"You may pronounce me guilty," declared Adolf Hitler during the trial in 1924 for his failed Rathaus putsch, "but the eternal court of history will absolve me." "Condemn me, it doesn't matter" declared Fidel Castro during his 1953 for the failed Moncada putsch, "history will absolve me."
The young Fidel Castro was a keen student of Nazi pageantry, often seen around campus with his well-thumbed copy of Mein Kampf, alongside his pistol. His title of Lider Maximo perfectly mimics the German term Fuhrer.
Over the years a varied assortment of foreign fans and well-wishers have showered Castro with accolades. "Cuba's Elvis!" (Dan Rather) "Castro is the most honest and courageous politician I've ever met! Viva Fidel!"(Jesse Jackson) "If you believe in freedom, justice and equality you have no choice but to support Fidel Castro!" (Harry Belafonte) "Castro is a genius and Cuba is a Paradise!" (Jack Nicholson) "The greatest hero of the century!" (Norman Mailer)"One helluva guy!" (Ted Turner)
Sadly, lunacy on the subject of Fidel Castro is hardly confined to the lunatic fringe. "Castro has done good things for Cuba," said Colin Powell. "Castro threw out an SOB and liberated Cuba's poor," opined the late Stephen Ambrose, America's best-selling historian. A recent editorial on Castro's legacy in the London Times, one of the world's most respected newspapers, gives the "mainstream" or even the respectably conservative view on Fidel Castro.
"Castro can look back on some unquestionable achievements," starts the Times article. "For a start he has defied the world's most powerful nation, just 90 miles from his shores, and lived to tell the tale." No discourse or screed about Castro-- in any language, from any medium, from any point on the political compass--omits this cliche. But is it accurate? Let's look at this historical record of "defiance."
"We put Castro in power," flatly stated the former U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, Earl T. Smith during Congressional testimony in 1960. He was referring to the U.S. State Department and CIA's role in aiding the Castro rebels, to the U.S. arms embargo on Batista, and to the official U.S. order that Batista vacate Cuba. Ambassador Smith knew something about these events because he had personally delivered the messages to Batista.
Castro's "defiance" of the U.S. at the time also involved his group's pocketing a check for $50,000 from the CIA operative in Santiago, Robert Weicha. "Me and my staff were all Fidelistas," boasted Robert Reynolds, the CIA's "Caribbean Desk's "specialist on the Cuban Revolution" from 1957-1960.
After Batista fled and Castro grabbed power the U.S. abruptly changed diplomatic modes. Never in history had we accorded diplomatic recognition to a Latin American regime as quickly as we recognized Castro's. The U.S. gave Castro's regime it's official benediction more rapidly than it had recognized Batista's in 1952, and lavished it with $200 million in subsidies. In August of 1959 the liberal U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Philip Bonsal, alerted Castro to a conspiracy against his regime by Cubans. Thanks in part to ambassador Bonsal's solicitude for a regime then insulting his nation as "a vulture preying on humanity" and poised to steal $2 billion from U.S. stockholders, the anti-Castro plot was foiled, hundreds of the plotters imprisoned or executed. The regime that 3 years later would come the closest to vaporizing many of America's biggest cities (including Bonsal's home) with nuclear missiles, survived.
"Nothing but refugee rumors," was how JFK's National Security Advisor and former Harvard Dean, Mc George Bundy, referred to report of Soviet Missiles in Cuba. Cuban exiles were risking their lives to obtain this intelligence. "Nothing in Cuba poses a threat to the U.S.," he continued, barely masking his scorn at those missile rumor-mongers."There's no likelihood that the Soviets or Cubans would try and install an offensive capability in Cuba." The cocksure Bundy was a guest on Face the Nation while thus assuring the American people. The date was October 14, 1962. Exactly 48 hours later U-2 photos sat on JFK's desk revealing those "refugee rumors," sitting in Cuba, nuclear armed, and pointed directly at Bundy and his entire staff of Ivy League sages.
But don't think that America's "Best and Brightest" were knocked off balance. Instead, the Camelot dream met the challenge head-on. "We ended up getting exactly what we'd wanted all along," writes Nikita Khrushchev about their bulldog bargaining. "Security for Fidel Castro's regime and American missiles removed from Turkey. Until today the U.S. has complied with her promise not to interfere with Castro and not to allow anyone else to interfere with Castro (italics mine.) After Kennedy's death, his successor Lyndon Johnson assured us that he would keep the promise not to invade Cuba." Henry Kissinger, as Gerald Ford's Secretary of State, renewed the pledge.
After the Missile Crisis "resolution" Castro's "defiance" of the U.S. took the form of the U.S. Coast Guard and even the British Navy (when some intrepid exile freedom-fighters moved their operation to the Bahamas) shielding him from exile attacks. Far from "defying" a superpower, Castro hid behind the skirts of two superpowers, plus the British Empire.
"(Castro) has some real accomplishments to point to," claims the London Times. "Under his rule, the impoverished Caribbean island has created health and education systems that would be the envy of far wealthier nations.... and there is near full literacy on the island." From London to Tokyo, from Paris to Bankock, from New York to Madrid-- this claim echoes through every media mention of Castro.
For the record: In 1958 that "impoverished Caribbean island" had a higher standard of living than Ireland and Austria, almost double Spain and Japan's per-capita income, more doctors and dentists per capita than Britain and lower infant mortality than France and Germany--the 13th lowest in the world, in fact. Today Cuba's infant-mortality rate-- despite the hemisphere's highest abortion rate which skews this figure downward-- is 24th from the top. Relative to the rest of the world, then, Cuba's health care has worsened under Castro and a nation with a formerly massive influx of European immigrants needs machine guns, water cannons and tiger sharks to keep it's people from fleeing while half-starved Haitians a short 60 miles away turn up their nose at any thought of immigrating to Cuba. In 1958, 80 per cent of Cubans were literate and Cuba spent the most per capita on public education of any nation in Latin America.
During its war of independence near the turn of the century Cuba was utterly devastated, losing a quarter of it's population. So Cuba's achievements in national prosperity, health and education came practically from scratch and in only slightly more time than Castro's stint in power. Can any sane person claim that given that record--and given Cuba's expenditures on public education-- literacy would not have been eradicated in a few short years?
Better still, Cubans today would be, not just literate, but educated, allowed to read George Orwell and Thomas Jefferson along with the arresting wisdom and sparkling prose of Che Guevara. A specimen:
To the extent that we achieve concrete successes on a theoretical plane - or, vice versa, to the extent that we draw theoretical conclusions of a broad character on the basis of our concrete research -we will have made a valuable contribution to Marxism-Leninism, and to the cause of humanity.
I quote "this intellectual, this most complete human being of our time"(Jean Paul Sartre's description of Che Guevara ) exactly. Cuba's prisons aren't its only torture chambers: With such reading assignments Cuba's classrooms amply qualify for an inspection by Amnesty International.
Without Castro, Cuba's full literacy would have come about probably as quickly and without firing squads, mass graves and a political incarceration rate higher than Stalin's. Most countries in Latin America with lower literacy rates than Cuba in 1958 have done just that.
"During the 1980s," continues the Times editorial, "one could still conceivably argue that Cuba's dictatorship was preferable to its US-backed counterparts in Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua or El Salvador, which went one step farther by murdering thousands of their citizens."
One gapes at such judgments. Forget that none of those regimes abolished private property, free travel, free speech. None abolished free-enterprise and mandated food rations for their subjects. None set up government snitch groups on every city block. Forget, too, that far from being "U.S. backed counterparts," Pinochet's Chile and Somoza's Nicaragua had economic sanctions slapped on them by Jimmy Carter.
But all this is of peripheral importance. Can the editorial staff of the Times really be unaware that Castro's regime killed people? Yet Castro's murder tally is not difficult to dig up. No need to consult the ravings of some "crackpot" scandal sheet in Miami. Simply open Take the Black Book of Communism, written by French scholars and published in English by Harvard University Press, neither an outpost of the vast right-wing conspiracy nor of Miami maniacs. Here you'll find a tally of 14,000 Castroite murders by firing-squad. "The facts and figures are irrefutable. No one will any longer be able to claim ignorance or uncertainty about the criminal nature of Communism." wrote the New York Times (no less!) about the book. Another review noted that the book's "cumulative impact is overwhelming." It appeared in the London Times. So according to a scholarly work that received positive reviews in the Times itself, Castro's regime almost quintupled the alleged murder rate of Pinochet's (3000). And this refers only to Communist Cuba's firing-squad murders.
The actual death toll is much higher. The Cuba Archive project, headed by scholars Maria Werlau and Armando Lago, put the death toll from Castro's regime, including deaths at sea and the desperate anti-Communist insurgency of the early 60's, at 102,000. This project has been lauded by everyone from The Miami Herald (again, no right-wing outpost) to the Wall Street Journal.
The mind reels at the Times' ignorance until you recall that such ignorance is practically universal on matters Cuban. Consider another example. "Castro has clung on for so long in part because the US has provided him with so many propaganda weapons to rally Cubans to his side," asserts the Times editorial. In fact, a recent poll conducted clandestinely in Cuba by Spanish pollsters on the impact of the "U.S. Blockade" revealed that fewer than a third of the respondents blamed the so-called "Yankee blockade" for Cuba's ills, proof that the Cuban people aren't nearly as stupid as the scholars and reporters who continuously parrot the Times' claim.
Finally, the Times' article brings down the hammer with another academic mantra ."El Comandante has clung on through nearly five decades of economic sanctions and a US-sponsored invasion attempt." This is ahistorical. While renewing the Kennedy-Khrushchev pledge in 1975, Kissinger partly lifted the embargo, allowing all foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. Even that avenue is now moot. U.S. companies have recently done more than $1 billion dollars worth of direct business with Cuba. Currently the U.S is Cuba's biggest food supplier and 4th biggest import partner.
And anyone familiar with the details of the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, knows that referring to it as "U.S. sponsored" truly debauches the definition of "sponsorship." See here for details. Had Richard Nixon won the 1960 presidential election, "U.S. sponsored" would fit (though we'd see it named the "Trinidad Invasion" based on the original--and better--landing site.) Better still, it might have succeeded, with the result that an obscure and long-dead Latin American bandit named Fidel Castro would merit less encyclopedia space than Pancho Villa -- and no mention whatsoever in the London Times.
Humberto Fontova is the author of Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant, a Conservative Book Club Main Selection.
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