Good riddance to Cuba’s brutal Big Brother – Carlos Eire

Fidel Castro

Carlos EireDeceit was one of Fidel Castro’s greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world’s greatest frailties. – Prof Carlos Eire

One of the most brutal dictators in modern history has just died. Oddly enough, some will mourn his passing, and many an obituary will praise him. Millions of Cubans who have been waiting impatiently for this moment for more than half a century will simply ponder his crimes and recall the pain and suffering he caused.

Why this discrepancy? Because deceit was one of Fidel Castro’s greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world’s greatest frailties. A genius at myth-making, Castro relied on the human thirst for myths and heroes. His lies were beautiful, and so appealing. According to Castro and to his propagandists, the so-called revolution was not about creating a repressive totalitarian state and securing his rule as an absolute monarch, but rather about eliminating illiteracy, poverty, racism, class differences and every other ill known to humankind. This bold lie became believable, thanks largely to Castro’s incessant boasting about free schools and medical care, which made his myth of the benevolent utopian revolution irresistible to many of the world’s poor.

Many intellectuals, journalists and educated people in the First World fell for this myth, too—though they would have been among the first to be jailed or killed by Castro in his own realm—and their assumptions acquired an intensity similar to that of religious convictions. Pointing out to such believers that Castro imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands more of his own people than any other Latin American dictator was usually futile. His well-documented cruelty made little difference, even when acknowledged, for he was judged according to some aberrant ethical code that defied logic.

This Kafkaesque moral disequilibrium had a touch of magical realism, for sure, as outrageously implausible as anything that Castro’s close friend Gabriel García Márquez could dream up. For instance, in 1998, around the same time that Chile’s ruler Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London for his crimes against humanity, Cuba’s self-anointed “maximum leader” visited Spain with ample fanfare, unmolested, even though his human rights abuses dwarfed those of Pinochet.

Even worse, whenever Castro traveled abroad, many swooned in his presence. In 1995, when he came to New York to speak at the United Nations, many of the leading lights of that city jostled so intently for a chance to meet with him at media mogul Mort Zuckerman’s triplex penthouse on Fifth Avenue that Time magazine declared “Fidel Takes Manhattan!” Not to be outdone, Newsweek called Castro “The Hottest Ticket in Manhattan.” None of the American elites who hobnobbed with Castro that day seemed to care that he had put nuclear weapons to their heads in 1962.

If this were a just world, 13 facts would be etched on Castro’s tombstone and highlighted in every obituary, as bullet points—a fitting metaphor for someone who used firing squads to murder thousands of his own people.

  • He turned Cuba into a colony of the Soviet Union and nearly caused a nuclear holocaust.
  • He sponsored terrorism wherever he could and allied himself with many of the worst dictators on earth.
  • He was responsible for so many thousands of executions and disappearances in Cuba that a precise number is hard to reckon.
  • He brooked no dissent and built concentration camps and prisons at an unprecedented rate, filling them to capacity, incarcerating a higher percentage of his own people than most other modern dictators, including Stalin.
  • He condoned and encouraged torture and extrajudicial killings.
  • He forced nearly 20 percent of his people into exile, and prompted thousands to meet their deaths at sea, unseen and uncounted, while fleeing from him in crude vessels.
  • He claimed all property for himself and his henchmen, strangled food production and impoverished the vast majority of his people.
  • He outlawed private enterprise and labor unions, wiped out Cuba’s large middle class and turned Cubans into slaves of the state.
  • He persecuted gay people and tried to eradicate religion.
  • He censored all means of expression and communication.
  • He established a fraudulent school system that provided indoctrination rather than education, and created a two-tier health-care system, with inferior medical care for the majority of Cubans and superior care for himself and his oligarchy, and then claimed that all his repressive measures were absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of these two ostensibly “free” social welfare projects.
  • He turned Cuba into a labyrinth of ruins and established an apartheid society in which millions of foreign visitors enjoyed rights and privileges forbidden to his people.
  • He never apologized for any of his crimes and never stood trial for them.

In sum, Fidel Castro was the spitting image of Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel 1984 [pdf]. So, adiós, Big Brother, king of all Cuban nightmares. And may your successor, Little Brother, soon slide off the bloody throne bequeathed to him. – The Washington Post, 26 November 2016

» Prof Carlos Eire is from Cuba. He is an author and the T. L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.

2 Responses

  1. Fidel Castro

    Western [and Eastern] leaders’ cowardly refusal to condemn Fidel Castro brings shame upon democracies – Andrew Roberts – The Telegraph – 28 Nov. 2016

    There is a great sickness at the heart of Western [and Eastern] society when its leaders either cannot or will not denounce evil when they see it. It is an unmistakeable sign of decadent, disastrous cultural self-hatred when prominent leaders of democratic countries cannot state openly that evil dictators such as the late President Fidel Castro of Cuba were what they undoubtedly were: serial human rights abusers, torturers and tyrants.

    It is even worse when they hide behind statistics for literacy or healthcare that they must know have been hugely exaggerated—and in some cases entirely invented—by governments still wholly in the hands of a Marxist-Leninist nomenklatura. Unlike so much in modern politics, our collective response to the death of Fidel Castro is indeed a moral issue.

    It is a test that all too many leaders, former leaders and would-be Western [and Eastern] leaders have failed woefully. […]

    [This article is incomplete because we have no subscription to The Telegraph. — Admin]

    See Fidel Castro’s Legacy: An Impoverished Cuba And Inescapable Memories Of Torture – Vikas Saraswat – Swarajya – November 28, 2016

  2. Cuba Political Prisoners

    Fidel Castro and dead utopianism – George F. Will – The Washington Post – Nov 26 2016

    WASHINGTON • With the end of Fidel Castro’s nasty life Friday night, we can hope, if not reasonably expect, to have seen the last of charismatic totalitarians worshiped by political pilgrims from open societies. Experience suggests there will always be tyranny tourists in flight from what they consider the boring banality of bourgeois society and eager for the excitement of sojourns in “progressive” despotisms that they are free to admire and then leave.

    During the 1930s, there were many apologists for Josef Stalin’s brutalities, which he committed in the name of building a workers’ paradise fit for an improved humanity. The apologists complacently said, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” To which George Orwell acidly replied: “Where’s the omelet?” With Castro, the problem was lemonade.

    Soon after Castro seized power in 1959, Jean-Paul Sartre, the French intellectual whose Stalinist politics were as grotesque as his philosophy was opaque, left Les Deux Magots cafe in Paris to visit Cuba. During a drive, he and Castro stopped at a roadside stand. They were served warm lemonade, which Castro heatedly said “reveals a lack of revolutionary consciousness.” The waitress shrugged, saying the refrigerator was broken. Castro “growled” (Sartre’s approving description): “Tell your people in charge that if they don’t take care of their problems, they will have problems with me.” Sartre swooned:

    “This was the first time I understood — still quite vaguely — what I called ‘direct democracy.’ Between the waitress and Castro, an immediate secret understanding was established. She let it be seen by her tone, her smiles, by a shrug of the shoulders, that she was without illusion. And the prime minister … in expressing himself before her without circumlocution, calmly invited her to join the rebellion.”

    Another political innovator, Benito Mussolini, called his regime “ennobled democracy,” and as the American columnist Murray Kempton mordantly noted in 1982, photographs of Castro “cutting sugar cane evoke the bare-chested Mussolini plunged into the battle for wheat.” Castro’s direct democracy was parsimonious regarding elections but permissive of shrugs. It did, however, forbid “acts of public destruction,” meaning criticism of communism.

    This charge condemned Armando Valladares, then 23, to 22 years in Castro’s prisons. Stalin’s terror was too high a price to pay for a great novel, but at least the world got from it Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon.” And although Castro’s regime, saturated with sadism, should never have existed, because of it the world got Valladares’s testament to human endurance, his prison memoir “Against All Hope.” Prison food was watery soup laced with glass, or dead rats, or cows’ intestines filled with feces, and Castro’s agents had special uses for the ditch filled with the sewage from 8,000 people.

    On April 15, 1959, 15 weeks after capturing Havana, Castro, then 32, landed in Washington at what is now Reagan National Airport. He had been in America in 1948, when he studied English and bought a Lincoln. This time, on April 16, in a concession to bourgeois expectations, he dispatched an aide to buy a comb and toothbrush. His connections to communism? “None,” he said. He endorsed a free press as “the first enemy of dictatorship,” and said free elections were coming soon. Then he was off to a Princeton seminar and a lecture in the chapel at Lawrenceville prep school, well received at both places.

    By July red stars were being painted on Cuban military vehicles. Three years later, Soviet ballistic missiles were arriving. A year after that, a Castro admirer murdered the U.S. president whose administration had been interested in, indeed almost obsessed with, removing Castro.

    U.S. flings at “regime change” in distant lands have had, to say no more, uneven results, but the most spectacular futility has been 90 miles from Florida. Castro was the object of various and sometimes unhinged U.S. attempts to remove him. After the Bay of Pigs debacle, the Kennedy administration doubled down with Operation Mongoose, which included harebrained assassination plots and a plan skeptics called “elimination by illumination” — having a U.S. submarine surface in Havana harbor and fire star shells into the night sky to convince Catholic Cubans that the Second Coming had come, causing them to rebel against Castro the anti-Christ. Nevertheless, Castro ruled Cuba during 11 U.S. presidencies and longer than the Soviet Union ruled Eastern Europe.

    Socialism is bountiful only of slogans, and a Castro favorite was “socialism or death.” The latter came to him decades after the former had made Cuba into a gray museum for a dead utopianism.

    >> George Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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