A commentator on MSNBC referred to him as “a polarizing figure.” Indeed. At one pole we find folks blinded by their love for socialism, and at the other, those of us believing in fundamental human rights.
Fidel Castro, the dictator of Cuba for more than half a century, is dead.
The New York Times called him a “fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader.”
Maximum leader? A euphemism at time of death is one thing, but a dictator is still a tyrant is still an autocrat is still the next worst thing to the Devil himself.
The Washington Post offered a much different tone, declaring Fidel “one of the world’s most repressive leaders.”
“Although Castro was beloved by a legion of followers,” The Post acknowledged, “detractors saw him as a repressive leader who turned Cuba into a de facto gulag.”
At Gulag Central, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Cuban dictator a “strong and wise man.” Chinese President Xi Jinping lauded el Jefe Maximo de la Revolucion as a “great figure in our times and history.”
Great, perhaps . . . but for good or ill?
Many on the American left — especially in Hollywood — are surprisingly enamored of Castro, and the “accomplishments” of his socialist paradise.
Actor Jack Nicholson called Fidel “a genius.” Model Naomi Campbell exuberantly declared Mr. Castro, “A dream come true.” And according to Hollywood director Oliver Stone, El Caballo is “Very selfless and moral. One of the world’s wisest men.”
Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson once explained that, “Castro is the most honest and courageous politician I’ve ever met.” Emmy award-winning filmmaker Saul Landau, who has produced documentaries on Cuba under Castro, argued that the dictator “has brought a greater equality in terms of wealth distribution than I guess any country in the world today.”
During the recent campaign, Hillary Clinton took Bernie Sanders to task for his seemingly pro-Castro sentiments. In a comment back in 1985, the Vermont socialist offered that, "Everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world," and added, “They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed the society.”
An older and perhaps wiser Sen. Sanders was forced to admit: “Cuba is, of course, an authoritarian, undemocratic country and I hope very much, as soon as possible, it becomes a democratic country.”
“But on the other hand,” Bernie reiterated, “it would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in healthcare, they are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education.”
I guess we must all, per our own moral and ethical standards, weigh whatever advances were made in education and healthcare against Mr. Castro’s faults.
Those include, as The Times article details: “Foreign-born priests were exiled, and local clergy were harassed so much that many closed their churches. . . . He established a sinister system of local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution that set neighbors to informing on neighbors. Thousands of dissidents and homosexuals were rounded up and sentenced to either prison or forced labor. And although blacks were welcomed into the cities, Mr. Castro’s government remained overwhelmingly white.”
The article notes additional blemishes: “Despite worldwide condemnation of his actions, Mr. Castro clamped down on a fledgling democracy movement, jailing anyone who dared to call for free elections. He also cracked down on the nucleus of an independent press, imprisoning or harassing Cuban reporters and editors.”
Fidel Castro’s death reminds me of Irving Berlin’s witty and raucous jazz number about German dictator Adolf Hitler, When That Man is Dead and Gone:
What a day to wake up on
What a way to greet the dawn
Some fine day the news’ll flash
Satan with a small mustache
Is asleep beneath the lawn
When that man is dead and gone
Yesterday morning, in south Florida, home-away-from-home for so many Cuban Americans, that news finally flashed – followed by jubilation. Horns were honking. Smiles and cheers and songs broke out. Jigs were danced.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz— that dictator, the person who imprisoned and murdered many seeking freedom — is dead and gone.
For now, sadly, his brand of tyranny remains in Cuba through his dictator brother, Raúl Castro. But its days, too, are numbered.