Fidel Castro: How will the world remember the Cuban dictator?
“The death of Fidel Castro is the perfect Rorschach test for our times,” said Ryu Spaeth in NewRepublic.com. For some on the Left, his demise at age 90 last week marked the tragic passing of a revolutionary hero: a romantic, cigar-chomping Cuban legend who stuck it to the U.S. for five decades and proved “that a ragtag band of guerrillas could overthrow the Western Hemisphere’s hegemon.” As Cuba announced nine days of mourning for its Maximum Leader, tributes to Castro poured in from around the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin called him “a strong and wise man,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was a “larger-than-life leader who served his people,” and a more muted President Obama said Castro was a “singular leader” who “altered the course...of the Cuban nation.” For us Cubans who were forced to flee his despotic regime for the U.S., “there is no RIP for Castro, just good riddance,” said Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald.This Soviet-backed tyrant executed 6,000 opponents, tortured and jailed thousands of homosexuals and other “unpardonables,” forced more than 1 million Cubans to flee their beloved island, and dragged the world to the brink of nuclear war. That’s why Miami’s Little Havana erupted in celebration when it heard of Castro’s death, with exiles and their U.S.-born children and grandchildren dancing in the streets. “It feels as if an evil curse—the heaviest of weights—has been lifted.”
Clearly, Castro’s Cuba never qualified “as an objectively free society,” said Belén Fernández in AlJazeera.com. But Castro was not the “communist menace” that his Western enemies claimed. After overthrowing the hated U.S.-backed dictator Gen. Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he instigated a period of wealth redistribution and government spending that made Cuba’s state-run health-care and education systems the envy of Latin America and beyond. While nothing justifies his authoritarianism, “Castro had good reason to be paranoid,” said DeWayne Wickham in USA Today. President John F. Kennedy landed 1,400 CIA-trained Cuban exiles at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961 in a failed attempt at regime change. And the CIA kept trying to kill Castro, conducting as many as 638 assassination attempts over the next 40 years. Critics hate that Castro “forever bedeviled America.” But he remains a hero elsewhere, especially in Africa, where 36,000 Cuban troops played a crucial role in defeating the forces of apartheid South Africa stationed in Angola.
Castro’s anti-Americanism is the real reason that leftists love him, said NationalReview.comin an editorial. Self-hating Westerners don’t care that Fidel’s regime impoverished and brutalized the Cuban people, shooting some in the water as they tried to escape the island gulag. What matters to the apologists is that Castro defied “the yanqui colossus.” Castro’s fellow travelers have also bought into the myth that Cuba’s health care has been a great boon for the country, when in reality the system has three distinct tiers: the top two for celebrities, tourists, and officials and a third dismal tier for everyone else. Ordinary Cubans have to take their own bedsheets, soap, and toilet paper to Cuba’s filthy, crumbling hospitals. For Americans still tempted to don a Fidel T-shirt, I suggest they read up on 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, said John Avlon in TheDailyBeast.com. During the standoff between Moscow and Washington, Castro urged Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to launch a first nuclear strike against the U.S., an attack that would have murdered millions of Americans. “How does that T-shirt feel now?”
Sadly, El Comandante’s death will change little in Cuba, said Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. Illness forced Fidel to step aside for his brother, Raúl, in 2006, and the regime has “shown no signs of letting up its repression.” Activists continue to be jailed and silenced, even though President Obama restored diplomatic relations with Havana in 2014 after five decades of U.S.-Cuba estrangement. But Castro’s death does offer “the chance to flood Cuba with American ideas and values,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. Thanks to Obama’s diplomatic thaw, Cuba is opening up: Passenger planes and cruise ships now travel between Havana and Miami, and American businesses are eagerly pursuing Cuban projects. Our profit-loving next president could hasten the Cuban regime’s demise by continuing this business engagement. Yet spurred on by conservative hard-liners, Donald Trump this week threatened to reverse Obama’s executive actions on business and travel unless Raúl Castro makes “a better deal” giving Cubans political freedom. A half century of U.S. hostility solidified Fidel’s brutal regime, and if Trump restores those Cold War–era policies, he’ll help only one Cuban: “Raúl Castro, who will be all too happy to play David to Trump’s Goliath.”