Sunday, June 22, 2008
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes III
Look at him (if you can stand it). This gargoyle of a man is Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y García-Menocal, great-grandson and namesake of the Father of the Cuban Nation. He will be the last lineal descendent to carry his glorious name and the last also to besmirch it. The celibacy of the priesthood has been fruitful in his case because it brought an end to such abortions of Nature. I suspect, however, that whether he had become a priest or not this Carlos Manuel would have been the end of the line for his family (his younger brother, Manuel Hilario, is Bishop of Matanzas). The laws of Darwin, if not the laws of God, would have checked such a descent of the species. His will not be the first great family in history that thinned its blood through intermarriage till it produced nothing but pharaonic monsters. It is the pride of ancestry of great families which is often their undoing. The Bourbons, of course, are the classic modern instance. The last king of Cuba, Alfonso XIII, managed to produce one healthy son, the current king's father. To avoid more hemophiliacs, deaf mutes and imbeciles Juan Carlos' children all married commoners. Their offspring are not only all healthy, but, as a bonus at a time when royals compete with movie stars, they are attractive, too. It is too late, of course, to bring the house of Cespedes back from extinction. Perhaps it is better that the main line of the family should pass into history since it will never add to the fame of its immortal ancestor and may only detract from it.
This Carlos Manuel has done more than any of his illustrious family to bring discredit on his name. More even than his aunt, Céspedes' grandaughter, the French novelist Alba de Céspedes, who lived in Paris all her life except for a brief visit to Cuba in 1968 as Castro's "guest of honor" for the centenary of the Grito de Yara. Said she on that ocassion: "I am a Cuban who adores her country and is willing to be the 25th member of her family to die defending her and the Revolution." Alba never met her grandfather. That much we can say on both their behalfs.
Even if Msgr. Céspedes, Vicar General of the Havana Archdiocese and director of the Cuban Conference of Bishops, had never written one word in praise of Che Guevara, his obsequiousness to the regime over 50 years would have been a bar sinister that could never have been erased from the family crest. He has even accepted an official decoration from the regime for his efforts to maintain cordial relations between church and state in Cuba. Yet even those who know of his long history of collaboration with the Castro regime were unprepared for his hagiographic treatment of Che Guevara in Granma. It is doubtful that even the most slavish Communist panegyric would have plumbed the depths of sycophancy which the monsignor effortlessly reached.
Not only does this screed confirm the worst fears of those who believe, as I do, that the Catholic hierarchy in Cuba has been completely compromised by Cuban Intelligence; but it shows that it is not in the least ashamed of proclaiming that fact to all the faithful, in Granma, no less, as a lesson and admonishment to all of them. The fact that it has chosen to cast its lot with the regime, more than just a token of reflexive opportunism, constitutes an affirmation on its part that there is no other future for Cuba or the Cuban Church but absolute submission to the Castro clan. In the past, the Church has refused sanctuary to Castro's victims (though it once granted it to Castro himself in the wake of the Moncada Attack); it has admonished Cubans to respect "lawful authority;" joined Castro in denouncing the U.S. "blockade;" and even offered prayers for Castro's recovery. It has done that and much worse.
But never before Céspedes took pen in hand did the Church excuse or sanction the crimes of the Revolution or accept the Marxist dialectic as the only means to understand recent Cuban history. More even than the praise lavished on Guevara himself, the Robespierre of the Cuban Revolution, the Church has disavowed any connection to the suffering of the Cuban people and placed itself firmly on the side of their tormentors. This, of course, has always been its historical position (even before Castro came to power). But to see it embrace as a virtue what should be its greatest shame really does constitute a new high-water mark in self-debasement. Where contrition and penance should be the order of the day we are instead treated to an auto-da-fé on behalf of the Revolution.
Céspedes' "Personal Look at 'Che' Guevara on the 80th Anniversary of His Birth," published last week in Granma [June 13], begins with an anecdote about John Paul II, remembered indistinctly, and, as it turns out, incorrectly by the author. He situates the pope in an airplane, en route to Africa, when a reporter asks him an unexpected question:
"The question was a direct one: 'What does Your Holiness think about Che?' According to the article I read at the time, the Pope reflected in silence for a few seconds then broke it by saying, with enlightening simplicity, "I don't know him intimately, but I know he was concerned about the poor. Therefore, he deserves my respect."
Readers may recognize that particular quote as a reworking of Martí's famous critique of Marx, without, of course, Martí's closing condemnation.
Yet Céspedes does not lie. John Paul did praise "Che" Guevera in different but similar words. Except that it wasn't on a trip to Africa that he was asked about Guevara. It was during his visit to Cuba in January 1998. Céspedes might have witnessed the scene himself, or read about it in the Osservatore Romano, Spanish edition, 30 January 1998, p. 6:
"Otra periodista le preguntó [al papa], también en castellano, por su pensamiento sobre Che Guevara, un protagonista de la historia reciente de Cuba, a lo que su Santidad contestó: 'Ahora se halla ante el Tribunal de Dios. Dejemos a nuestro Señor el juicio sobre sus méritos. Ciertamente, estoy convencido que quería servir a los pobres.'"
"A journalist asked [the pope], also in Spanish, his thoughts on Che Guevara, a protagonist in recent Cuban history, to which His Holiness replied: 'He is now before God's Tribunal. Let's let our Lord judge his merits. I am certain that he wanted to serve the poor.'"
One wonders if Céspedes would have dared to be so brazen in his praise of Guevara if he did not have the pope's ingenuous remark behind which to hide. John Paul knew very little about Cuba and what little he did know was shaped by the propaganda in Polish communist newspapers. On one occasion, when the pope received in a public ceremony the credentials of Castro's ambassador to the Vatican, he engaged him in a long conversation about the "achievements" of the Cuban Revolution, which John Paul did not dispute but praised in the most fulsome terms, as if Communism had been good for Cuba in a way that it had not for Poland.
Unlike John Paul before his visit to Cuba, Céspedes himself cannot plead ignorance of the Cuban reality even if he, like all hierarchs, is largely shielded from it. He is a Cuban; a bad Cuban but a Cuban nevertheless. He knows perfectly well the destruction, spiritual and material, that Castro's anti-Cuban Revolution has wreaked on our country. He knows also the ominous role which Guevara played in the revolutionary process which turned Cuba into the charnel house of the Western world. He knows more about it than almost any Cuban (excepting the perpetrators) because over the last 50 years he has made dozens of trips abroad and never had to rely on the regime as his primary source of information on a past which he is more than old enough to remember.
Nevertheless, Céspedes has the effrontery to claim that as an seminarian in Havana in 1956 he was completely shut off from all sources of information about the outside world and notes proudly that seminarians today do not labor under his disadvantage in Cuba! He makes that assertion to explain why he did not sufficiently admire "Che" at that time: it was simply because he did not know as much about him as he did about Castro, whom we suppose he did sufficiently admire.
For Céspedes, Guevara is still the most "enigmatic figure" of the leaders of the Cuban Revolution. That much, at least, is true. He knew nothing about him then and he knows nothing about him now. In fact, Céspedes actually laments never having had the opportunity to meet him personally. He should be glad their paths never crossed because the Argentine would surely not have been impressed by the name "Carlos Manuel de Céspedes." But not to fret. Msgr. Céspedes did have a very good friend who knew Guevara intimately and was glad to share his insights about him. His name? Manuel "Barbarroja" Piñeiro. Yes, the only man who may personally have shed more innocent blood in Cuba and elsewhere than Guevara himself, the head of the Central Committee's Americas Department, the monstrous "Redbeard" himself! If one wants to understand Guevara, there is no better "living primer" than "Redbeard," although any other serial killer would do almost as well. But Céspedes did not take advantage of the opportunity to study Piñeyro's pathology in order to understand Che's. Instead, he chose to see Guevara through Piñeyro's eyes. That is, he internalized the pathology in order to judge Guevara. It cannot surprise anyone that his verdict was entirely favorable:
"When judging a person's deeds, we should not avoid motivations that he or she had in commiting those deeds, in taking a certain attitude toward life. Che is no exception. The excesses that he may have committed in the framework of that "concern" are one thing; what men or groups do for the unjust reasons of selfishness and unbridled ambition is another, of a very different nature."
Let's see if we can actually make any sense of what Céspedes writes. He is a little obtuse here. Elsewhere we shall see, however, that he can be crystal clear. He tells us that we should not overlook a person's motivations when judging their acts. Well, yes and no. Motivations are important, but the act itself is more important when judging the act. If the deed a man commits is murder, premedidated and in cold blood, and without justification of any kind, what possible motives could there be that would explain much less justify the act itself? Would "cracking eggs" (or exploding heads) provide such a motive? Would becoming an "efficient killing machine" be enough to justify it? Is there any kind of "attitude towards life" that would justify the arbitrary termination of another's life? Is there any "framework" in which we can place murder that would transform it into a just "concern?" Well, Céspedes seems to think so. And what are these motivations that excuse Guevara's "excesses?" Or, rather, what "unjust reasons" were not manifest in his conduct: "Selfishness and unbridled ambition."
So there you have it:
"Thou shalt commit no murder except it be done without selfishness and unbridled ambition."
Elsewhere, as I've noted, Msgr. Céspedes is very forthright and does not require the services of an annotator besides a few punctuation marks and a word or two:
"All [!] the references coincide in affirming [Che Guevara's] almost rash daring in face of [other people's] danger, as well as his spirit of discipline."
"Almost everyone [!] also valued, since that time, the consistency between his convictions and his actions in life.
"He was said [!] to have a Marxist-oriented political culture, which for many Cubans of the time was an obstacle to regarding him positively. I admit that for me, that was not so much the case [!], because although I disagreed with his lack of a metaphysical philosophy and with his denial of the limits Marxism, I sympathized with the emphasis on socialism [!!!]. Obviously, Marxism was not, and is not, my philosophical/political orientation, but then neither was, or is, anti-communism, more visceral than rational [!!!]."
"I personally, related his presence within the Cuban Revolution with that of many other foreigners who collaborated with our 19th century independence movements, above all with that of Máximo Gómez [!!!]."
"...[M]y admiration [for Guevara] also increased in face of his existential and intellectual consistency, as well as his social sensitivity."
Céspedes began this diatribe by channelling John Paul II's ghost, and he ends it, naturally enough, by recoursing to that great exponent of "anti-communism, more visceral than rational:"
"All roads now merge for me in the comment by John Paul II quoted at the beginning of this reflection. Almost everything about Che should be contemplated in the light of his consistent and radical actions in defense of the poor; of his passion for what we used to call "social justice." So consistent and radical was his passion, so razor-sharp, that it led him to make the offering of his own life. And when an upright man goes to those extremes, the disagreements with him acquire another tone, because such a man deserves not only respect, but deep admiration."
It is a precept of the Catholic Church -- not that Céspedes is much of a Catholic -- that it is not enough for a man to die for his beliefs: he must embrace martyrdom willingly and die for a just cause. Guevara did not die "in the defense of the poor" unless one considers increasing their poverty and eliminating their freedom to be services rendered to them. Nor did he willingly "offer his life" but begged for mercy as none of the hundreds whom he shot ever did. Nor did he die with the cry of "Viva Cristo Rey" on his lips, as his victims, uneulogized by Msgr. Céspedes, did.
Msgr. Carlos Manuel de Cespedes is a disgrace to his God, his country, his family and the human species. Such a man deserves nothing but disdain and to be forgotten, and that only in deference to his name.