“The evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” Shakespeare, Julius Caesar.
This is all about tyrants. All of 18 years after the murderous Cambodian dictator Pol Pot died, his two lieutenants recently lost their appeals against conviction for crimes against humanity. The nation still struggles to come to terms with what happened under Pol Pot’s regime. The evil he did lives on.
That’s just one example: you’ll have guessed where this is leading. Did the late Fidel Castro leave a legacy of evil after him in Cuba? Is the good he achieved interred with the ashes currently touring Cuba in a funeral cortege?
He was a significant figure globally, that’s for sure: was he a “statesman”? He certainly inspired loyalty: the news has been full of Cuban grief. It must be hard for a country ruled by a single man for half a century to come to terms with life after him.
There were aspects of Castro’s Cuba that couldn’t help but be attractive, if only as a curiosity. After the Berlin Wall came down and European/Russian Communism collapsed, Cuba became a kind of communist theme park for political tourists, its flamboyant leader with his trademark cigar resolutely ignoring the might of America on his doorstep. People of a leftward inclination could derive amusement from seeing Castro defy the strident world-policeman view of America promoted the presidential Bush dynasty. Besides, Cuba is in itself a romantic destination with its rum, its battered old American cars, its music and its Havana cigars.
The reality is far from romantic. Cuba has been ossified, chained firmly in the Middle Ages by political dogma and Castro’s merciless grip, freedom of speech denied and secret police everywhere. Throughout Castro’s rule (even after he allowed his brother Raul to assume the reins of government), any dissident voices were ruthlessly silenced.
Castro came to power having overthrown a wicked, corrupt regime that had maintained its grip through torture and persecution. Perhaps some of those first 500 representatives of the old regime whom the newly triumphant Fidel Castro rounded up and subjected to a show trial were indeed guilty of terrible crimes. But setting up a kangaroo court and employing the allegedly charismatic revolutionary Che Guevara to shoot all 500 is neither justice nor reparation, and is nothing to admire.
Revolution remains the timeless excuse of tyrants for murder, torture and despotism in the name of ideological “progress”.
Even in death Castro is referred to as the “Commander of the Revolution”. That word again: revolution. Revolution remains the timeless excuse of tyrants for murder, torture and despotism in the name of ideological “progress”. In Castro’s Cuba the rest of the world was the enemy: only his country held faith with the communist ideal he espoused and enforced.
“For all his flaws,” commented Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Castro will be remembered as an “internationalist and a champion of social justice” who ensured Cuba’s education and healthcare were second to none. Another falsehood, according to David Aaronovitch in The Times. Cuban teachers are so badly paid that they leave teaching and find manual work instead: and the hospitals are crumbling, with drugs in short supply.
At home we face our own incipient NHS crisis. But, if we’re discontented, we get a regular chance to vote our government out. David Cameron got the Brexit vote wrong: the world saw him leave Downing Street of his own volition. Having lost the 2010 Election, Gordon Brown set an example to would-be despots as he took his little children by the hand and walked them away from the seat of power.
That is democracy, not a tin-pot dictator with blood on his hands. Corbyn is quoted as praising Castro for outlasting ten US Presidents: perhaps he regards those four-yearly American elections as tiresomely interrupting the onward progress of the “revolution”.
I hope Cuba will be permitted to find its destiny peacefully and without undue pressure from either the capitalist west or those remaining bastions of communism. Meanwhile, the evil Castro wrought does indeed live on. And if there was any good, it went to the crematorium with him.
“For all his flaws”?
No number of new schools or hospitals (even if true) excuses despotism and terror. Forget him, and be grateful that another tyrant has left this earth.