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Antonella Marty: How Socialist, Communist Ideology Took Over Cuba, Latin America

“Communism destroys the incentives. It destroys the most important essence of the human being … liberty,” says Antonella Marty, director of the Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America.

At FreedomFest in South Dakota, we sat down with Marty to discuss the spread of communist and socialist ideology in Latin America—from Cuba to Venezuela to her home country of Argentina—and the connections between socialist regimes, terrorist networks, and violent crime.

Jan Jekielek: Antonella Marty, it’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Antonella Marty: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, Antonella, you are working, I think the best way I can describe it is, you are working for freedom in Latin America. You’re involved in a whole bunch of networks, essentially, across the entire region. Before we talk about Cuba, which is what a lot of us have been thinking about lately, just tell me in general about your work and what you do.

Ms. Marty: I’m the Associate Director at the Center for Latin America at Atlas Network. This is an organization that has been working all over the world for more than 40 years promoting economic freedom, political freedom, individual liberties, you know, rule of law, equality before the law, all the importance of these aspects that we really need right now in Latin America. I keep defending and promoting these ideas all over Latin America, traveling to different countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, and of course in Argentina.

Mr. Jekielek: Why don’t you tell me now—we’ve heard all sorts of things about Cuba. I mean, there were even things that said that these people in Cuba were protesting COVID or something like this. Of course, the general consensus that came out is that these people were looking for freedom in a situation where clearly there’s a huge lack of it. But why don’t you tell me briefly what you’re hearing on the ground from Cuba. Things have changed, obviously, very quickly, but also what this whole movement was about from your vantage point.

Ms. Marty: So this movement is called San Isidro. There are a group of artists and people who want to promote liberty in the island in Cuba. And I think that’s very important, because we see this regime operating on the island for more than 62 years. That’s more than half a century. And then when we hear, for example, people and political parties from the left, talking about democracy because they love talking about democracy, and then they go and support this kind of dictatorships. There you see the hypocrisy that we can see from this kind of supporters and from the socialists and the communists and the Marxists.

But in Cuba, right now, we can see a rise of a movement that wants freedom, that really wants freedom. They just want to get rid of that regime that has been operating the island for more than 62 years. 

This is not about COVID. I mean, the COVID-19 crisis, that situation has increased all the problems, but they have been having all these problems for more than 62 years. But we can see protesters and people asking for freedom in Cuba, not only inside the island, but also outside the island. We see many protests, for example, in Spain, in Argentina, even in Venezuela, we saw many people protesting for freedom in Cuba. 

It’s a very complicated situation right now, because their regime imprisons anyone who talks about freedom, anyone who wants to oppose the system. And as we know, this regime learned everything from the Soviet Union. So they know how to silence people. They know, they have the handbook, for keeping with this terrible dictatorship.

Mr. Jekielek: You visited Cuba some time ago, and you actually visited Venezuela, from what I understand as well. I’m kind of surprised to some extent that someone doing the work that you’re doing would be able to do that, and frankly would go and do it, knowing a little bit about how totalitarian regimes work.

Ms. Marty: Well, to Cuba, I cannot go back. I cannot go back to Cuba, not anymore. Because after I left the island on that trip when I went to visit the opposition leaders, the Ladies in White, and many people that that promote the ideas of liberty, or at least they tried to promote the ideas of liberty from inside the island, the regime released a letter that I wasn’t able to come back to Cuba because I violated the visa and because I was a CIA agent and all these crazy things that they say, of course. 

But yes, I filmed a documentary in the island. I talked to many people. I tried to see, you know, I went to a bookstore, it’s very difficult to find a bookstore in Cuba, and I found only one in the center of Havana. And I didn’t see any books from the last 30 years. Everything I saw was just about communism, about Fidel Castro, about Che Guevara. And it’s a very complicated situation. 

And then I went to visit the Ladies in White. This is a group of women from 20 to 80 years old, that promote liberty and they ask for freedom in the island, and they ask for the release of the political prisoners in Cuba, and they protest dressed in white and in a very specific way. And the regime brutally beats them. 

I went to visit the Ladies in White. And when I was inside the house, they told me: Antonella, you know that anything we’re talking right now, they know it, because the house is full of microphones, so they know what we’re talking about. So when you go out, just walk as fast as you can, and try to see how you can make it. 

When you experience that—I mean, we can always talk about communism and about how communism is, but when you experienced communism, you see that it’s even bigger than what we can imagine. 

I went to Venezuela a few times. There are just a little radio stations, because the regime in Venezuela has also repressed the liberty of expression. I went to different radio shows, and before going live, they were like: okay, Antonella, please don’t mention this, don’t mention this person, don’t talk about this. 

And when you have to exercise the self censorship, that’s one of the most complicated things in the world. I mean, I leave that for what, like a week that I was in Venezuela or the week that I was in Cuba, I can’t imagine how difficult it is to live under that system all your life. So I always say that, in communism, you don’t live, you just survive.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting. This is something that I’ve actually been speaking about. My parents escaped from communist Poland in the ’70s, very familiar with the system. I saw this film, I lose track of the passage of time, but there was this film called “The Lives of Others.” I don’t know if you’ve come across this, of course. 

But this was one film that I felt was able to transmit to people that grow up in a free society, who have no idea what it would be like to know that our conversation right now is being monitored and someone’s recording it, and it’s going into a dossier. Or maybe it is, maybe it’s not. Maybe it is, and that that can be used against me at any point. That changes how people actually behave with one another. What does trust mean, even? Who can you trust? It’s a completely different world, right?

Ms. Marty: Yes. And that’s why when we talk about liberty, that’s the opposite of this kind of regimes. Because when you talk about liberty, it’s all about trust; free markets, it’s all about trust. And when you talk about protectionism, communism, socialism, … collectivism, any kind of collectivism, people don’t trust each other. Because they are in this permanent situation of being under surveillance, and they’re afraid of anyone. 

They don’t trust, because you never know who can be part of the regime. And who can tell the regime that you are free-thinker or that you think different from that idea of the communist system. That’s why I like so much the idea of open and free societies because they are based on that cooperation, voluntary cooperation, trust. It’s all about trust.

Mr. Jekielek: … In many countries around the world, even some of the most democratic countries, especially under COVID, we’ve seen a lot of activity, let’s just say, that kind of fits more into the bucket of lack of trust, as you’ve been describing. So what do you make of this? And certainly in your home country of Argentina, as well?

Ms. Marty: Well, Argentina, with all this situation—I mean, right now we’re in phase one, basically, with the COVID-19 situation because the government, and many governments in Latin America, found the COVID-19 situation a perfect justification or strategy for them to keep promoting populism and to keep growing the size of the government. 

So they just go for security. They just go for more security and more state, more surveillance, more government controlling your life and telling you what to do because they own you. That’s not the solution. That’s never the solution to any problem.

I always say that the solution is always liberty and responsibility, because you have to be responsible for your actions and for everything you do. Argentina is very complicated right now. And I always say that we did everything backwards, because we used to be a developed country. And now we’re a country that is under-developed, and we are a very poor country with high rates of inflation.

For example, if you want to, at some point, see the size or understand the size of the government in Argentina, we’re 45 million people in Argentina, 45 million citizens, and 25 million people in Argentina receive money from the state. That’s basically the half of the country receiving money from the government. 

And we have to remember from where the government takes that money that they give, right, it’s always from you, because it’s taxpayers’ money. But … then you see only 7 million people working at the private sector. And you have 7 million people trying to make other people, 25 million people, live, right, because they pay for them, because they pay with taxes for them. 

We have this huge size of the government. And if we don’t stop that, we’re going to keep  destroying the economy, destroying a country that at one time was prosperous, just like Cuba, just like Venezuela. We used to have huge indexes of economic growth. And right now we are just poor because we choose bad ideas, and bad ideas have bad consequences.

Mr. Jekielek: Now, one thing I wanted to touch on: you mentioned, one after another you said I think, an increase in populism and then increase in government. You know, I think here in the U.S., those two things aren’t connected. In a lot of people’s minds, it might even be the other way around. Some people see populism as actually a solution to big government. It’s very curious, what do you mean by populism, exactly? 

Ms. Marty: Well, populism is when you have some kind of a politician that becomes a god for the people. And that politician has some characteristics that you can identify. And in Latin America, we are full of this kind of people, of messiahs. These guys that at some point, they break your legs, they give you clutches, and they tell you that if it wasn’t for them, you will not be able to walk. That’s basically what populism is.

Mr. Jekielek: This makes me think of communist China, basically the rhetoric is that we lifted—you have changes in different years—millions of people out of poverty, but where they took the country initially, under the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution was an extremely low level. So this is the kind of thing you’re talking about.

Ms. Marty: Yes, and when we talk about populism, I always talk about how we, from the classical liberal perspective, we come from populism, both from the left and from the right, because they don’t have democratic way to execute power. And they tend to go against institutions. 

They destroy the institutions of a free society, and they destroy freedom of expression. They destroy every single liberty at some point. And they always start as democratic people. They always show themselves as I mean, Hugo Chavez, the dictator of Venezuela, and now you see Nicolas Maduro, but he was just, yes, we love democracy, and he was elected, in fact. Hugo Chavez was elected in Venezuela. 

And that’s how they go through weak institutions, because we have weak institutions. Venezuela already had 27 constitutions, for example. I mean, if you compare that to the United States where you just have one, and you compare that to 27 constitutions, that’s changing the rules of the game basically every single day, and nobody is going to invest in your country if you change the rules all the time and if you see a politician that comes in and calls to expropriate. 

That’s what Hugo Chavez used to do. He was going house by house and company by company saying, expropriate this, expropriate, nationalize this, nationalize that, and you destroy the incentives. And you’ll destroy the incentives of people creating wealth, and we need to create wealth. 

That’s the only solution to poverty: creating wealth. And if we think and we have this theory that by redistributing the wealth, we’re going to end poverty. I mean, you see the history of Latin American, and you know that’s definitely not the solution. The solution is creating wealth.

Mr. Jekielek: It seems like not just Latin America, actually.

Ms. Marty: Yes, definitely.

Mr. Jekielek: Sometimes I wonder to myself, and certainly we’ve seen some indicators of this, basically these regimes out there working together to undermine free societies. I guess we’re in this unprecedented time again, with coronavirus having come out. I think there’s been some compelling arguments made that it’s brought out the inner authoritarian in some people, even in free societies, right? You have the opportunity to take power. It’s an opportunity. It’s perhaps intoxicating. I don’t know exactly how it works, right. But there’s definitely been a run on liberty in almost every country in the world, right?

Ms. Marty: Yes, and when it comes to Latin America, that was very important because we see the cooperation between these regimes. Right now, we have something that we know as the socialism of the 21st century, because from the 21st century, we saw in Latin America, a wave of populists, such as Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, [Michelle] Bachelet in Chile. We see many of these populace working together. 

It’s like an alliance of a big network of corruption, of corrupt politicians. And they go to money laundry, drug trafficking. 

And we see that as a result and as a consequence of not doing anything with Cuba for more than 62 years. Because everything starts in Cuba. Everything starts in Cuba. Fidel Castro always saw Venezuela as the treasure, right? Because he saw that the money was there. And once the Soviet Union fell, once the Soviet Union disappeared, he saw and he understood that he needed to get money from somewhere else, because in communism, you never produce, you never generate wealth.

Mr. Jekielek: Because of the oil [in Venezuela], right?

Ms. Marty: Because of the oil, of course. And then he saw in Hugo Chavez, the perfect messiah, and he trained him. He trained Hugo Chavez. And he even worked with Lula da Silva, the former president and one of the most corrupt politicians in Latin American history, the former president of Brazil. 

Fidel Castro and Lula da Silva created what we know as the São Paulo Forum, that is a movement of political parties that are communists and socialists in Latin America. And with this, they work as an alliance to promote these ideas and take control of Latin America. This is not something that just happened. I mean, we saw this beginning in Cuba, right, because Fidel Castro always wanted to do this, something bigger. He didn’t want to take only Cuba. He wanted the rest of Latin America, just like Che Guevara, they wanted that. So they worked together.

You see, for example, the case of Venezuela. Venezuela is very good friends with Iran. They are very good friends with Russia, with China. They work together with them. And they also have the support of the Islamic terrorists. They have connections with Hezbollah, with Hamas, connections with the Marxists guerrillas from Colombia like ELN or FARC. And this is a big network. I mean, this is not only communism. 

This is communism, but this is even bigger than that. Because now we see all the connections that they have, and they are destroying the entire region. If we don’t stop this, and if we don’t tell the people what’s going on in Cuba, what’s going on in Venezuela, what’s going on in Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua.

In Nicaragua, there’s another dictatorship. Daniel Ortega decides everything. There is no division of powers in Nicaragua, just like Cuba, just like Venezuela. Those are the three biggest dictatorships that we have right now in Latin America. We need to keep telling people what’s going on and what’s happening there.

Mr. Jekielek: What should we be concerned about in the rest of the free world, or in America, in Canada, in Europe, which extensively are supposed to be the freest societies, but are seeing some kind of movement in the other direction?

Ms. Marty: Right now, I see a danger when it comes to nationalism. Nationalism is one of the of the things that we have to be really careful about. When we see politicians creating some kind of a god of the idea of a nation, and they discriminate people, and they discriminate anyone who is different. 

I see that danger in the entire world, even more in in Europe right now. I see national populism rising, for example, in France with Marine Le Pen, in Germany with the Alternative Party. They are everywhere. They are in Spain with this political party that is called Vox. They are very nationalist; they are protectionist, and at some point, these political parties—they show themselves as liberty lovers. 

But when we want to identify at some point, the enemies of liberty, we can see them disguised as liberty lovers. Sometimes they say yes, we like economic freedom. And when they say that, they only like economic freedom. 

I’m always asking them, what about the other aspects of liberty? What about the individual liberties? What about the political liberties? I think you cannot divide liberty. You cannot select different aspects of liberty and decide, okay, this is what I like, this liberty, but I don’t like that liberty.  Liberty is liberty, just like Deirdre McCloskey says. 

We defend liberty, and if we believe that liberty is a solution—because it is a solution. I mean, whenever you see an open society, whenever you see a free society, you see people, you see the population, their lives are better, they live longer, and they have the solutions and the innovations and all the things that we do that we use. 

All the technology, the medical advances that we see today, that’s all innovations that comes from the free world. I don’t see any invention coming from Venezuela or Cuba or … the former Soviet Union or North Korea. And it’s not because there are not talented people there. It is because the talented people are waiting in lines to get some food, or they are dying from diseases, because that’s what communist does to nations. Communism destroys the incentives, it destroys the most important essence of the human being, that is liberty.

Mr. Jekielek: As you’re describing the situation, the problem perhaps with what you’re talking about, is that in these free societies, there’s all sorts of, let’s say, states or organizations that are very interested in using the openness and the values and the trust and the transparency against those nations. 

The situation I’m most familiar with is of course China, and how the Chinese regime essentially got very easy access to the World Trade Organization, at a time when it very arguably didn’t deserve it. And it worked very actively to subvert the system, intertwine itself into a free economy, while itself being incredibly protectionist, and so forth. So how do you deal with that in your in your worldview here?

Ms. Marty: Well, I think this is very interesting, because many governments in my region, in Latin America, cooperate a lot with China. In fact, in Argentina, we were only receiving the vaccines from China and from Russia. And there you see the ideology. We know that the government, the Alberto Fernández government, rejected an offer from Pfizer, just because it was from the free world and because he was an ally with Russia and Cuba and China. 

I think this is terrible because people don’t know what’s going on in China. In Latin America, and in the entire world I think, many people say that China is capitalist, and it is not. I mean, it’s not a really free society. There’s only one political party. Just like in Cuba, there are no elections if there’s only one political party participating in the elections. And you see maybe the indexes of economic freedom, they are not free. 

They are not among the first countries and the freer countries in the world. Many people  misunderstand the concept of capitalism, because this is more, maybe it’s crony capitalism, but I see that as a protectionist society, because you only see one political party deciding everything. They decide who owns an enterprise, who can invest in the country, who cannot do this, who cannot do that. 

They control everything. I always remember, this is from North Korea, Yeon-mi Park, this girl that escaped from North Korea, and she said that she used to think that the dictator was able to read her mind. Can you imagine that? You are not even free to think inside of your mind, because you see all that collectivism and all that governmental control inside your daily life. And it happens in China; it happens in China. 

I have a lot of friends in Argentina with Falun Dafa, Falun Gong, and I know this discipline. I know they are everywhere, and they are persecuted by the regime. And they are not free to do anything they want just because the government decided, just because their regime decided, just because they think that is not healthy for the government, for the regime. 

When we see things like that, and we see that cooperation between all of our governments and all of the populists we’re seeing in Latin America, it’s really hard for the people, for the ones who really want a freer world. And we see many governments cooperating with China, and even some governments that say that they believe in free markets or rule of law, we see them cooperating with China, just because of business, just because of that. 

That’s terrible when it comes to the reality of the Chinese people. This is terrible. People don’t know what’s going on in China; they don’t know what’s going on in North Korea; they don’t know what’s going on in Cuba, because their regimes repressed the liberty of expression. 

I went to Cuba, and when I turned the TV, I saw Fidel Castro. He was live, talking to the people in Cuba, and then I changed the channel and I saw Che Guevara. And just like I was explaining this idea of what happened to the bookstores, you don’t see books, you don’t see a free education. 

These regimes create a lot of myths, the myth of education, for example. In Cuba, that’s a big one. Because many people in Latin America think the education in Cuba is the best education ever. And a lot of people believe that. But when you go to Cuba, you see that you’re not free to study anything, I mean anything that is not in the curricula, and there are not private universities. The regime, I mean the Communist Party, has a monopoly of the education. 

For example, if you study medicine or any other career in a university in Cuba, and it takes you four or five years, once you finish that career, you have to work for the regime for two years. Otherwise, you won’t receive your graduate title. So the regime owns you. And they create these myths, all over the region. Cuba, the education, the health system. This is just like that, and it’s terrible.

Mr. Jekielek: Right now we understand that Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela is actually meeting with the opposition. What do you expect will come of these meetings?

Ms. Marty: Well, Nicolas Maduro has been meeting the opposition for a long time, and it was the same with Hugo Chavez. … Vladimir Lenin from Russia, from the Russian Revolution, used to say that you have to create your own opposition. And that’s something Venezuela learned. And that’s something Cuba, even Cuba learned. In all Latin America, we can see that. 

In Venezuela, at some point, the regime created their own opposition. And they have been in these dialogues with different political opponents, different variety of the political spectrum. But you never see a solution. Because the regime doesn’t have any incentives to leave power. 

If Maduro wakes up, and he’s like: okay, I’m going, I’m giving up, this is it, you can take Venezuela, Venezuela is free, he knows that he will go to prison, he will have to pay for all the things that he has done, he and the rest of the members of the regime. So he doesn’t have the incentives. I don’t see any solution, you know, I don’t see a solution with a dialog. 

And this is not something new. They try this many, many times. Every single year, they try to sit and discuss and try to dialogue. But I mean, you cannot dialogue with a dictator. You just don’t do that. Because they just don’t have the incentives for that.

Mr. Jekielek: Okay.

Ms. Marty: And the opposition is very socialist, by the way. The opposition in Venezuela still believes that socialism is the way. I call it a vegetarian socialism against the carnivorous socialism of their regime. But they still believe in socialism. They’re political parties from the left. So when we see that damage in the political arena, it’s terrible, because the people are suffering. They’re suffering, and this is not okay. We should stop all these entities, I mean collectivism.

Mr. Jekielek: What do you think free societies can or should do? There’s much less of an appetite for intervention these days, right? There was at one point, for perhaps a lot of very good reasons.

Ms. Marty: Well, I don’t believe in intervention. I don’t think that the solution is to go and try to help a country just like that, because it happened, and it never worked. We have been trying that many times in Latin America and now we’re paying the consequences of those interventions. 

I think the solution comes from inside the countries. And what kind of solutions we have and what can we do? Well, we see many think tanks, for example, the Civil Society, the media, we need to find vehicles to promote these ideas and tell everyone about the importance of a free societies, of open societies, of free markets, and the great results we can achieve when we just let the individuals do, just do, just go and create, and innovate, and work and be themselves and live their lives the way they want.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, Antonella Marty, such a pleasure to have you on again.

Ms. Marty: Thank you so much. The pleasure is mine, thank you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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