Maggie Gallagher

Nineteen fifty-nine was a long time ago. That year, Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states; Grammy award winners included Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

On Jan. 1, 1959, Fidel Castro became the head of the Cuban government. "Only Queen Elizabeth, crowned in 1952, has been a head of state longer," notes The Associated Press.

The news this week that the 79-year-old had handed over the reins of power, even temporarily, due to surgery for intestinal bleeding, was met by dancing in the streets of Miami's Little Havana.

"We are seeing the end of this 50-year-old, almost 50-year-old, terrorist regime," U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican of Cuban descent (who is related by marriage to Castro's family), told Miami television station WSVN.

"That regime is evil," Nelly Vazquez, 49, a Miami schoolteacher whose parents brought her to the United States when she was 3 years old, told Reuters. "They murdered a lot of people."

Someday someone -- a sociologist perhaps, or maybe a psychiatrist -- will write the complete history of the role this tiny country of 11 million played in the consciousness of the West. For most of my life Cuba was a cause celebre of the left. In recent years, that has slowly changed, mostly because the Czech Republic has taken to championing the cause of human rights in Cuba.

"After the fall of communism, it became our natural duty to help people in countries where they have authoritarian or totalitarian regimes," Czech ambassador to the U.S. Petr Kolar (a former janitor who was banned from a university for failing to join the Communist Party) told The Miami Herald. "We remember how important it was to be supported from outside."

Many in the West have never stopped buying Castro's improbable claim that communism and political repression brought prosperity to the Cuban people. But Czech supermodel Helena Houdova was recently arrested by Cuban police after taking photos of Cuban slums (she smuggled out the camera's memory card in her bra).

"The revolution's watchmen rose up because I was taking pictures of something they do not like," the 1999 Miss Czech Republic said at the time.

For these kinds of efforts, a May 9 editorial in Cuba's Communist Party newspaper denounced the Czechs as "salaried puppets of the imperial circles of power in the United States and of the anti-Cuban Miami terrorist mafia."

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.