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'Confessions Of A Cuban Boy' Author Talks About Life As A Cuban Refugee


We're hearing reaction today to the death of Fidel Castro. He overthrew a dictator in 1959 and was hailed as a national hero. But he held on to power with repression and brutality, jailing former friends, sentencing dissidents to forced labor. He turned countless Cuban families upside down and created two generations of exiles.

Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba in 1962. He wrote a celebrated memoir of his childhood, "Waiting For Snow In Havana." Professor Eire of Yale University joins us now from Connecticut. Carlos, thanks so much for being with us.


CARLOS EIRE: Thank you for inviting me to be on your show, Scott. It's great to talk to you.

SIMON: How do your years of exile shape your views of Fidel Castro today?

EIRE: Well, nothing has changed since even before I left Cuba. Even as a 10-year-old boy, I felt someone was trying to steal my mind, my heart, my soul. And there was one man behind it. And it was Fidel Castro. So my view hasn't changed. It's just the fact that he held on for so many years.

SIMON: But let me ask...

EIRE: All of the evil that he represents for me is kind of hard to put into words.


SIMON: But Carlos, aren't there are a lot of Cubans who believe that Fidel Castro was responsible for giving them free, quality health care and nearly universal literacy?

EIRE: I'm not sure about many. We don't know because there's no real polling down there. I think the fact that 20 percent of Cuban population lives in exile says something. The health care is not everything it's touted to be.

There are actually two systems, one for the Communist Party members and one for everyone else. And that's very, very bad. And education is not education. It's indoctrination. Plus, it's not free because every school child has to spend his or her summer doing slave labor in agricultural camps.

SIMON: When President Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba a couple years ago, you wrote a piece for The Washington Post. I'm going to quote a line that you wrote. Quote, "I am furious, in pain and deeply offended by those who laud this portrayal of the Cuban people as a great moment in history." Is that still your feeling, or are you reconciled?

EIRE: Oh, yeah. It only deepened with the passage of time because, exactly as I suspected, repression has increased in Cuba since December 17, 2014, when the announcement was made. So, no, things only got worse. And this policy set in place by President Obama is nothing more than a total license for the Castro regime to act with impunity within the island itself.

SIMON: What about the idea, Carlos, that the old way wasn't working with an embargo and limited contact between the two countries?

EIRE: The new way has made things worse. The old way was working in one sense. And that - it was setting place for containment of the damage that the Castro regime could do to the United States. And one of the largest mistakes made by the Obama administration, which was intentional - it wasn't - they didn't think it was a mistake.

But it was taking Cuba off the list of terror-sponsoring states. Cuba is still a terror-sponsoring nation. So the embargo was set in place for containment primarily. And the second reason - the immediate reason - back in 1960 was the fact that the...

SIMON: We just got about 10 seconds left.

EIRE: OK. All the property that the Castro regime stole remains stolen. And people who lost that property, especially American firms, remain unrecompensed.

SIMON: Carlos Eire, professor of history and religious studies at Yale, thanks so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.