Castro got hot. The tepid drink, he said, "reveals a lack of revolutionary consciousness." The waitress, Sartre reported, shrugged and said the refrigerator was broken. Castro "growled" (Sartre's approving description), "Tell your people in charge that if they don't take care of their problems, they will have problems with me." Sartre, deeply stirred, wrote:
"This was the first time I understood -- still quite vaguely -- what I called 'direct democracy.' Between the waitress and Castro, an immediate secret understanding was established. She let it be seen by her tone, her smiles, by a shrug of her shoulders, that she was without illusion."
Norman Mailer, the novelist, and Oliver Stone, embodiment of Hollywood progressives in heat, had illusions galore. In 1960, when Castro came to Manhattan, Mailer, banal even when in ecstasy, wrote of white horses: "One felt life in one's cold overargued blood. ... It was as if the ghost of Cortes had appeared in our century riding Zapata's white horse." Just a few years ago, Stone, a slow learner, advised: "We should look to (Castro) as one of the Earth's wisest people."
In the wise man's prisons -- according to Armando Valladares' memoir of 22 years in them ("Against All Hope") -- some doors are welded shut and prisoners are fed watery soup sometimes laced with glass, or dead rats, or half a cow's intestine, rectum included, containing feces. In 2003, the wise man's pulverizing police state, always struggling to reduce Cuba's civil society to a dust of individuals, sentenced 78 democracy advocates, after one-day secret trials, to sentences of up to 28 years in those prisons. Pilgrims praising Cuban health care call to mind Pat Moynihan's acerbic observation that when travel to China was liberalized, many visitors seemed more impressed by the absence of flies than by the absence of freedom.
Castro has ruled Cuba during 10 U.S. presidencies and longer than the Soviet Union ruled Eastern Europe. The Economist has called him "a Caribbean King Lear." Raging on his island heath, with nothing to celebrate except his endurance, his creativity has come down to this: He has added a category to the taxonomy of world regimes -- government by costume party. Useful at last, the Comandante, dressed for success in his military fatigues, presides over a museum of Marxism.