- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I have to respond to an ill-informed attack (“Strike Two for Ozzie Guillen,” Commentary, April 12) by Humberto Fontova that associated me with apologists for Fidel Castro. The attack was based on a picture taken in 1995 when Fidel Castro came to the Wall Street Journal, where I worked covering Latin America for 12 years.

It is true that at that meeting, arranged by the Journal’s publisher, I shook the dictator’s hand and asked him to sign an old Life magazine that a fellow editorialist at the Journal gave me just before the meeting. It’s also true that following the meeting at the Journal, I was invited to another meeting with Castro at the home of Mort Zuckerman, at which I was rebuked by my host for asking a critical question to Castro about his dictatorship. About that meeting and the media personalities who attended I wrote in the Journal:

“What they possibly could have gained from treating this killer shark as if he were a kindly, slightly confused uncle is hard to fathom.”

In fact, Mr. Fontova quoted from my article without noting I wrote it, when I described Diane Sawyer’s affectionate embrace of Castro. Prior to that article, I published many more about the brutality of the Castro regime, including several by Armando Valladaras, Oretes Lorenzo, Carlos Alberto Montaner and many other Castro critics, all of whom could testify to my steadfast opposition to the Castro regime. I visited Cuba in 1994 and wrote several pieces about the dictatorship, the essence of which can be summed up by a Cuban farmer I met outside of Pinar del Rio:

” ‘Tell me, why don’t you gringos invade the island?’ asks one 45-year-old who works on a state farm. ‘In 1959 it wouldn’t have worked, because too many people supported the revolution. But today 95 percent of the people would support an invasion to get rid of … .’ Rather than finishing, he pulls on an imaginary beard, a common gesture for referring to Fidel Castro. All agree. I’m invited to play dominoes, but say I have to move on to interview more people. ‘Why?’ I’m asked by the 60-year-old host of the group. ‘You’ll just hear more of the same thing.’ He’s right.”

A journalist who writes, edits and reports on Fidel Castro as I have cannot be accused of being “smitten” with Castro, as Mr. Fontova alleged. Do I regret smiling at the dictator as I shook his hand in 1995? Yes, absolutely. Do I regret 12 years of nonstop attacks on the Castro regime, which murdered so many innocents and enslaved a nation? Absolutely not.

DAVID ASMAN

Fox News Host and former editorial features editor of the Wall Street Journal

New York