Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 8 December 2016

He may have been a brutal dictator but he saved that city from American depredations

While American conservatives, including Donald Trump and the Cuban exiles in Florida, whooped with joy at the news of the death of Fidel Castro, and while millions of America-haters throughout the world extravagantly mourned his passing, Barack Obama was circumspect. ‘History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,’ he said. This was a restrained comment by an American president about a foreign leader whose 47 years of dictatorship had been sustained almost entirely by stirring up hatred of the United States; and we won’t have to wait for history’s verdict on his impact on that particular country, for we know already how enormous it was. He not only humiliated JohnF. Kennedy by repelling the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961; he went on to drag the US to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.

I was working in Milan in 1962 when Castro invited the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles on Cuba within range of the United States. Moscow’s justification for doing this was that American missiles were already threatening Russia from Turkey and Italy, and there followed a nerve-racking crisis for which America took most of the blame in world opinion. Castro had already been seen as a hero for standing up to the world’s greatest power, and Italy, with its strong communist party, was especially seized with anti-American fervour.

Furthermore, I was a potential casualty of it. That, at least, was the fear of my employers, a Milanese publishing and printing company. No matter that I was British and commuting to work in a British Mini-Minor; they said the workers at the printing works would assume that I was American and would smash up my car, if not me as well.

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