There is one less dictator in the world. The man who betrayed his own revolution and his people is finally dead. Yet another Castro still rules Cuba. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Russia is at it again, paying a lot of unemployed trolls from India to post “fake news” tributes to the late Fidel Castro, 90, who died on November 25. Make no mistake, Castro was a vile, brutal dictator whose place in Hell has been reserved for him for 50 years. There is a reason why so many Cuban refugees fled their homeland to escape Castro’s oppression and barbarism. He overthrew Fulgencio Batista, the previous Cuban dictator, in 1959 only to become one himself and a pawn of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He stayed alive long enough to cede power to his brother and become an irrelevant old man. Thus his death, while symbolic and full of sound and fury, signifies nothing.
Many millennial American neoliberals and progressives have taken to social media to praise Castro, a dictator and ruthless murderer, unaware of the oppressiveness and brutality of his 49-year rule in Cuba. The fault lies with the American education system, which has shifted its focus to math and science and away from history and current events, leaving Millennials to form opinions based only on biased social media posts.
The truth is Castro ruthlessly persecuted dissidents, jailed homosexuals, and deported or murdered his opponents. The Castro government used surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and “acts of repudiation” (in which Cubans considered to be counter-revolutionary are verbally abused, intimidated, or physically assaulted) to create a “pervasive climate of fear,” according to Amnesty International. Castro suppressed free speech and used Draconian rule to repress dissent and dissidents.
How bad was life under Castro? More than 1.1 million Cubans fled the island nation, whose population has now grown to 11 million, risking and sometimes losing their lives clinging to makeshift rafts, hoping to reach the United States and freedom once they learned Castro’s overthrow of Batista was merely trading one brutal dictator for another. It wasn’t until 1980 that the Cuban people again had the opportunity to flee en masse during the Mariel Boatlift in which 125,000 desperate Cubans boarded anything that would float to reach the coast of Florida 90 miles away. Unfortunately, up to 15,000 of these refugees had been released by Castro from Cuba’s prisons and insane asylums, unleashing a wave of criminals and madmen on South Florida. The United States finally had to stop admitting Cuban immigrants, ending the boatlift.
In an effort to export his brand of Marxism, Castro intervened politically and militarily in the affairs of many African nations, most notably sending thousands of Cuban troops armed with Soviet weapons to fight in the oil-rich southern African nation of Angola in the 1970s.
Castro claimed his totalitarian government was a success, touting Cuba’s free medical care and high literacy rate. But Cuba’s doctors received meager wages and were forced to go wherever Castro sent them, including to overseas hotspots, while increased literacy rates do little good when the government controls what one may or may not read. Despite Castro’s claims, his Marxist state was an economic failure; had it not been propped up by the Soviet Union’s continual financing of up to $5 billion a year it would have collapsed decades ago. Cuba survived after the fall of the Soviet Union by opening its country to foreign investment and tourism, along with the flood of international dollars it brings; and by its decision in 1993 to accept the U.S. dollar which meant Cuban exiles in America were now free to send money to their relatives in Cuba. Cuba now receives $3 billion annually from such transfers.
Castro’s greatest threat to the United States came during the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 16–28, 1962). In response to the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Castro's request to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. After Air Force U-2 spy planes revealed missile sites had been constructed, U.S. President John F. Kennedy responded with a blockade of Cuba, and warning: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba or against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” The world was never closer to nuclear war. After a tense 13 days, the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle the missile facilities in Cuba in exchange for an American promise never to invade Cuba and to dismantle its missiles in Italy and Turkey.
From freedom fighter to dictator, Castro was a master of public relations. He was zealous, idealistic, educated, and courageous – traits he could exploit to burnish his public image. Yet even as the young revolutionary took power in Cuba, he began his regime by executing 500 men, confiscating privately-owned land, and nationalizing foreign industrial holdings within Cuba. Despite Castro’s much touted “improvements” many forget Cuba had been one of the most economically advanced nations in the Caribbean prior to Castro coming to power.
Any opposition to Castro's rule, like the Escambray Revolt (1959-1965) was crushed by Castro’s army. Castro’s supporters who later criticized him, like Huber Matos, who had fought alongside him in the Sierra Maestra, were jailed, deported, or killed. Matos was arrested and charged with treason; he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. “I differed from Fidel Castro because the original objective of our revolution was ‘Freedom or Death;’ once Castro had power, he began to kill freedom,” Matos said. The non-profit think tank Cuba Archive counts more than 3,100 political executions by firing squad.
While it is true Castro improved education and healthcare for Cubans, he also deprived them of free speech and economic opportunity, and set up local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution that urged citizens to inform on neighbors. Castro rounded up thousands of dissidents and homosexuals, sentencing them to prison or forced labor. Yet many left-leaning politicians who should know better, like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, have praised Castro in death. “Sure, you did not lose a loved one to an execution squad; you did not lose a loved one to the gulags in Cuba,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in response to Trudeau’s comments. The first Cuban-American elected to Congress, Ros-Lehtinen fled Cuba with her family when she was eight years old. "The only thing that Fidel has been successful in, has not been health nor education, or human rights or democracy, it's been holding onto power -- which is easy to do when you don't have elections," she added. “With the death of Fidel Castro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. Opportunist and Green Party U.S. presidential candidate Jill Stein shamefully said “Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!” Unfortunately her young, impressionable Millennial followers may buy into the revisionism of a ruthless dictator who should be reviled.