Promoters of Cuba and Communism are Infiltrating America’s Institutions

by | Apr 28, 2024 | America's Adversaries

From Florida and California to Massachusetts and New York, the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) are especially active supporters Cuba and its regime.

Nowhere are YSDA’s moves more aggressive than at Florida International University (FIU).  Located ninety miles from Cuba’s shores, YDSAs actions and connections reveal a wider network of radical regime support in research universities, corporations and nonprofits built up by government funding and its outgrowths during the Cold War.

A Student Organization That Isn’t What it Seems

On the surface, YDSA at FIU is well within the range of typical Liberal-Progressive behavior, mostly because its members stretch the Left idea of “collective liberation” well past specifics. Their events invite “solidarity with nature”; protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade to promote “the fight for our human rights”; and co-sponsor (via one of its members) FIU’s “ERA: Equal Restrooms Access” resolution “to foster inclusivity and equality for all students.” YDSA at FIU is also socially busy. Its members pose with the FIU mascot, and publicize their visits to Flanigan’s, the legendary South Florida family-run restaurant—showing that they’re savvy enough about mainstream American culture to use it to advance their agenda.  

But Cuba is never far from that agenda. A notable recent example was described in detail by Cuba’s state-run newspaper, GRANMA:

The request to lift the criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba gained more followers in the U.S. city of Miami, after a day of celebrations was held from March 8 to 10 on the occasion of International Women’s Day. At Florida International University, about 40 people gathered to make a film debate . . . . The attendees, most of them young university students, converged in pointing out . . . the White House’s genocidal policy towards the Caribbean island . . . some of them also said they were affiliated with the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) . . . .

The YDSA at FIU Instagram account has a picture of this “film debate,” one which takes care to highlight  “lessons for our own conditions in DeSantis’ Florida,” connecting what it calls “the blockade of books in Florida” with “the U.S. Blockade of Cuba.”

YDSA at FIU and the Cuban regime have intersected before. There was also an October 2023 delegation to Cuba under the aegis of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA): the first official, national DSA delegation to the island in history. Though YDSA at FIU hasn’t advertised this fact, the delegation included one of its members, Maria Franzblau, who wrote a report on the experience for the magazine published by Reform & Revolution, “a Marxist caucus of Democratic Socialists of America.”

(READ MORE: Money, Power, and the Human Rights Campaign)

The Lesnik Connection: From Cuba to Miami to California . . .

Another, equally instructive connection between YDSA at FIU and Cuba runs through Max Lesnik, who participated in YDSA’s at FIU’s “film debate” praised in GRANMA. Lesnik, pictured in a photo of the event, has been known in Miami for fifty years. According to The Miami New Times in a 1998 story about him titled “Miami’s Man in Havana”:

Lesnik not only supports lifting the embargo and establishing normal relations with the Castro government, he also describes Fidel Castro as his friend, a companero from the days when both were firebrand law students and members of the same political party… Although Lesnik is modest, if not coy, about his contacts and influence within the Cuban regime, his network…includes…a Castro confidant…and [a] top Communist Party official…who is Lesnik’s second cousin. Says Miami attorney Alfredo Duran, former chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. “…I often use [Lesnick] as a touchstone for getting my bearings on Cuba.” 

Lesnik is a telling case of how groups like YDSA at FIU indirectly connect to broader, mainstream power networks which back the Cuban regime. A notable link is Lesnik’s daughter, Vivien Lesnik Weisman, a documentary filmmaker. Her first film, The Man of Two Havanas, about her Cuban revolutionary father, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and received “the First Coral Award at the Havana International Film Festival.” Her most recent documentary is featured on Itunes and Amazon.

Lesnik Weisman is also on the Board of Directors of Code Pink: Women for Peace, the left-wing, Marina Del Ray-based anti-war nonprofit which focuses heavily on Cuba. In 2022, Code Pink helmed a “humanitarian” venture that involved “sending a cargo plane loaded with 15,000 pounds of powdered milk from Miami to Cuba” in the name of “human rights.” An examination of the itinerary for the trip shows that it lasted several days and included visits with high-level regime academics and officials. It also included discussions to “explore a possible humanitarian project” and tours of an environmental project.

. . . To New York

This Code Pink venturehad the support of the powerful institutional vehicle the People’s Forum. It describes itself as“a movement incubator for working class and marginalized communities to build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad.” The People’s Forum occupies space in New York City near Times Square. From there, the Forum hosts or promotes events like  “Build the Future/Break the Blockade” celebrating Cuba’s revolution and visits to Cuba by more than 150 young leaders. It also hosts events with Pastors for Peace/Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), and The Venceremos Brigade, “as they share their experiences from their most recent travels to Cuba” and “report on the models of housing, healthcare, education that Cuba uses to provide human rights for all people, despite the blockade!”

The People’s Forum, despite these eccentric commitments, is extremely mainstream. It’s received  $12 million from  the Goldman Sachs “donor advised” philanthropy fund. Its education director, Chris Caruso, was for many years the director of New York’s Department of Education’s Office of Community schools under Mayor Bill De Blasio. De Blasio, in turn, has an off-kilter personal history of his own with Cuba.

Caruso now serves as Managing Director of School-Aged Children at Robin Hood, “New York City’s largest poverty-fighting philanthropy.” That charity’s board of directors and funders include centrist Harvard economist Roland Fryer, moderate Republican donor John Overdeck, and Goldman Sachs executive and former Trump Administration official (and the wife of Pennsylvania’s Republican senatorial candidate) Dina Powell McCormick. This is not where radicalism is commonly perceived to live, but it does.

How Communism Got Respectable

How have we gotten to this point—where Goldman Sachs and Republican-supported nonprofits indirectly fund a communist regime? Tracing recent history reveals the frightening convergence of Liberal and Left groups once seemingly opposed to each other. What these groups share, besides commitments to a world run by international administrators in the name of human rights, is an allegiance to the elite university, which serves as their credentialing factory. In turn, this launches them into the world of corporations, media, and nonprofits.

One site of this credentialing is Columbia, from which past Latin American Studies Association presidents Susan Eckstein and Jo-Marie Burt as well as Left-wing activists Bill de Blasio, Chris Caruso, Medea Benjamin, and Vivien Lesnik Weisman received degrees. . Known during its postwar heyday as a center of imperial power, Columbia has made the broader transition to globalist powerhouse. Its public ideology has followed suit.

Other examples sit in the middle of the densest geographical collection of higher education in America: Boston and its environs. These include Boston University, MIT, Harvard, and Tufts, which made for hospitable environments for Carl Oglesby (the founder of Venceremos Brigade and the legendary SDS); Medea Benjamin (who started her activism in SDS); Susan Eckstein; and Adil Najam.

It’s likely not a coincidence that Boston’s city council, whose members include Democratic Socialists with links to MIT as well as Harvard-minted Liberal-Progressives, recently passed a resolution calling for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, despite protests from actual Cubans. Nor is it a coincidence that Massachusetts’ Congressional delegation, which includes former Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, may be the friendliest of its kind in the country to Cuba’s regime.

How to Fight Back

There are ways to fight back. An incoming Republican Administration should continue to leach financial power from globalist universities, as the Trump Administration did, and go further than President Trump did in walking back President Obama’s “re-opening” to Cuba.

But another model of resistance comes from Miami, where Cuban-Americans use forums of all kinds to stop indoctrinations both insidious and direct.

Leaders of the FIU College Republicans have followed the trail of YDSA at FIU’s activities to their links to Cuba. Jovenes De La Resistencia (JAR), a recently-founded Miami organization, led public outcry against Susan Eckstein’s book, pushing FIU to turn Eckstein’s appearance into a debate, where Dr. Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat of the Cuban Democratic Directorate gave rejoinders to Eckstein’s points. The Directorate itself has links to national leaders has firm roots in Miami, where it fights, in Dr. Gutierrez-Boronat’s words, against those operators “regurgitating myths and fallacies concocted by the Castro regime to justify its decades-old dictatorship.”

Here, and elsewhere, Cuban Americans and their allies are showing Americans whom to resist and how—providing an example that’s especially important as Communist China infiltrates our institutions, even as our government extends its hand to the CCP in the name of international cooperation and global causes.

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