Alex Massie

Semper Fidelis For Shame

Text settings

I'd actually thought Castro's retirement would prompt more of this sort of nonsense. I guess we're still waiting for Seumas Milne to pipe up in The Guardian. Still, the palm for the most idiotic thing I've seen goes to Chris Bertram:

...And, of course, Castro ran a dictatorship that has, since 1959, committed its fair share of crimes, repressions, denials of democratic rights etc. Still, I’m reminded of A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other (reference please, dear readers?) that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate. Ditto Cuba, for a much smaller chunk. So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let’s hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid. Let’s hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who held off the US forces for a while on Grenada. Let’s hear it for Elian Gonzalez. Let’s hear it for 49 years of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!

Love that gentle "Of course..."

Alternatively, as I put it today's Scotsman:

SO FAREWELL and good riddance, Fidel Castro. Only sentimental fools will miss you. The image of a small, plucky island nation holding out against the might of the United States has an obvious appeal. But life is not all an Asterix and Obelix adventure.

Franklin D Roosevelt is said to have acknowledged that the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasia Somoza was a Class A "sonofabitch", but at least "he's our sonofabitch". Like his counterpart in Chile, Augusto Pinochet, Castro has enjoyed the tolerance of many who should have known better. If conservatives – on both sides of the North Atlantic – were too ready to turn a blind eye to Pinochet's crimes, left-wingers have been equally credulous with regard to Castro's Cuban dictatorship.

His regime's achievements in health and education – always cited by Castro apologists – must be set beside the reality of an island prison in which dissent has been outlawed and the jailing of political prisoners routine. Regardless of the failures and idiocies of US policy, this has been Castro's own choice. Socialism has failed Cuba, just as it failed the Soviet Union.

Like Pinochet, Castro's successes only demand honouring in the context of his larger, wider failure. A gulag filled with literate, healthy inmates is still a gulag*; a dictator who inspires affection and respect (from some) is still, above all, a dictator.

I think US policy towards Cuba has been blind, wilfully stupid and counter-productive. The embargo is an embarrassment. But still, you know, it isn't quite good enough to argue (with some justification) that there have been more monstrous dictators than Fidel.

Norm ponders the sympathy leftists have for Castro and his ilk here. He makes this excellent point:

Nonetheless, there is a central piece of bad faith in the way...[leftist] partisans... evade a single inescapable fact: namely that, flawed as they may be, the capitalist democracies are democracies and none of the would-be anti-capitalist countries, anywhere, has managed to sustain comparably good or better democratic institutions over any length of time. Note that I do not say this means it could never happen; I don't believe that. What it does mean, however, is that the democratic institutions we are familiar with have yet to be improved upon in any of those places that some leftists are given to casting an indulgent eye upon even while they seek to distance themselves critically from the institutions they themselves benefit from and which are superior.

As for Cub's achievements? Tyler Cowan has some sound advice:

A simple checklist would start with the question of whether an apologist has visited both the Dominican Republic and Cuba.  And a non-communist Cuba could have done much better than the DR.  It is a fascinating place for visitors, but right now the quality of life in Cuba isn't close to that of the DR or for that matter Honduras, the second-biggest Latino mess in the hemisphere... It's time to stop apologizing for communist dictatorships; are you really so taken with the idea of confiscating property as to overlook decades of tyranny, impoverishment, and human misery?  Yes I am familiar with the UN social indicators; I say you need to visit each of these countries, preferably speaking Spanish, and then report back to me.

Brad Delong deals with more credulous Castro-lovers here.

*Hyperbole? Perhaps. But if you're not free to leave a country you are, to one degree or another, imprisoned.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietycuba