Most leaders of totalitarian states do not display much humor in public. But Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s National Assembly, has a flair for satire. How else to interpret his recent piece on The Nation‘s website, in which he nostalgically ruminates about C. Wright Mills, noted sociologist and author, on the 45th anniversary of Mills’ death? Alarcon hails Mills for having led an “intense, creative and noble life” and publishing books “in the midst of McCarthyism and the cold war”–including his classic The Power Elite–that “unmasked the true nature of capitalism.” But the Mills book of most interest to Alarcon is Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba, which was based partly on long conversations Mills had with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the summer of 1960. As Alarcon writes, “Written without great academic pretensions, told in straightforward language through the voice of an imaginary and anonymous Cuban revolutionary, the book aimed to reach ordinary Americans. It quickly became a bestseller.” The book obviously was sympathetic to Castro and his revolution.
Alarcon decries the FBI for having attempted to undermine Mills’ book. The Bureau unsuccessfully tried, Alarcon notes, to persuade Mills’ publisher to put out a competing book criticizing the Cuban revolution. The FBI was spying on Mills at this time, and Mills, according to FBI files, believed he might be targeted for assassination by the FBI or another American agency. “Mills’s friends,” Alarcon writes, “recall that he was concerned not only for himself but for his family, and that he had indeed acquired a handgun, which he even kept next to his bed while he slept.” After Mills suffered a heart attack, Castro invited him to recuperate in Cuba. Alarcon’s narrative: while the FBI chased Mills, Castro sought to help the noble intellectual. “C. Wright Mills paid a high price for his passionate love of truth,” Alarcon declares.
Mills was hounded for challenging the conventional wisdom of his day. But Alarcon’s concern for the plight of this one author is comical–in a dark fashion–for he heads a government that does not allow its citizens to challenge openly the conventional wisdom of the Castro regime. There is no free press in Alarcon’s country, no freedom of expression. There is no “passionate love of truth” among the rulers of Cuba. Alarcon is crying for Mills, while his government does even worse to Cuban writers than the FBI did to Mills.