Friday, February 22, 2008


I think the case against Fidel Castro has been overstated.

To be sure, the eight years following the revolution were bloody. Thousands of people were executed under Castro's newly established government. Many others were imprisoned, accused of being CIA operatives or counter-revolutionaries.

There's no point in denying the ugly truth of this harsh and unjust past--no more than in denying America's past of forced servitude in the South and mass slaughter of native peoples in the West.

In his own defense, Castro has claimed--much as Bush now claims of Guantanamo detainees--that those incarcerated back then were not mere political prisoners, but violent combatants at war against the government and people of Cuba.

Today the biggest political detention center (i.e. concentration camp) on the Cuban isle is US operated.

Beginning in 1965, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses were jailed in Castro's Cuba for soliciting sex and converts in public places (as dramatically portrayed in films like Improper Conduct and Before Night Falls), a practice presumably ended in 1967, in response to international protest.

Keep in mind that Jehovah's Witnesses were incarcerated, as conscientious objectors, also in the US during World War II--and in the same decade Cuban homosexuals were being jailed, big city cops in America were raiding known hangouts of homosexual men and arresting and jailing the patrons of gay bars.

Same-sex relations for consenting adults (over 16) have been legal in Cuba since 1992, a full 11 years before the US Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, overruled anti-sodomy laws in all 50 states in the USA.

For the economic hardships the Cuban people have suffered under, post Batista, Castro is less to blame than the US embargo against Cuba, from Eisenhower's 1960 blockade on food and medicine to Bush's 2004 measures to reduce the flow of money and tourists into Cuba.

If the Cuban people suffer, and they do, it is not because of Castro's policies; it is because of American policies.

The charge that Fidel Castro has accumulated vast personal wealth (greater than Elizabeth II's in the UK, according to a 2003 Forbes magazine article), while his people starve, has been repeatedly rebutted by Western visitors to Cuba, who have commented on Castro's austere lifestyle.

Cuba has erected no statues of Castro, his face appears on none of the currency, and his private life receives little to no coverage in Cuban media--unusual modesty in a purported Latin American dictator. His customary military garb is certainly not expensive or flashy--considerably less so, in fact, than Bush's 2003 Top-Gun masquerade aboard the USS Lincoln.

With the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Cuba poses no security threat to the US. Its population is a bit less than the combined populations of NYC and LA, roughly equal to the number of British citizens who have taken illegal drugs ... or the reported number of illegal immigrants currently in the USA.

The demonization of Castro and his Cuba is a bit ridiculous, especially in the present day. He has outlived all the US presidents who tried to depose him or have him assassinated. In retrospect, he seems like a reasonably respectable leader of a small island nation.

He retires after almost 50 years in power--not falling to a military coup or brought down by black ops (though not for lack of the CIA's trying) or swept from power by an outraged populace ... but voluntarily stepping down at age 82, 11 years older than John McCain.

He has managed to keep his country afloat on fewer resources than are spent on US presidential elections, while (according to the film Sicko) offering universal healthcare to the Cuban people and maintaining a lower infant mortality rate than in the US.

Compare this to the legacy of George W. Bush. Bush entered office with a projected $5.6 trillion surplus for the next 10 years, which he promptly squandered; he proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, initiated an expensive and unjustifiable (even in terms of costs vs benefits) war, lost $9 billion in Iraq without even a trace, and will leave office with a national "balance sheet that's starting to look more and more like a third-world country," according to NYC mayor (GOP) Michael Bloomberg.

By comparison, Fidel Castro has been a statesman of rare integrity, humanitarianism, and finesse.

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