Comment: The romance of Castro and the death of a dictator

The Castro regime is a remnant of a bygone era of big men running small countries whose citizens must hang on their every word, their five-hour speeches, their cults of personality.

November 26, 2016 18:28
4 minute read.

File picture of Fidel Castro smoking a cigar during interview with the press in Havana. (photo credit: REUTERS)

He played basketball and baseball.  He liked to wear two Rolex watches on the same hand. He smoked regal cigars. El comandante. The revolutionary. He is dead.  He was 90 years old.  Those born when he came to power are now 59 years old.

“Ever onward, to victory!” Raul Castro announced the death of his brother of Fidel, wearing a military uniform, the kind that the permanent revolutionary Fidel had made popular as “chief commander of the Cuban revolution.” Many other politicians around the world chimed in as well. “Today the world lost iconic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro who liberated his nation from all vestiges of imperialism,” Pakistani politician Imran Khan wrote. Narendra Modi called the old leader “iconic.”

The admiration for Fidel Castro seems to come from all over the world. Imran Khan eulogized him. BBC’s World Affairs Editor John Simpson reputedly claimed that in his death Castro left us all “poorer.”  He left his country poorer as well. Cuba deserved to be one of the more successful countries in Latin America. But in the late 1990s, women were trading sex for food to wealthy tourists. People often couldn’t leave the island prison. “After so many decades of oppression the tyrant Castro is dead and a new beginning can finally dawn on Cuba and its people,” US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtnen tweeted.

“Iconic” is the banal world that seems to symbolize an easy remembrance for a pivotal and complex person. Born in 1926, Castro’s early attempts to overthrow Cuban president Fulgencio Batista didn’t auger well. A 1953 attack on an army barracks resulted in most of Castro’s force of 165 being dispersed, dozens of them killed or executed. The comandante was imprisoned, only to try again in 1956. Leaving Mexico with 81 men aboard the ship Granma in 1956, his operation met with another disaster.  But somehow with only 19 men, among them the handsome, and perhaps more iconic, Che Guevara, and his brother Raul, Castro built up a guerilla force that took Havana in January of 1959.

The revolutionary, who admired past Cuban patriots such as Jose Marti, was able to style himself as fighting against “imperialism” because this was the bon ton of the era. Throughout the world, revolutionaries, generalissimos, terrorists and thugs were all fighting imperialism under a blood-soaked banner. To fight imperialism often meant installing the exact same method of rule, but with more brutality, than the previous regime, similar to what happened with the Iranian revolution. Replacing Batista, who was accused of extrajudicial killings and dictatorship in Cuba, Castro and his allies immediately set about abolishing opposition parties, and imprisoning dissidents, with many being executed.

Castro was bolstered by the fact that the US sought to return Cuba to its orbit, training and aiding Cuban exiles who led the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. The Cold War sealed Cuba’s fate, like it did so many countries. Once aligned with the Soviet bloc and other dictators such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, it had to stay there until the USSR fell. The romance of revolution guided Castro and allies such as Che to engage in their own kind of imperialistic anti-imperialist wars in Africa and Latin America. Tens of thousands of Cubans served in the Angolan civil war. Che died in Bolivia in 1967. Even as Cuba stagnated and rotted from the inside, it’s internationalism kept its mythological face clean abroad. Hundreds of thousands of Cuban doctors were sent abroad to South America and Africa. The success of this medical mission was a “shame” to the US blockade, The Guardian wrote in 2014. If it was such a shame, why did 1,278 Cuban medical personnel defect to the US between 2013 and 2014, according to The New York Times? Around 4,000 defected between 2006 and 2014. Nurses were only being paid $40 a month while on assignment abroad, more than the $20 monthly wage in Cuba.

This is the real face of the Castro regime which has now ruled for almost 60 years. People who were young when the “icon” came to power are now in old age, or have passed away.  For those commentators in the UK and France who say this is a revolution, if they like one family rule and $20 a month wages, why don’t they institute this revolution of modern day feudalism for their own countries? The Castro regime is a remnant of a bygone era of big men running small countries whose citizens must hang on their every word, their five-hour speeches, their cults of personality. When we hear Bashar al-Assad speak about fighting “imperialism” today, we hear the same excuse for brutal repression based on fighting a straw man. It’s the same excuse that drove nepotistic bully Hugo Chavez, who destroyed Venezuela and forced it’s people to wait in line for basic food items. Don’t be deceived by these militaristic, nepotistic dictators whose only fight against imperialism means installing their own brand of it. There is no “imperialism” to struggle against. For every dictator fighting mythological enemies, why can’t their citizens enjoy the same rights as people do in the US or in democracies such as India or South Africa? Democracy may be a flawed system, but the right to free speech, the right to multi-party elections, is better than having one family run your country, even if that family smokes cigars and plays baseball. 

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