The U.S. Propaganda Machine

We [in the USA] aren't really interested in democracy and human rights. We just use those words to hide our true reasons....

Since 1985, we have stated publicly that we will encourage and openly finance dissident and human rights groups in Cuba; this, too, is in our interests. The United States isn't financing all those groups--only the ones that are best known internationally.

Those dissidents and human rights groups in Cuba--that are nothing but a few people--are only important to the extent that they serve us in a single cause: that of destabilizing Fidel Castro's regime.

--Wayne Smith, former head of the US Interests Section in Havana (1)

We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans. Informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas....

Despite claims that they represent 'thousands of Cubans,' we see little evidence of such support....

When we question opposition leaders about their programs, we do not see platforms designed to appeal to a broad cross section of Cuban society. Rather, the greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers and their key supporters living from day to day...

[T]he next most important pursuit [of opposition leaders] seems to be to limit or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus preserving power and access to scarce resources.

--Jonathon Farrar, former head of the US Interests Section in Havana (2)

It is no secret that the US government funds dissident and "human rights" groups in Cuba. See, for example, the official USAID website (3). From this one source alone, we see that 20 million US Taxpayers' Dollars are earmarked every year for the support of the tiny handful of dissidents on the island. Try to imagine the reaction of the FBI to an amount several thousand times the average American's annual income from a foreign hostile government to subversive groups in the USA for the purposes of overthrowing the US government.

In addition to the considerable resources of the US government, there is the funding from private groups like the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), with its known links to anti-Cuban terrorist groups. On September 14, 2000, The Washington Post reported that the CANF was planning to "quadruple the amount of money it sends to dissident leaders on the island." And that "a portion of the group's $10 million annual budget -- he declined to say how much -- will begin flowing to the island through sympathetic dissidents by the end of the year."

Remember, too, that these sponsoring groups -- the US government and fanatical elements of the Cuban exile community -- have sponsored or participated in a military invasion, countless terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage, and the universally condemned, genocidal US embargo against the Cuban people.

The Strange Case of "Dissident," Armando Valladares

To give just one example of the machinations of the US propaganda machine, Noam Chomsky, in his book, Media Control, (4) writes about one of the most famous Cuban "dissident" exiles and US media darlings, Armando Valladares and his equally famous prison "memoirs." One of Batista's former henchman convicted of placing bombs in a public place, he was portrayed by media and human rights groups as some kind of romantic figure -- a prison poet -- confined to a wheelchair as a result of abuse suffered in prison. He was miraculously "cured" the day of his release from prison, and soon afterwards, was  appointed by Ronald Reagan as US representative to the UN Human Rights Commission. There he quickly distinguished himself as an apologist for human rights violations on a massive scale perpetrated by US-backed regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Chomsky contrasts Valladares' case with a true hero, Salvadoran, Herbert Anaya and his prison memoirs of atrocities. Far from becoming a media darling, it seems he and his memoirs conveniently dropped off the radar screen of US mainstream media -- to the very limited extent they were ever allowed to appear. Chomsky writes:

In May 1986, the memoirs of the released Cuban prisoner, Armando Valladares, came out. They quickly became a media sensation. I'll give you a couple of quotes. The media described his revelations as "the definitive account of the vast system of torture and prison by which Castro punishes and obliterates political opposition." It was "an inspiring and unforgettable account" of the "bestial prisons," inhuman torture, [and] record of state violence [under] yet another of this century's mass murderers, who we learn, at last, from this book "has created a new despotism that has institutionalized torture as a mechanism of social control" in "the hell that was the Cuba that [Valladares] lived in. " That's the Washington Post and New York Times in repeated reviews. Castro was described as "a dictatorial goon." His atrocities were revealed in this book so conclusively that "only the most light-headed and cold-blooded Western intellectual will come to the tyrant's defense," said the Washington Post. Remember, this is the account of what happened to one man. Let's say it's all true. Let's raise no questions about what happened to the one man who says he was tortured. At a White House ceremony marking Human Rights Day, he was singled out by Ronald Reagan for his courage in enduring the horrors and sadism of this bloody Cuban tyrant. He was then appointed the U.S. representative at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, where he has been able to perform signal services defending the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments against charges that they conduct atrocities so massive that they make anything he suffered look pretty minor. That's the way things stand.

That was May 1986. It was interesting, and it tells you something about the manufacture of consent. The same month, the surviving members of the Human Rights Group of El Salvador - the leaders had been killed - were arrested and tortured, including Herbert Anaya, who was the director. They were sent to a prison - La Esperanza (hope) Prison. While they were in prison they continued their human rights work. They were lawyers, they continued taking affidavits. There were 432 prisoners in that prison. They got signed affidavits from 430 of them in which they described, under oath, the torture that they had received: electrical torture and other atrocities, including, in one case, torture by a North American U.S. major in uniform, who is described in some detail. This is an unusually explicit and comprehensive testimony, probably unique in its detail about what's going on in a torture chamber. This 160-page report of the prisoners' sworn testimony was sneaked out of prison, along with a videotape which was taken showing people testifying in prison about their torture. It was distributed by the Marin County Interfaith Task Force. The national press refused to cover it. The TV stations refused to run it. There was an article in the local Marin County newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, and I think that's all. No one else would touch it. This was a time when there was more than a few "light-headed and cold-blooded Western intellectuals" who were singing the praises of Jose Napoleon Duarte and of Ronald Reagan.

Anaya was not the subject of any tributes. He didn't get on Human Rights Day. He wasn't appointed to anything. He was released in a prisoner exchange and then assassinated, apparently by the U.S.-backed security forces.

On the perceived bias of Armando Valladares and "exaggerated  US charges," even Human Rights Watch  (5) has been compelled to report:

Although the U.N. Human Rights Commission is an exceedingly political body, the political mix that led to an effective suspension of scrutiny of Cuban rights practices was in at least two respects a product of the continuing ideological strains in U.S. human rights policy toward Cuba. First, because the Commission's initial decision to review human rights in Cuba was due in large part to exaggerated U.S. charges of ongoing political executions, disappearances and torture, it became difficult to sustain that scrutiny when the U.N. delegation to Cuba found no evidence to support those allegations....

Second, U.S. credibility before the Commission was hurt by the perception that the administration's single-minded focus on Cuba was to the exclusion of comparable violators who happened to be U.S. friends. That perception was only reinforced by the Bush administration's decision to retain Ambassador Armando Valladares as the U.S. representative to the Commission. A former long-term political prisoner in exile, Valladares's understandable deep, personal antipathy for the Castro dictatorship appears to have left him with little interest in pursuing other violators, particularly of the non-Communist sort.

Accused of such selective attention during a September 20 [1989] hearing before the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, Ambassador Valladares pointed to his work against rights violations in Afghanistan, Romania and South Africa to show that he had interests outside Cuba. But none of the three demonstrated an even-handed commitment to human rights -- Afghanistan and Romania because, like Cuba, they were Communist states, and South Africa because condemnation would be routine regardless of the U.S. position. Notably, Valladares made no mention of abusive governments where a strong U.S. stance against abuses would have made a difference before the Commission -- such U.S. friends as Iraq and Guatemala.

As President of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón, asked wryly:

Who transformed the terrorist and Batista henchman Armando Valladares into a poet? Who invented the lie that he was paralyzed? Who begged pardon from the Parisian authorities who awaited the athletic figure with a wheelchair? Has anyone explained to avid readers awaiting the first poem from the one US media claimed was an inspired and prolific bard?

Who, indeed?

From "Briefly detained" to "Gangland abduction and brutal beating"

On November 6, 2009, Reuters reported on a supposed incident between dissident and international media darling, Yoani Sanchez, and Cuban police:

Yoani Sanchez said she and two fellow bloggers were detained briefly on Friday by security agents....

Sanchez, 34, told Reuters the agents forced her and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo into a car,... took them to a spot near her home and dropped them off, throwing her purse on the street as they drove away....

"I'm flustered. It has been very intense,' she said. She said she had a sore shoulder and back from the encounter, but no serious injuries....Sanchez said they had gathered at her home to "reconstruct the events." (6)

And "reconstruct" them they did -- as in completely made them over.

Sanchez must have sensed a real propaganda opportunity here. Who would dare to contradict Her? Perhaps thinking she had nothing to lose, at her blog the next day she apparently fabricated this titanic struggle, a "gangland abduction" with a flurry of punches, kicks and biting. With much melodrama, she wrote:

One put his knee in my chest and the other, from the front seat, hit me in my kidneys and punched me in the head... At one point I felt I would never leave that car... "Kill me now," I screamed, with the last inhalation I had left in me....

The blows continued to rain down on us... We were left aching, lying in a street. (7)

That was some "reconstruction!" From simply being taken home by the cops to being brutally beaten and "left aching, lying in a street!"

And you would think she should be all black and blue from such a brutal beating, but no. Sanchez's YouTube propaganda video purported to reveal the massive bruising and swelling of her face, but a dramatic close-up of her face showed not a mark. (9) Really quite a joke.

Another "brutal beating" that wasn't -- The boy who cried wolf

Perhaps a turning point in the international media coverage of the tiny dissident movement in Cuba is the strange case of the death of Juan Soto early in May 2011. Not used to questioning claims by "dissident" sources in Cuba, the international media initially gobbled up claims that "dissident" Juan Soto died of injuries resulting from yet another "brutal beating" at the hands of Cuban police. An "assassination" they called it!

Unfortunately for the "dissidents," their case quickly began to unravel. Even the Miami Herald lamented that "International reactions to Soto’s death on Sunday appear more muted so far, apparently because of the conflicting versions of the beating..." (May 5, 2011). These "dissidents" just couldn't get their story straight!  When the truth was revealed by testimony of close relatives of the deceased and by medical specialists in the Cuban media (10, 11), the international media dropped the story like a hot potato. It turns out there was no "brutal beating" after all. Juan Soto, already in poor health, had died of nature causes.

In an apparent fit of pique at being suddenly ignored by the international media, the US point man in this campaign of lies went on yet another of his famous "hunger strikes." Usually a guarantee of barrels of ink in the capitalist press, these antics were all but ignored. In the opinion of author, this seemed to mark a real turning point in the coverage of dissident antics in the international media. Suddenly fact-checking became the rule instead of the exception!


1.  Hernando Calvo and Katlijn Declercq, The Cuban Exile Movement, Dissidents or Mercenaries, p. 156, Ocean Press, 2000
2. Johnathan Farrar, "The US and the Role of the Opposition, 2009" (
WikiLeaks Reference ID: 09HAVANA221)
3. USAID website:
4. Noam Chomsky, "Media Control"
5. "Cuba," Human Rights Watch,
6. "Blogger Yoani Sanchez detained briefly in Cuba," Reuters,
November 6, 2009
7. "A gangland kidnapping," Yoani Sanchez
 8. "Prominent Blogger Abducted, Beaten," Human Rights Watch,
November 7, 2099
 9. "Yoani Sánchez golpeada en La Habana"
 10. "Cuba despises lies," Granma International, May 12, 2011
  11. "Testimonio de familiares y médicos de Juan Wilfredo Soto García,"


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