUBA: Late night talk show host Conan O'Brien appears in Havana during a taping of a special that was due to be aired on Wednesday. AP

Regarding his show on — and from — Castro’s Cuba scheduled for March 4, Conan O’Brien warned us:

“I do not want this to be a snarky comedy take. And I don’t want to be political...Maybe it isn’t a bad form of diplomacy to send a comedian over. Maybe that’s not a bad first wave.”

Funny how people who make a career from snarking — poof! — dutifully switch it off, totally wimp out when it comes to Castro’s Cuba, probably the most richly snarkable phenomenon on Earth.

I mean, what’s so snarky about a millionaire American comedian headlining an hour-long tourism ad for a Stalinist regime whose “constitution” mandates three years in a KGB-designed prison cell for any of its subjects overheard cracking a joke about a regime official?

To entice viewers, O’Brien recently posted a pic of himself from Havana proudly posing with “the iconic” (O’Brien’s term) Che Guevara.

Che Guevara’s first decree when his “rebels” captured the town of Sancti Spiritus in central Cuba during the last days of the utterly bogus “war” against Batista’s army, outlawed alcohol, gambling and regulated relations between the sexes. Popular outcry and Fidel’s sharp political sense made him rescind the order.

“I have no home, no woman, no parents, no brothers and no friends,” wrote Guevara in his diaries. “My friends are friends only so long as they think as I do politically.”

In 1960, in a town named Guanahacabibes on the tip of Western Cuba, Guevara set up Cuba’s forced-labor camp system. “We send to Guanahacabibes people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals,” warned Guevara, whose definition of such “offenses” proved pretty sweeping. In fact, they probably read like the daily planner of many O’Brien viewers.

“We punish individuals who refuse to participate in collective effort and who lead an antisocial and parasitic life,” read Beria and Vishinky’s charges against millions of Stalin’s victims during The Great Terror. “We punish individualists and antisocial miscreants!”

“Individualism must disappear!” thundered the Guevara (this idol of ‘do-your-own-thing’ bohemians) in a 1961 speech in Havana. Interestingly, the cheeky Ernesto Guevara’s signature on his early correspondence read, “Stalin II.”

In a famous speech in 1961, Che the party animal denounced the very “spirit of rebellion” as “reprehensible.” “Youth must refrain from ungrateful questioning of governmental mandates,” commanded Guevara. “Instead they must dedicate themselves to study, work and military service.”

And woe to those youths “who stayed up late at night and thus reported to work (government forced labor) tardily.”

Youth, wrote Guevara, “should learn to think and act as a mass.” Those who chose their own path (as in growing long hair and listening to Yankee-imperialist rock & roll) were denounced as worthless lumpen and “delinquents.” Guevara even vowed “to make individualism disappear from Cuba! It is criminal to think of individuals!”

Tens of thousands of Cuban youths learned that Guevara’s admonitions were more than idle bombast. In Guevara, the hundreds of Soviet KGB and East German Stasi “consultants” who flooded Cuba in the early 60’s, found an eager acolyte. By the mid ’60s, the crime of a “rocker” lifestyle, long hair or effeminate behavior got thousands of youths yanked from Cuba’s streets and parks by secret police and dumped in prison camps with “Work Will Make Men Out of You” in bold letters above the gate and with machine gunners posted on the watchtowers. The initials for these camps were “UMAP,” not “GULAG,” but the conditions were similar.

“I was shocked,” said O’Brien during his Cuba jaunt, “by how much we were left completely alone.” (Presumably O’Brien means by Castroite authorities.)

He shouldn’t be so sure.

“My job was to bug [celebrities’] hotel rooms,” revealed high-ranking Cuban intelligence defector Delfin Fernandez. “With both cameras and listening devices. Most people have no idea they are being watched while they are in Cuba. But their personal activities are filmed under orders from Castro himself...famous Americans are the priority objectives of Castro’s intelligence.”

“When the celebrity visitors arrived at their Havana hotels,” continues Fernandez, “we already had their rooms completely bugged with sophisticated taping equipment. But not just the rooms, we’d also follow the visitors around, sometimes we covered them 24 hours a day. They had no idea we were tailing them.

But who’s snarking?

Humberto Fontova is a Cuban-American author, blogger and political commentator.