… With the presence of Fidel Castro.
I wish I could say I was surprised by the tributes pouring into Cuba from world leaders who really should know better, now that Fidel Castro is dead. Apparently, Castro was a great man, who did a lot for social justice – which tells us all we need to know about ‘social justice’ – a great moral and spiritual leader who will be sorely missed. World leaders, intellectuals, anarchists … they unite in praise of Castro …
And that tells us all we need to know about them too.
The simple truth is that Fidel Castro was a monster.
Like many other dictators, Castro adopted the language of communism and socialism as a mask to hide his true nature. His sole goal was to take and hold power as long as possible – everything he did, in Cuba, was designed to uphold his primacy. He enriched himself and his inner circle, while countless innocent civilians starved to death or risked their lives to flee an island that, like so many other dictatorships, could justly be called a prison camp above ground and a mass grave below. Under Castro, Cuba became a police state where people could be locked up for daring to speak out against the regime, an island now divided between two economies – one for the rich foreign tourists and one for the rest of the population.
Castro’s crimes and atrocities – some call them excesses – are often excused by his worshippers, few of whom have ever lived under tyranny or seen the real Cuba. To them, Castro’s credentials – leader of a successful socialist uprising, defeater of a right-wing dictatorship, crusher of multiple (and farcical) US attempts to assassinate him and overthrow his regime – provide all the burnishing his narrative needs. No reasonable person can possibly believe that Castro’s savage repression of his own people, even after the end of the Cold War, was justified. Unlike other post-WW2 dictatorships – South Korea, Taiwan – Cuba was never allowed to develop a free market economy. Instead, Castro doubled down on failure, creating a hellish nightmare for his subjects. And subjects they were, because none of them were ever offered a choice.
One may argue that Cuba’s internal affairs are Cuba’s own business. But Castro was not content to remain within his borders. Cuban fingerprints can be found across the world, from troops in Africa fighting pointless wars to support for Castro’s fellow socialist regime in Venezuela (now suffering social collapse as the impact of socialism becomes unavoidable) and, worst of all, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro played a major role in laying the groundwork for nuclear war, a war that would have claimed Cuba as its first victim. It would not have been the last. Nor did Castro have the sense to back down when it became clear that matters had gotten out of hand. His brinkmanship nearly took the world to war.
Indeed, the well-being of his own people was always low on his list of priorities. Much has been made about Cuba’s health service, but Cuba has dispatched vast numbers of doctors overseas (thus creating a shortage back home) and refused to fund proper supply and procurement systems. Simple items like aspirin are like gold, to the average Cuban … if, of course, they can find them.
Castro was no George Washington or Nelson Mandela. Both of them chose to leave power, even though they might have been able to keep it for far longer; both of them, although flawed, chose to work for the good of their people. Castro, by contrast, was solely concerned with himself. There was no attempt to draw in talented newcomers, let alone start a gradual shift to democracy. Instead, Castro remained firmly in power until ill-health finally took its toll. About the only good thing that can be said about Castro is that he allowed a transfer of power – onto healthier shoulders, at least – before his final meeting with death.
This was not inevitable. A true patriot could have accomplished much, first by developing the rule of law and then allowing the growth of a genuine middle class. Cuba has remarkable potential, far more than just a tourist spot in the middle of the Caribbean. And yet, Castro was unwilling to accept the threat to his power this would have – inevitably – caused. Given a chance to turn Cuba into a shining star, Castro chose – instead – to go for nightmare. And he was hellishly successful.
I would not care to utter any predictions about Cuba’s future, now that Castro is gone. His brother – the sitting president – is unlikely to rock the boat, despite Barrack Obama’s pathetic attempts to burnish his legacy by reaching out to Cuba. Such regimes are often prisons for the wealthy and powerful as well as the peasants in the fields. But Cubans are no less intelligent than any other nationality. The discrepancies between what they’re being told and the truth in front of their eyes are glaringly obvious. How long will it be before Cuba collapses into civil war?
Castro’s legacy, therefore, is a ticking time bomb a mere three hundred miles from the United States. But his legions of fans and admirers are not the ones who will have to deal with the problems, nor are they the ones who will starve (or be raped or killed) when the country finally falls apart. They will go on believing Castro’s lies even as utter darkness falls across his country.
For many, death comes too soon; for Castro, it came too late.