"When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing?" Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told "60 Minutes" last week. Being born and raised in Cuba — enjoying that so-called socialist paradise until I came to the United States as a political refugee in 2009 — I would almost agree, but I know better.
I was forced to learn how to read and write by teachers who brainwashed me while teaching me how to write the “F” for “Fidel,” the “C” for “Castro” and so on. The "education" under a socialist regime is probably the most malicious of their programs, because it is — to the eyes of people like Sanders — an unalloyed, irreproachable social good, and yet it is one of the most essential tools of indoctrination and repression. There, according to Che Guevara’s teachings, as a small child I was taught to hate different ideas, looks and behaviors.
The Cuban educational system is not a "literacy program" but a tool of indoctrination, designed for the creation of the “New Man” — one who is removed from what we would recognize as Western civilization’s values, who is intolerant and ready to kill in order to impose the revolutionary ideology. And it starts with those ABCs.
The construction of the so-called socialist or communist society is a process of anthropological destruction. Those governments put into place a process intended to destroy previous societal values and replace them with a new revolutionary code based on absolute loyalty to the revolution, which mandates that people let go of their natural individual interests to pursue the collective goals of the revolution (as determined by its leaders). But it's fundamental to human nature to have individualistic dreams and desires, and that nature is thus is violated by the new order that sets government demands — and, in Cuba, its one-time personification, Fidel Castro — higher than you, your family and every other value.
The only way to achieve this is to start young, and then reinforce the indoctrination “educational” system through the mass media, which is under the absolute monopoly of government and serves as its mouthpiece. The propagandist organization uses inflammatory language to portray the leader's followers as friends, and those who dislike him as enemies that must be destroyed, and both are a daily topic of typical television, radio and newspapers.
Sanders, however, made a valid point in the debate this week that "where dictatorships, whether it's the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that." For instance, one positive contribution from socialist dictators to the free world is millions of refugees like me who, like prophets, can share their revelations about socialism wherever they go. I feel compelled to warn my fellow Americans about the dangers of socialist ideas.
The truth is that Cuba is not Denmark, and neither are Nicaragua or Venezuela — but there is a reason that American socialists inevitably cite Nordic democracies as models instead of actual socialist countries. Sanders misrepresenting Denmark as a socialist country may seem trivial, but unlike Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, the Danish people enjoy capitalism, and thrive under a liberal democracy and a free market economy. (It also has a 99 percent literacy rate, for what it's worth.)
So, yes, I am “feeling the Bern” — but it is a chilling feeling.
From my experience in Cuba, socialist regimes systematically destroy freedoms and violate human rights. They establish a state of fear with confiscations, mass incarcerations, killings and the use of watch organizations that spy on every aspect of individuals’ lives. Additionally, systematic purges target civil society, including the wealthy, farmers, churches, LGBT people, entrepreneurs, sex workers, the unemployed, dissidents and so on. Such a militarized state has guaranteed the Castro dynasty’s power over half a century — not, as Sanders asserted in his 1997 book, because "he educated their kids, gave their kids health care, totally transformed the society." The truth is that Cubans still live in a state of fear — even terror — and consequently are poorly organized in a weak civil society.
The police state is also enhanced by the fact that any nongovernment authorized activity is illegal and every small economic activity is strongly taxed or otherwise persecuted by the regime. Thus, every citizen must violate the current legal order by participating in the economic underground just to survive. In Cuba — like in socialist Venezuela — you either line up for hours to buy food if it is available or you buy it on the black market, risking prison. (Of course, according to Bernie Sanders in the ’80s: "That's a good thing. In other countries, people don't line up for food. The rich get the food and the poor starve to death.")
The truth is that socialists more or less level the playing field... by making everybody equally poor, except for the socialist elites. For instance, Nicaragua’s tyrant, Daniel Ortega, (“a very impressive guy” according to Sanders in 1985), the Castro regime and the Chavista clans in Venezuela all enjoy a privileged “capitalist” lifestyle, much as Soviet and Eastern bloc elites did during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, most any economic activities are developed underground in Cuba, which means that the secret police’s oppressive surveillance machine decides whether individuals are allowed to satisfy their basic needs and those of their families. That way, everybody is afraid of being caught while trading goods and services and so, if the secret police believe a citizen is not a good follower of the regime, then they might arrest him during a survival exercise.
I did not think, when I escaped the regime, that the way socialism operated was any secret, but it does seem like ancient history to too many people my own age. According to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s fourth Annual Report on U.S. Attitudes Toward Socialism, Communism and Collectivism, “70 percent of millennials say they are likely to vote socialist” and communism is viewed favorably by more than 1 in 3 millennials (36 percent).
But neither ideology can be divorced from how it's always been practiced, and those people who are "feeling the Bern” have revived my memories of regret, hate and victimization. Americans should not only reject these ideologies, but also come together to educate younger generations about the evils of socialism and communism if we want to preserve the freedom I came here to finally be able to experience.