The Fidel Debate Continues

A negatively-biased article about Castro in The New Statesman by Isabel Hilton has some interesting reader comments including this one below. It’s fascinating to watch the way the US press is carrying the news. I’ve been trying to read as much of it as I can to see if I can find many pieces which are even *slightly* positive about Castro’s contribution to the people of Cuba and Latin America, Africa, etc. I haven’t found any so far.
clipped from

21 February 2008

“There have never been death squads in our country, nor a single missing person, nor a single political assassination, nor a single victim of torture. . . . You may travel around the country, ask the people, look for a single piece of evidence, try to find a single case where the Revolutionary government has ordered or tolerated such an action. ”

Since Fidel made this statement, I have challenged the exiles on the Net who promulgate their own Mythic Cuba to disprove it. Note how low the bar is. They only have to come up with a single case, which would still leave Cuba with the best human rights record in the hemisphere.

So far they have failed. The long list “murders” by Castro they cite include Bay of Pigs casualties, legalized abortions, people whose cancers were diagnosed while they were in custody, people who drowned in the Straits of Georgia … one assumes that if they had a better case to make, they would make it.

Fidel, press conference, 2001

  blog it

8 thoughts on “The Fidel Debate Continues

  1. Castro did indeed used firing squads as a means to power in the early days of the Revolution. He converted Cuba’s traditional legal system (which was based on the Latin/Roman system – not the Anglo jury system) into a system of “popular courts”. In these courts, people were tried by their ‘peers’ (other townspeople) and the ‘judges’ where mostly military men. In the frenzy of the Revolution and the need to ‘cleanse’ the country of the Batista klan, there were plenty of documented shooting squad victims… Additionally, after the Bay of Pigs, there were a substantial number of firing squads in the prisons, particularly in “La Cabana” and the “isle of Pines” (now the Island of Youth.) Many of these young man faced the shooting squad with the last words of “Viva Cristo Rey” (Long Live Christ the King.)… I honestly appreciate your inquire and simple question… Frankly, I can only guess that the reason you have not gotten ‘an answer’ from the Exile community is that most of the folks that know about all of this simply do not visit sites like yours… Please understand the hurt is deep; many of them are old and older; and most of the newer generation of Cuban Americans are way to busy becoming successful entreprenuers, civic leaders, and the like to continue fighting Castro’s progaganda machine reflected in the zeal of people like you.

  2. RR, thanks for the comments. You obviously have ties to Cuba. But still, I have to ask – this ‘hurt’ you speak of. What is the source of the hurt? Do they think Cuba was better before Castro? In the days of Batista? Surely this can’t be so. Do they think the Revolution could have been handled better? Do they think the Revolution, in the hands of someone else, would have survived the US onslaught?

    And finally, firing squads, military courts – after a violent revolution against a violent regime, surely these things are to be expected. I’m sure we would all rather see the Revolutionaries treat the vanquished humanely and with respect, but we have to remember that the Batista supports got back what they had been handing out for 30 years.

    What about in the last 40 years? Is there evidence of any abuses by Cuba’s government that I’m not aware of?

  3. [By the way: This is one of the few ‘sensible’ conversations I’ve ran across in the web. Your questions and inquires are legitimate and evidently honest.]

    Regarding the source of the ‘hurt’: Castro was supported by the vast majority of Cubans before he took power and for a few months after he took power. People were simply ‘sick and tired’ of the rinky-dink Batista regime, particularly his ‘mafia-like’ ways (think Putin’s Russia today.) Cuba had a substantial middle class and a very large ‘modest class’ (below ‘middle’) who were just elated to see Fidel stand up to Batista. When Fidel’s men came down from the mountains with rosaries around their necks, their youthful vigor, and their charismatic enthusiasm, all but the Batista cronies jumped on the band-wagon.
    Most of Batista’s cronies fled the country right after he did. Then Fidel began betraying his populist stance and in the name of ‘land redistribution’ confiscated not only the land and businesses of the rich and very rich, but also of the many many many middle and modest class.. .

    Here’s where things began to get ugly and the deep hurt began: Fidel betrayed the ideals of the Revolution. Many of his ‘brothers in arms’ started leaving him – and he in return turned to brute force as the primary means to stay in power.

    Remember that most of the Cuban exile community consists not of Cuba’s wealthy class, but of the middle and modest class. (Actually, most recently, the vast majority of the ‘balseros’ are from the working class – not from Cuba’s ‘wealthy’ (i.e.: military) establishment.)

    Regarding the continuation of persecution: In today’s Cuba persecution is manifested through total control of the press, the education system, the economy, and strict one-party system. The ‘face’ of the persecuted are the 200+ political prisoners and the (estimated) 100,000 plus that have perished in the straights of Florida trying to flee Cuba. To a lesser degree, the ‘persecuted’ also include those that seek venues for individual expressions in the arts or academia, but find the constraints to that expression riveting and limiting to an extent that truly must ‘hurt’.

    Lastly, I bet we agree on one thing: Sensible, slow change in Cuba, driven by the desires of those in the Island and without bloodshed is infinitively preferable to fast,dracodian, envy & blood driven change imposed by Bush, Chavez, Putin, or any other external force.

    Again, thanks for your sensible response…

  4. The ideals of the Revolution that Fidel betrayed include many. Key among these are the following:

    1. IDEAL #1: Fidel promised elections within two years. Elections were not held for many many years – and even when they were held, they were a one-party model with no venue for dissent.

    2. IDEAL #2: Fidel claimed he was not a communist. This is critical: The Cuban Communist Party had a long history of ‘better-than-obscure’ presence in the Island’s politics. But, they were “kind of” establishment. Fidel wanted nothing to do with the establishment; thus he committed to a Revolution modeled in populism NOT communism.

    3. IDEAL #3: Redistribution of concentrated wealth through compensated means. Fidel opted for confiscation… And, eventually, has simply recreated concentrated wealth – just that now wealth is concentrated in the military & bureaucratic complex rather than capitalists.

    4. IDEAL #4: Commitment to workers unions. Fidel claimed that there was no need for traditional unions once all employment was centralized.

    … These are but a few…

    The Revolution was expected – by the middle and modest class – to lead to a modified economy with appropriate regulatory presence… But certainly, very few wanted the inefficient centralized economy that has all but destroyed production and fermented a dependency on the government that simply can not be sustained… For example, it is shameful that Cuba has to import so much food when the land is so fertile! (Indeed, the humble experiment in the 90’s to allow campesinos to grow what they saw fit to grow was marginally successful – but, the bureaucracy could not deal with “individual” success and put an end to that experiment.)…

  5. RR, thanks for the wonderful explanation. My understanding is that Castro didn’t turn to communism or nationalize the Americanista companies until after the USA started to play hard ball. I guess the game changed post Revolution and he had to adapt?

  6. Again, naive men will hold a mans virtues as an absolute. We forget that we are dealing with human beings. Human beings under pressure. Fidel once told Evo Morales “Don’t do what I did” — not exactly the words of an evil dictator.

    Fidel, unlike Batista, has the ability to change.

    These aren’t bronze statues that we are talking about here. We must not idolize them in either direction.

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