Avoiding the Revisionist Trap: A Look at Fidel Castro’s Legacy
It is extraordinarily rare that one gets to reflect on the life of a figure who has fundamentally altered the course of world history, and the death of Fidel Castro is one such occasion. Castro was one of the last living reminders of an era marked by the unending battle between Capitalism and Communism – he stood as the leader of a country that plagued American foreign policy and placated our enemies for decades. He also led a regime that victimized its own people and spent fifty years at the helm of a brutal, violent, and utterly deplorable dictatorship only ninety miles south of the United States.
Unfortunately, many in the political and news media spheres have taken this as an opportunity to apply their own narratives to history and praise the man for his ‘accomplishments.’ Castro’s death is an excellent case study on the dangers and harsh reality of revisionism in today’s world.
Make no mistake: Fidel Castro was a murderous tyrant.
History Will Judge
In his statement on the passing of the Cuban leader, President Obama made every attempt to tiptoe around this simple fact. Perhaps most worrisome about the president’s statement, however, is this phrase: “history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
With the outpouring of support for this brutal dictator from revisionists who are willing to ignore the crimes of the Castro regime, one must wonder: will history properly “record and judge” Fidel Castro?
Perhaps there is no worse example of this pathetic altering of history than the words of Justin Trudeau – the Prime Minister of Canada. Trudeau’s statement was filled with praise and admiration for the Cuban leader: “Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation. While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for el Comandante.”
While Trudeau has endured his share of justified criticism for this ignorant praise of Castro, his statements represent a very dangerous phenomenon occurring across the free world. Trudeau in one fell swoop ignored the millions of people who have suffered at the hands of Castro’s regime, and the millions more around the world who continue to live at the mercy of ruthless totalitarian regimes. Socialist and leftist politicians in the West believe it is appropriate to ignore human rights and basic decency in exchange for “significant improvements to the education and healthcare” of their people. Those Cubans who experienced the unnecessarily high costs of said improvements would strongly beg to differ.
It is truly incredible that a universal healthcare system that fails to retain its best doctors and an education system that indoctrinates the next generation into accepting the rule of a dictatorship has become a major accomplishment. To categorize Castro as one with his “supporters” and “detractors” is to prop up a system built on terror and destruction as worthy of its fair share of praise. Reality should judge Castro’s regime as utterly reprehensible.
Revisionism in the News
Perhaps worse than world leaders who refuse to condemn the man’s decades of tyranny is the concerted effort in news sources around the world (and the US) to paint Castro as a hero.
The New York Times’ front-page obituary painted Castro as a man of mixed legacy with a tone that seemed to celebrate his resistance to the US and the Cuban peoples’ pushes for democracy. The Guardian hailed Fidel Castro as a “revolutionary icon” who was known for his “magnetic attraction.”
Vice News’ obituary sang Castro’s praises for his “defiance of the U.S. for nearly 50 years.” Vice also offered a contrast between Castro’s support for “civil rights, healthcare, and education around the world” and his rule with “brutal force.” Perhaps Vice forgot that civil rights and mass political oppression via imprisonment, torture, and murder are not equal parts of Castro’s legacy.
Even the BBC participated in this blind support, closing its obituary with words of praise for Castro by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Indeed, what better way to remember the man than with a poem by one of his most influential communist supporters?
Of course, while some major news sources were complicit in this shifting version of history, others engaged in flat-out revisionism. The Huffington Post has published a variety of op-eds that range across the spectrum of Castro support/condemnation, but perhaps most blindly supportive is their World Post article that praises Castro as a world hero of solidarity. Cubans everywhere who have suffered or lost family at the hands of this regime should take this as a slap in the face, and an attack on their families’ legacies.
Other sites have gone even farther. Medium published an article written by Black Lives Matter that defended Castro’s record as a promoter of “a world rooted in a vision of freedom and the peace that only comes with justice.” Perhaps in the ultimate irony, a group that is founded on the ability to protest over-policing and openly criticize the government (BLM) has come to the defense of a man who brutally enforced a no-tolerance policy on all protest or dissent in his own country.
Indeed, the list of examples goes on, but the point remains clear: there are many who are eager to shift Castro’s legacy away from the impacts of his oppressive criminal dictatorship and towards the so-called “progress” made in the island nation of Cuba.
Deconstructing Castro’s Legacy
Of course, it is impossible to criticize Castro’s defenders without also presenting the case against him. We may never truly quantify the decimating affects of more than five decades of Fidel Castro’s rule over Cuba, however it would be painfully naïve to conclude that it resulted in a net positive for the Cuban people.
The Cuba Archive Project has been working for over a decade to catalog the victims and crimes of the Castro regime. Most estimates cite at least 78,000 Cubans perished while attempting to flee their homeland. Furthermore, at least 5,600 citizens of Cuba have been killed by government firing squads, and over 1,200 lost their lives to “extrajudicial assassinations.” This does not include the families and combatants who perished in combat with the regime once Batista was overthrown; nor does it account for the thousands of Cubans who have simply ‘disappeared’ without a trace.
Of course Fidel Castro cannot be defined simply by his death toll. He built concentration camps and imprisoned thousands of his own people – in fact, he jailed a higher percentage of Cuba’s population than Stalin did to the USSR during his reign. Castro exiled nearly a fifth of all Cubans, sentencing thousands to die in the course of their hasty escapes.
The crimes against his own people don’t stop there: Castro arrested thousands of gay and lesbian Cubans, and persecuted those of all religions in an attempt to eradicate religion altogether. He outlawed labor unions and allowed the state to give orders to the nation’s working class, virtually enslaving the people and tying their ability to work to the whims of the state. Those who spoke out were imprisoned, and those who resisted were shot.
But what about Cuba’s major advances in healthcare and education under Castro?
This is where the modern revisionists attempt to ignore all of the criminal and despicable behavior mentioned above in a vain effort to laud these “progresses” made in Cuba.
Let’s take a look at the facts.
Yes, Castro’s government educated more people in Cuba than Batista’s. However, an education system that indoctrinates children into a failing Communist system and preventing all discourse or disagreement is not really “progress” in any tangible sense. Furthermore, most of the children educated in this system were never provided the opportunity to pursue professions that allowed them to actually leverage their learned expertise (as the Communist government prevented the economy necessary to employ a highly-educated citizenry).
Yes, Castro’s government developed a healthcare system that improved the standards across the country. However, the reality is that the Communist Party leadership gets high-quality healthcare while most of the country is left to deal with the doctors who didn’t flee the regime to prospects for a better life elsewhere. This two-tiered healthcare system provides great propaganda pieces (that Western media eats up) while the reality paints a different picture.
Yes, Castro killed tens of thousands of his own people, however… This logic does not cut both ways. To suggest that one could cite “advancements” over the abysmal state of the nation under the Bautista regime is a flawed comparison. To suggest that they outweigh the costs of Castro’s rule is to shamelessly ignore all those who suffered at the hands of the regime.
Fidel Castro is gone; but the legacy he has left will last far beyond his reign. He has somehow tricked a new generation of leaders on the far-left to ignore his mortal sins, and has left his brother in place to enforce a less murderous but just as oppressive regime in Cuba.
Hopefully, this revisionism over the history of an island of 11 million people will not detract from the important lessons we must learn from Fidel Castro. He undoubtedly had an affect on the world that reached far beyond his domain in the Caribbean Sea. Castro’s Cuba was at the forefront of the incident that pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war, propped up a regime that continues to fail the people of Venezuela, and involved itself in international politics on a scale unprecedented for a nation of its size.
Castro will forever be one of the names associated with the world Communist movements in the mid-20th century, although we need not wait for history to pass judgment. After news of his death reached Cuban communities in exile in the United States, there was widespread joy and relief. While left-wing leaders and journalists can attempt to justify the five decades of oppression and tyranny, those who were directly affected by Fidel Castro have just one message: good riddance.