“Former President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 speech urging Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to ‘tear down’ the Berlin Wall has resurfaced following the death of Gorbachev,” reported Newsweek this week. “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate, he continued. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
“The selection of Gorbachev was arguably the most revolutionary act in the history of the party since 1917,” wrote historian Orlando Figes, as quoted in Politico this week. “Had the Politburo known where he would lead the party in the next few years, it would never have allowed him to become its General Secretary.”
“Those chicken-sh*t saps,” the Castro brothers down in Cuba were grumbling about perestroika and glasnost. “No way we’ll ever let our power slip away like that.”
So much for Raul “the reformer,” as he was almost universally hailed upon assuming the throne from his ailing brother in 2007. The hailers were academic and diplomatic “Cuba experts” from the Council on Foreign Relations to the Brookings Institution and all points in between. Your humble servant here, however, begged to differ.
Mr Gorbachev, Tear down this Wall!” Who can forget the famous line? In fact most people forgot it shortly after President Reagan detonated them at the Brandenburg gate in June 1987. At the time they got little press-play, and what it got was mostly negative. President Reagan’s own advisors, Colin Powell and Howard Baker, denounced the proclamation that became President Reagan’s most admired and famous as “unpresidential” and “extremist.”
It was only in November 1989 as the wall was finally torn down that the proclamation was recalled, dusted off, and festooned with the fame now almost universal—at least among conservatives.
The people of the free world thrilled almost en-masse when the wall was finally torn down. To lay eyes on the Berlin Wall provoked shame and horror in everyone. Here was stark and perfect proof of what divided the world at the time. No amount of paint or plaster to pretty it up could disguise what it was doing. Reagan saw it and outspokenly called it out. Diplomatic pecksniffs be damned.
And two years later, Mr. Gorbachev complied, to much acclaim worldwide, though his compliance may have been unwitting.
Down in Cuba at this very time, Raul Castro was warning, “If any Gorbachev raises his head around here—we’ll promptly chop it off! We would rather see Cuba sink into the ocean, like Atlantis—before seeing the corrupting forces of capitalism prevail!” Raul Castro’s charming boasts came from safely behind a Communist barrier that murdered (by using the lowest estimate) — over 20 TIMES the number of innocents as the one Gorbachev was petitioned worldwide to tear down.
At the time of Raul Castro’s characteristically bloodthirsty boast and during the wholesale murder by his military of hundreds of Cubans for the crime of voting with their feet (and paddles) against him, thousands of tourists from Western Europe (many from West Germany) were already pouring into Castro’s island fiefdom.
Every Mark, Lira, Pound, Franc and Schilling of their expenditures landed in the pocket of the Soviet-trained outfit who owned and operated the Soviet helicopters and gunships that helped fill that cemetery-without- crosses where 20 times as many freedom-seeking Cubans were buried as freedom-seeking Germans lay in all of Berlin’s cemeteries. And machine-gun bullets kill relatively quickly compared to sunburn, dehydration and Tiger sharks.
Upon the Soviet Union’s collapse, and in the nick of time, this Caribbean outpost of the Evil Empire had a lifeline thrown to them—and the Communists clutched it eagerly. This financial lifeline for Cuban Stalinism was thrown in large part by European witnesses to the Holocaust, Gulag and Cold War. Starting in 1991 and thronging till today, free-spending tourists from Europe have flocked and swarmed and teemed to Castro’s rescue.
Cubans had the misfortune of being born on a picturesque island. “The most gorgeous land human eyes have ever seen,” according to Columbus when he first saw it. Location, location, location as real-estate folks say. Flying or boating into Cuba, then sipping mojitos along its beaches while gazing north just doesn’t provoke the same emotions as sipping Schnapps in a café near the Brandenburg Gate and gazing east.
The Mojito does down smoothly, the Cohiba smoke curls languidly through the air, the salsa music pulses in the background, the mulatta prostitutes beckon. Unlike in Berlin, on a Cuban vacation nothing in sight hints at anything like the barbed wire and machine gunners of the murderous Wall in Berlin, portions of which remain for the very purpose of reminding tourists of the recent horror.
Very few visitors to Cuba conjure how those gorgeous emerald, then blue, then cobalt waters reaped the name of “the cemetery without crosses.”