Fact Check

Beware Charismatic Men Who Preach 'Change'

Letter to the editor warns Americans to be wary of 'a young leader who promises change.'

Published July 31, 2008


Claim:   Letter to the editor warns Americans to be wary of "a young leader who promises change."

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Alvarez, July 2008]

Beware Charismatic Men Who Preach 'Change'

Each year I get to celebrate Independence Day twice. On June 30 I celebrate my independence day and on July 4 I celebrate America's. This year is special, because it marks the 40th anniversary of my independence.

On June 30, 1968, I escaped Communist Cuba and a few months later I was in the United States to stay. That I happened to arrive in Richmond on Thanksgiving Day is just part of the story, but I digress.

I've thought a lot about the anniversary this year. The election-year rhetoric has made me think a lot about Cuba and what transpired there. In the late 1950s, most Cubans thought Cuba needed a change, and they were right. So when a young leader came along, every Cuban was at least receptive.

When the young leader spoke eloquently and passionately and denounced the old system, the press fell in love with him. They never questioned who his friends were or what he really believed in. When he said he would help the farmers and the poor and bring free medical care and education to all, everyone followed. When he said he would bring justice and equality to all, everyone said "Praise the Lord." And when the young leader said, "I will be for change and I'll bring you change," everyone yelled, "Viva Fidel!"

But nobody asked about the change, so by the time the executioner's guns went silent the people's guns had been taken away. By the time everyone was equal, they were equally poor, hungry, and oppressed. By the time everyone received their free education it was worth nothing. By the time the press noticed, it was too late, because they were now working for him. By the time the change was finally implemented Cuba had been knocked down a couple of notches to Third-World status. By the time the change was over more than a million people had taken to boats, rafts, and inner tubes. You can call those who made it ashore anywhere else in the world the most fortunate Cubans. And now I'm back to the beginning of my story.

Luckily, we would never fall in America for a young leader who promised change without asking, what change? How will you carry it out? What will it cost America?

Would we?

Manuel Alvarez Jr.
Sandy Hook

Origins:   We've received many inquiries about this "Beware Charismatic Men Who Preach 'Change'" letter, but since it's essentially an expression of opinion and was not written by (or attributed to) a public figure, there's not much for us to vet about it other than to verify that it was indeed a letter to the editor published in the Richmond [Virginia] Times-Dispatch on 7 July 2008.

By way of commentary, we note that in the many discussions this letter has engendered on the Internet, its analogy between Cuba and the United States has prompted a couple of common criticisms:

  • The United States is a country with a 220-year history of democratically elected political representatives who operate within a system of built-in checks and

    balances and voluntarily cede power when their terms of office expire. Cuba did not have a similar background: Fidel Castro was a revolutionary who took control of the country by force of arms, in the process overthrowing another leader (Fulgencio Batista) who had himself seized power through a military coup against an elected president (Carlos Prío Socarrás). When Fidel Castro soldified his political hold over Cuba, there were no institutions in place to check his power, nor was there any mechanism in place (short of revolution or assassination) to remove him from office.

  • Although one of Castro's strategies during the Cuban Revolution was to keep his enemies (and even his allies) in the dark about his plans, he often accomplished this not by being deliberately vague, but by making many different declarations and promises to different people at different times and then failing to live up to them. (In fact, through the end of the revolution Castro repeatedly disavowed the notion that he had any ambition or desire to become Cuba's president or to rule the country.) In January 1958, for example, Castro set forth a number of programs and views regarding his goals for change in post-revolution Cuba (as reported in the American press):

    • Disclaimed any aspiration to the Presidency of Cuba, either in a replacement of the current regime by a provisional government or in the next elected administration.
    • Proposed to arrest President Fulgencio Batista and his Cabinet officers and impeach them before special revolutionary tribunals.
    • Repudiated earlier programs for nationalization of properties, saying this enfeebles private enterprise and would hamper industrialization, for which he invited foreign investment.
    • Immediate freedom for all civil and military political prisoners imprisoned by the Batista government.
    • Restoration of Constitutional rights and freedom of information.
    • The elimination of corruption by creating a career civil service whose salaries would be high enough to live on without having to accept bribes.
    • A campaign against illiteracy and for education for better farming, diet and health.
    • Land reform for hundreds of thousands of small tenant farmers, the clearing up of title to many properties and the provision of just compensation for expropriated owners.
    • Industrialization and an increase in employment levels, including a fruit-canning industry, expanding processing of sugar and sugar by-products, light metal, leather, paper and textile industries, and a long-range cargo fleet.

In the end, Castro kept everyone sufficiently confused about his intentions that at the conclusion of the revolution, the New York Times reported of him:

Fidel Castro has said, "My only aim is to bring democracy to Cuba." He has also disavowed any personal ambitions or desire to rule the country himself.

But precisely what he believes in, and what kind of social, economic and political program is now in store for Cuba is shrouded in ambiguity. Some of his pronouncements have had a Socialist tinge, but Castro has insisted that he is neither a Socialist nor a Communist.

Last updated:   31 July 2008

  Sources Sources:

    Dubois, Jules.   "Castro Tells Aim in First Interview."

    Los Angeles Times.   5 January 1959   (p. 2).

    The New York Times.   "Castro Disavows Presidential Aim."

    16 January 1958   (p. 8).

    The New York Times.   "Castro Wins."

    4 January 1959   (p. E1).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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