Published August 1969 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Conflict in Cuba A number of Black Panthers have fled to Communist Cuba in recent months, falsely believing they would find a paradise for their radical way of life. What they found, instead, was a Communist country dedicated to preaching only the party line, and their experiences in Cuba should serve to remind us of the liberty we enjoy. “The Panthers have not been treated in a revolutionary fashion,” Raymond Johnson revealed recently. The 22-year old Black Panther went to Cuba by hijacking an airliner, a frequent mode of travel for those seeking refuge on Castro's island. Johns, who said he spent 21 days in jail upon landing in Havana, noted that “every Black Panther I know” has asked permission to leave. At least 10 Panthers are currently in Cuba, and most of them were jailed shortly after arriving in the country. Authorities report that all of them have been imprisoned at some point during their stay in Cuba. Oddly enough, the only Panther permitted to leave the island has been Eldridge Cleaver. As Black Panther Minister of Information, Cleaver has sufficient rank to leave what Castro refers to as "a classless society." The other Panthers lack cabinet rank and, according to Johnson, are "condemned to live in Cuba." He added that, following the initial imprisonment, subsequent arrests “come when the Panthers become disenchanted and after they protest conditions and express a desire to leave Cuba." When Cleaver and Johnson left the United States, they both said they were fleeing a racist society. The fact is that they and most of their fellow Panthers were not running away from racism, but rather from possible convictions as parole violators. It is ironical that they ran headlong into Cuban' jails, without the benefit of any semblance of a trial. Johnson expressed his disillusionment because he said he wanted people in America to be aware of the Cuban situation. However, the vast majority of Americans have been aware of the situation in Cuba for some time. The fact that almost six percent of the Cuban population has fled the island since 1961 to come to America is an ominous reminder of the oppression that invariably follows Communist takeover of a country. It is not too much to assume that the Black Panthers now living in Cuba are beginning to appreciate the American way of life. They turned their backs on America, however, and, as far as I am concerned, their departure can best be summed up in two words: Good riddance!