Mexico City — Fidel Castro was a remarkably lucky dictator. Unlike many — Romania’s Ceausescu and Libya’s Qaddafi come to mind — he wasn’t executed by his own people and instead died in bed at age 90. During the Cuban missile crisis, he wrung a secret promise from the U.S. that it would never invade Cuba. He then survived dozens of assassination attempts by the Kennedy administration until a Castro sympathizer named Lee Harvey Oswald put a stop to them and to the life of President Kennedy in 1963.
Castro ruled for another 45 years after that, until his retirement in 2008, persecuting dissidents, jailing gays, and murdering opponents. Even after he turned power over to his brother Raul, Fidel continued to be feted and admired by world leaders. Few dictators could have collected the kind of respectful foreign tributes that poured in from Western countries after his death last Friday.
Here in Mexico, which harbored the young revolutionary Castro and provided the launching pad for his return to Cuba in 1956, the response from government officials was pathetic. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto called Castro a friend of Mexico who had promoted bilateral relationships based on “respect, dialogue, and solidarity.”
Miguel Angel Mancera, the head of government in Mexico City, also expressed solidarity with Fidel on his Twitter account: “Death of an icon of history, Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Revolution, go with the people of Cuba in their mourning. Rest in peace #MM”
But none of the Mexican officials descended to the depths of Jill Stein, leader of America’s Green party. She took time off fundraising to launch recounts of this month’s presidential election to tweet her homage: “Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!”
EU Leader Jean-Claude Juncker added to the encomia, tweeting, “With the death of #FidelCastro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.”
Then there was Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. The 46-year-old leader fondly recalled that his father, Pierre, when he was prime minister, had frequently visited with Castro. The younger Trudeau lauded Castro for supposed advances in health care, education, and literacy and described him as “a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century.” He confesses that he felt “deep sorrow” at Castro’s death, adding, “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.’”
Such willful blindness spurred other Twitter users to launch the tag #trudeaueulogies to mock the clueless Canadian leader.
“While controversial, Darth Vader achieved great heights in space construction & played a formative role in his son’s life,” quipped Jason Markusoff, a correspondent for Canada’s Maclean’s magazine.
Canadian sports commentator Mike Hogan added: “Today we mourn the loss of Norman Bates, a family man who was truly defined by his devotion to his mother.”
Australian news columnist Rita Panahi wrote, “Although flawed, Hitler was a vegetarian who loved animals, was a contributor to the arts & proud advocate for Germany.”
Trudeau’s comments infuriated Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the former chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee. Ros-Lehtinen had to flee Cuba as a small child with her family after Castro’s takeover. Speaking on CNN, she directly addressed Trudeau:
I’ve been reading his sickening love letter to dead Fidel Castro and I’m thinking, ‘Sure, you did not lose a loved one to an execution squad. You did not lose a loved one to the gulags in Cuba. . . . The only thing that Fidel has been successful in has not been health or education, or human rights or democracy, it’s been holding on to power — which is easy to do when you don’t have elections.
The debate over Castro will rage on, but arguments over him should take account of how unusual a dictator he was. My colleague Andrew Stuttaford has noted at NRO that during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Castro wanted to start a nuclear war. He urged Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to launch a first strike against the United States. In a letter, Khrushchev felt compelled to talk his ally off the ledge thusly:
Cuba would have burned in the fires of war. . . . We struggle against imperialism, not in order to die, but to draw on all of our potential, to lose as little as possible, and later to win more, so as to be a victor and make Communism triumph.
For all of Castro’s ranting about the exploitive nature of capitalism, it takes a truly mercenary mind to come up with the schemes his regime employed to garner hard currency.
Lastly, for all of Castro’s ranting about the exploitive nature of capitalism, it takes a truly mercenary mind to come up with the schemes his regime employed to garner hard currency — from drug-running, to assassinations to, well, vampiric behavior. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported in 1966 that 166 Cuban prisoners were executed on a single day in May of that year. But before they were killed, they were forced to undergo the forced extraction of an average of seven pints of blood from their bodies. This blood was sold to Communist Vietnam at a rate of $50 per pint. Those who underwent the bloodletting suffered cerebral anemia and a state of unconsciousness and paralysis. But that didn’t stop the executions; the victims were carried on a stretcher to the killing field where they were then shot.
Luckily, to our knowledge, such atrocities aren’t carried out in Cuba anymore. But the evil that the old vampire Fidel perpetrated over a span of five decades should be remembered even as credulous Western leaders continue to look the other way and ignore the malevolence he represented.