February 22, 2002

Serenading a wicked friend

Ninoska Perez Castellon. Posted on Thu, Feb. 21, 2002 in The Miami Herald

Carole King: 'Now, ain't it good to know you've got a friend?

More than anything, Carole King's music made me wish that people would live by the philosophies of popular songs. An extraordinary songwriter and remarkable performer, she became a voice of her generation. Despite the cynicism of the times, her lyrics dared to preach faith in humanity.

The ''Natural Woman,'' as she came to be known, defined friendship as a powerful force that defied seasons or distances. In life's darkest moments, calling upon a friend meant feeling protected from cold-hearted people who wanted, as her song warned, to "take your soul if you let them.''

The news that King traveled to Havana and serenaded Fidel Castro with "You've got a friend" is painful, to say the least.

She accompanied representatives of the rice and wine industries who advocate doing business with a dictator whose human-rights track record is deplorable. Castro, the new entrepreneur, as recently as last May proclaimed in Tehran that the governments of Cuba and Iran could bring the United States to its knees.

The patron of terrorist groups, Castro now has a new friend despite that, in 1996, his MiGs pulverized U.S. citizens in international airspace. It seems to matter little that he had a network of spies operating until last year in places as high as the Pentagon.

Yet King's new wicked amigo now wants us to believe that he can be an ally in the war against terrorism, yet his actions do not match his words.

In 1994 a woman named Carmen Arias was incarcerated at Cuba's Manto Negro prison. Sometime ago I sent her the lyrics of You've got a friend. What wonderful words for someone who in the darkness of her cell could rest assured that many who believed in friendship were advocating for her freedom. The prison guards never delivered the letter.

I wonder how Arias feels now, after the author of those words sang them to the man who made her endure inhuman conditions for exercising the right to express herself,

Perhaps King is unaware that the multinational companies that advocate commerce with Cuba would be operating in a country where its own citizens are not allowed to participate in its economic activities and where business deals are strictly government domain. In Cuba, foreigners can own hotels, but Cubans are not even allowed to stay in them.


This is called apartheid, but it apparently does not bother King, who is willing to befriend Castro and feels at home in a country where more than 70 U.S. fugitives, including convicted murderers, have found haven.

Her mission, King says, is to build bridges, not walls. For those of us who arduously try to tear down the walls of Castro's prisons, it is blatantly pathetic to listen to parlor humanists advocate relations with the same man responsible for the death of so many.

Perhaps the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo, shoot-down of civilian planes in international airspace, repression of dissidents, censorship and lack of democratic elections in 43 years justify what some call free education and health care. In Cuba, children are taught to read and write at the price of losing their freedom. After four decades of revolution, countless political prisoners still languish in Castro's famous Gulag.

For years I soothed the pain and longing for my homeland listening to King singing Been to Canaan. I too, lived for the ''sweet dreams'' where I could see my fields and hills. Her Canaan was my Cuba. Only that her return to the Promised Land was an issue of choice. In my case, as with many other exiles, Castro denies us that right. Our crime? We advocate freedom and democracy for Cuba.


For all those hungry capitalists wanting to make a profit from the misery of Cuba's people, neither songs nor rhetoric can cover up the callousness of their unscrupulous deals. The excuse of the embargo is just that. If economic sanctions were lifted tomorrow, Castro still would continue to exercise absolute control and have more money for repression.

What a disappointment King turned out to be. I so hoped her reverence for life would be genuine.

Like the drifter in her song, she, too, ''fell into someone's wicked spell.'' As for every one of her records, cassettes and CDs that once helped me walk the path, the garbage has become their final destination.

The Natural Woman turned out to be a callous capitalist. Gone is the magic woven by her music. So are the blue and gold hues of her Tapestry; they now are tainted with the blood on Castro's hands.

Ninoska Pérez Castellón is a radio host at WQBA-AM (1140)


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