Of all the things that one can say about Fidel Castro, and we’ll certainly get on to that in a moment, let’s give credit where credit is due. To run a pseudo-communist dictatorship 80 miles off the coast of Florida for 50 years while dodging assassination attempts from several US presidents must take a real pair of balls. It’s also the kind of situation that typically breeds the opposite of a liberal democratic government, and I don’t say that as a form of apologetics .
Sure, some nuance may certainly be helpful. Whatever his own merits or detractions, Castro’s socialist revolution overthrew a brutal military regime, the likes of which are all too common throughout Latin America. There is clearly a strong case to be made that, for ordinary Cubans, Castro’s Soviet-backed dictatorship might have been a more attractive option than Fulgencio Batista’s American-backed dictatorship. However, we should always try to refrain from employing the kind of logic which leads us to embrace waterboarding for the sole reason that it’s more enjoyable than being hung, drawn and quartered.
You can certainly make the argument that Cuba never really had the chance to become a liberal western democracy, and you may very well be right. However, that should not be reason enough for both citizens and politicians living in such countries to effectively mourn the death of someone who spent his entire life actively preventing Cuba from becoming that liberal western democracy.
Canada’s Justin Trudeau was widely, and rightfully, mocked yesterday for releasing a statement that read practically like a eulogy, hailing Castro as “remarkable” and “legendary” while also praising his “tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people” (you know? those Cuban people fortunate enough not to be sent to one of Castro’s labour camps).
Never to be outdone in the art of offering apologetics for terrible people, Jeremy Corbyn was quick to share his own condolences. “Castro’s achievements were many”, his statement read, before calling the ruthless despot “a champion of social justice”. Remarkably, Corbyn pre-empted those comments with “for all his flaws”, which I’m pretty sure makes the whole thing significantly worse. It shows that Corbyn is clearly aware of Castro’s record, and that it apparently doesn’t serve to bother him.
Take for instance his utterly bizarre praise for the fact that Castro had “seen off a lot of US presidents”. I’m going to give Corbyn the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s aware that Cuba doesn’t have free and fair elections, making the comparison rather insulting towards the democratic principles Jeremy Corbyn supposedly represents.
Just think for a moment. How could this self-proclaimed champion of trade unions, openness and equality so openly lament the death of a man who sent trade unionists, journalists and homosexuals to die in concentration camps? How could this fervent proponent of nuclear disarmament express grief towards someone who’s sheer recklessness in the middle of a superpower conflict nearly led to global nuclear armageddon? How could this well-known pacifist feel sympathetic towards a ruler who’s executed more people than he’s had hot dinners?
And then just consider the sheer and unequivocal freak out that the British left would have had if people were instead mourning the death of Pinochet. A dictator is still a dictator, no matter which side of the political spectrum he happens to fall upon, and the world is certainly a better place now that Fidel Castro has finally left it.