National Security & Defense

Fidel Castro: The Death of a Tyrant

Fidel Castro at a May Day celebration in 2004 (Reuters photo: Rafael Perez)

The headline over the Associated Press story read, “Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Who Defied U.S. for 50 Years, Dies at 90.” Actually, he defied it for closer to 60 years, in that his regime is still going. In any case, the headline expressed a view of Castro that many people have, all over the world: Castro as defier of the yanqui colossus and its imperialism. But that is a U.S.-centric view. Oddly, Cubans tend to view Castro as their dictator.

Or former dictator, or, now, late dictator. Their current dictator is the younger Castro brother, Raúl.

The Castros and their compadres fought their revolution in the 1950s and triumphed on New Year’s Day 1959. Many good and democratic Cubans hailed them at the Hotel Nacional in Havana. They were hoping for a better, and more democratic, day. And they had been promised one.

Yet the Castros, Che Guevara, and that gang quickly turned the island into something all too familiar in the world: a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. People streamed out of the country, if they were able. One of them was Juanita Castro, who had fought alongside her brothers.

Explaining her defection, she said, “I could not remain indifferent to what is happening in my country. My brothers Fidel and Raúl have made it an enormous prison surrounded by water.”

Cuba was quickly impoverished, of course. There is an old joke about socialism: If the Eskimos adopted it, they would soon have to import ice. Well, Cuba, for a while, had to import sugar.

In an interesting touch, Fidel Castro banned Christmas, from 1969 to 1998. Absolute dictators can do that. Cuba was, among other things, Fidel’s personal fiefdom. And it was a “republic of fear,” to borrow a phrase from Kanan Makiya, who used it to describe Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Many Cubans were too afraid to utter Castro’s name. They gestured toward their chin, indicating a beard.

He and his gang killed tens of thousands, surely. The exact number is hard to pin down. Maria Werlau and her colleagues, at their Cuba Archive, have done noble and conscientious work. Over the years of the Castro regime, 1 million Cubans have gone into exile. Some Cubans have been shot in the water, in their attempts to flee.

On one day — July 13, 1994 — there was an infamous massacre, the Tugboat Massacre: Castro’s forces killed 37 would-be escapees, most of them children and their mothers.

What kind of regime does this? What kind of regime would rather kill people, in cold blood, than see them leave? Than see them have a free life? The Castro regime, and it has been very popular, though not in Cuba.

Fidel Castro was the most popular dictator in the free and democratic world. Stalin lost his luster after the Secret Speech in 1956. Mao lost his luster, or some of it, in the wake of honest accounts of his rule (by his doctor, Li Zhisui, for example). Ho rode high for a while, but not after the reeducation camps and boat people.

But Castro? In 2002, Carole King, the American singer-songwriter, crooned to him her hit song “You’ve Got a Friend.” He certainly did, a great many of them.

Why did they love him? Why do they still? For one thing, they see him as that defier of the yanqui colossus. But also, they have bought, and propagated, three myths: that the dictatorship has been good for literacy, good for health care, and good for black people (“Afro-Cubans”). All of this is untrue. All of it has been thoroughly debunked.

But, as Armando Valladares says, “What if it were true? Don’t people have literacy and so on in countries that are not cruel dictatorships?”

Valladares was a prisoner in the Castros’ gulag for 22 years. In 1986, he wrote the memoir Against All Hope, earning him a designation: “the Cuban Solzhenitsyn.” That book and others punctured the lies of the Cuban regime. One of the others was Before Night Falls (1993), the memoir by Reinaldo Arenas. It was made into a movie, and an opera, too. Then in 2012 there was the amazingly honest movie Una noche (One Night).

Mainly, however, the Castros’ fog machine prevailed. And opinion leaders in free countries remained indifferent to Cuban suffering, when not outright supportive of the dictatorship. Jeane Kirkpatrick once called this “a puzzling and profoundly painful phenomenon of our times.”

The elder Castro dictator has died in bed at a very ripe old age: 90. This is a fate that he denied to many, many people, who were his victims.

Men who rose to the very top of their democratic countries admired and loved Fidel Castro. Pierre Trudeau was one of them. He asked Castro to be an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. He made the same request of Jimmy Carter. Carter and Castro met at that funeral, which took place in 2000, and this began a relationship between them. When Castro died, Carter said, “Rosalynn and I share our sympathies with the Castro family and the Cuban people on the death of Fidel Castro. We remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country.”

Bear in mind that Castro’s “love of his country” drove a million of his fellow Cubans out of it.

Trudeau’s son, the current prime minister of Canada, Justin, was even more effusive than Carter. He said,

It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.

Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.

This assessment is nothing less than repulsive. Prime Minister Trudeau has apparently never met a detractor of Castro’s, for they do not recognize the late dictator’s tremendous dedication, love, etc.

Admirers of Fidel Castro around the world have one thing in common: They never had to live under his dictatorship. That is true of the famous (Gabriel García Márquez) and the unknown (any number of professors on American campuses).

The Castro regime and its supporters have a name for Cuban democrats and dissidents: “gusanos,” meaning worms. These Cubans are the best and the bravest, of course. Let’s name three of the dead: Oswaldo Payá, Laura Pollán, Orlando Zapata. And three of the living: O​scar Biscet, Juan Carlos González Leiva, Berta Soler.

For 40 years, the Castro regime was sustained by the Soviet Union. Then, when this superpower collapsed, Western European governments and others filled the gap. Then came Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, funneling oil wealth to Havana. Then, when chavista Venezuela collapsed, President Obama threw a lifeline to the Castros, in the form of unilateral recognition.

The Castro dictatorship is not only one of the oldest dictatorships in the world, it is probably the luckiest.

#related#The elder Castro dictator has died in bed at a very ripe old age: 90. This is a fate that he denied to many, many people, who were his victims. He was a boot stamping on the human face. There are others to do the stamping.

A headline in the (London) Telegraph read, “The Death of Fidel Castro, Socialist Leader of the Third World, Also Marks the End of 20th Century Communism.” Unfortunately, Raúl is still going strong in Havana. His forces violently arrested a slew of human-rights advocates the other day. As they were carted off, they tried to form the letter “L” with their fingers: “L” for Libertad, Liberty.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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