R.I.P. Nat Hentoff: We lose a champion of free speech and a friend to Cuba’s oppressed

John Suarez in Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Requiescat in pace Nat Hentoff: Free speech champion and friend to free Cubans

“Means and ends are central. If your means are corroded, your ends will be corroded. And if you’re fighting to preserve liberty and you use means that eviscerate our liberties, the end will be corroded, too.” – Nat Hentoff


Nat Hentoff has passed away at ninety one surrounded by his family listening to Billy Holiday. Friends of freedom feel his loss already. He was a freethinker and steadfast defender of free speech who defied being pigeonholed to a particular party line. He was also an author, music critic, and columnist. As a columnist for the Village Voice the automatic assumption was that he was a radical. This led to Mr. Hentoff being invited to interview Che Guevara when he was at the United Nations at the Cuban mission.Over the decades Nat Hentoff would speak out for Cuban dissidents in his column and challenged those who remained silent, like the American Library Association, when they should have spoken up. He also recognized when those on the Left spoke out for Cuban dissidents as well. When Cubans in the island and in the diaspora despair and claim that no one cares about Cuba they are wrong and Mr. Hentoff is one of those friends of free Cubans that needs to be remembered and honored.

Less than a year ago on March 23, 2016 Nat Hentoff published Obama’s Feckless Defense of Human Rights in Cuba, a column reviewing President Obama’s state visit to Cuba:

Castro was asked about Cuba’s political prisoners by CNN’s Jim Acosta during a joint news conference with President Obama. Castro’s response raised belligerent sarcasm to an art form: “What political prisoners? Give me a name or names, or when, after this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.” Obama stood mute. It would have sent a powerful message to Castro if the president had ticked off a list of Cuba’s remaining political prisoners by name – such as Carlos Manuel Figueroa Alvarez – and demanded that they be released. But sending powerful messages to dictators is not one of Obama’s talents.

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