Home / General / Castro: It’s Complicated!

Castro: It’s Complicated!

Comments
/
/
/
1100 Views

Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, smokes a cigar during his meeting with two U.S. senators, the first to visit Castro's Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 1974.  (AP Photo)

This morning has seen all the Twitter SCORCHING HOT TAKES on Fidel Castro, especially from liberals dying to replay the Cold War. At a time when their own nation has just put a fascist in office despite losing by more than 2 million votes, it’s very, very important for some people to demonize Castro for his dictatorial terror and attack Jimmy Carter for a basic condolence to an old enemy. Meanwhile, the left has largely provided quite nuanced takes on Castro, largely because we’ve mostly moved on from the days of romanticizing the man while both respecting his accomplishments and seeing his failures.

Fidel Castro was a tremendously complex person who attempted to rebuild a society around ideas of justice while also refusing to allow democratic institutions to form. He sought to resist U.S. imperialism while openly hoping his island would be devastated by a nuclear attack. He brought outstanding medical care and education to his own people and the poor around the world while limiting the ability of educated people to use their skills at home. He was on the front lines of fighting the oppression of people of color by U.S. allies around the world while also supporting some pretty awful people around the world himself. In other words, let’s leave the hot takes home and try to think a little harder about the meanings of the Cuban Revolution.

To talk about Castro in any useful way, we have to look at the historical context of the period from 1958 to 2016. But even before we get to that, we have to look at the history of Cuba before 1958. From the mid-19th century, the United States attemtped to dominate Cuba, first attempting to acquire it in the 1850s in order to entrench slavery and then investing heavily in sugar on the island after the Civil War. It was the focus of U.S. imperialism in 1898. American concerns over just what involvement in Cuba would mean led to the Teller Amendment, barring the U.S. from turning Cuba into a colony, as it would do in the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. But there are many forms of imperialism, as the U.S. would find. When Cuba received its sovereignty in 1902, it was effectively a colony in all but name, as the Platt Amendment stripped Cuba of any actual control over its affairs. This forced Cuba to give the United States Guantanamo Bay, which the U.S. still holds as an imperialist possession and where it has done things at least as bad since 2001 as anything Castro ever did. It also gave the U.S. effective veto power over Cuba’s foreign policy and economic decisions and allowed the U.S. to invade to enforce its interests any time it wanted. The U.S. military would then occupy Cuba between 1906 and 1909, in 1912, and between 1917 and 1922. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt ordered ships to Cuba for another invasion, leading to the resignation of Gerardo Machado. Ramon Grau took over, immediately rescinded the Platt Amendment, leading to the US refusing to recognize his government. This opened the door to Fulgencio Batista, the dictator who killed up to 20,000 people with the active support of the American government until he fled Cuba on New Year’s Eve 1958. Turning Cuba into a sex tourism paradise under mafia control led to widespread dissatisfaction and a variety of revolutionary movements that Castro eventually consolidated under his control when he walked into Havana on January 1, 1959.

Castro, along with Fanon, the Algerian revolutionaries, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara, served as an inspiration for billions of people around the world seeking freedom from colonial overlords, issues that the Untied States was almost always wrong about. Over and over again, the U.S. supported oppressive regimes that denied the nationalist longings of people around the world. Sometimes, those were democratically elected governments, such as those of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. Sometimes they were revolutionary movements such as that Ho Chi Minh. Sometimes, the U.S. assassinated popular leaders like Patrice Lumumba in Congo and replaced them with men like Mobutu Sese Seko, one of the worst rulers in the 20th century. Sometimes, the CIA would foster right-wing military coups against people like Salvador Allende and place monsters like Augusto Pinochet into power.

This is the world into which Fidel Castro entered. Castro stood up against this massive injustice around the world from the United States. While Dick Cheney was openly defending South African apartheid in Congress, Castro was sending troops to Angola to fight the South Africans and providing critical support to Nelson Mandela. All of this also led to the independence of Namibia and helped turn the international tide against apartheid. When the FBI and Nixon administration was declaring war on black radicals fighting internal colonialism in the U.S., Castro gave them a place to flee. When the U.S. was engaging in illegal wars to destabilize Nicaragua, Castro supported the Sandinistas. Not all of Castro’s international moves were as consistently on the right side as these, including his opposition to Betancourt in Venezuela. But in the end, at worst, Castro’s fight for global justice has a complex legacy.

And this is the world context in which we have to evaluate Castro. In the end, which nation is better off today, Cuba or the Dominican Republic? Or any of its similar neighbors around the Caribbean basin. While many Americans demonize Castro as a monster, have the Cuban people been worse off than the U.S. client state in the Dominican Republic under the homicidal maniac Rafael Trujillo or his hack assistant Joaquin Balaguer, who came to power with the assistance of Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 invasion to eliminate the movement behind democratically elected but now overthrown Juan Bosch? I think that’s pretty unlikely. Cuba and the DR have similar histories, economies, racial makeup, and interactions with American imperialism. We can’t actually know the answer to this, but if you look at Mexico, at Nicaragua, at Honduras, at Guatemala, at Haiti, at Jamaica, and at the Dominican Republic, it’s really hard to see how their histories since 1958 have somehow been more free and prosperous than that of Castro’s Cuba. And while this is not the final statistic on these issues, of all the nations listed above, the UN Human Development Index ranks Communist Cuba 1st, and 5th in all of Latin America.

Castro’s policies were a mixed bag. He absolutely provided outstanding health care and education to his people. This is something beyond what far wealthier nations have achieved. No one can really deny the success of these policies. The literacy program implemented immediately after the revolution was a wonderful success, more than any U.S. supported leader ever did for the average Cuban. He reforested a lot of land, creating some of the most intact ecosystems in Latin America. He instituted enormous gains for women’s equality in Cuba. He attempted to implement an officially anti-racist government. Of course, one cannot just erase racism by government decree and whites still control more power in Cuba than Afro-Cubans, although on this issue Cuba is certainly no worse than the rest of the world, including the United States.

However, one cannot deny that Castro made many, many errors along the way. The fundamental problem of 20th century state socialism is that the dictatorship of the proletariat was also in fact a dictatorship of a few elites. And that’s never good. Not trusting the Cuban people, he repressed much about Cuban culture and created a isolated island that did not foster new ideas. While one can absolutely defend the executions of top Batista leaders in the revolution’s aftermath (after all, the U.S. was fine with Batista’s own executions, not to mention those of Mobutu, Pinochet, et al) and the land expropriation from the wealthy if we place them in the context of the time, his long-term fear of challenges to his power led to a staid regime that did not offer much hope for a better life for most Cubans after the initial gains of the Revolution. He oppressed gays in terrible ways but on the other hand Ronald Reagan condemned thousands of gay people to die of AIDS and the U.S just elected Mike Pence as Vice-President so American liberals should probably look at their own nation first on this issue. Castro’s prison camps where he placed dissidents were an unnecessary error from a man increasingly fearful of losing control of power. That there are still dissidents in Cuban prisons is a shame. And let’s not forget the Cuban Missile Crisis, where Castro was furious at Nikita Khrushchev for pulling out the missiles, even though it meant saving Cuba. That kind of monomaniacal vision is what made the 20th century scary.

Ultimately, the problem with Castro’s visions is that one can’t build socialism within a world economy on a single product, whether oil or sugar. The attempts for massive sugar harvests to build socialism were poorly thought out. Relying on being a Soviet client state to escape the American monster only worked so long as the Soviet Union had the ability to support it. Once it faded, Cuba had nothing until Hugo Chavez came along and gave it super cheap oil. For the social benefits of the Revolution to many everyday Cubans, economically, it is hard to see it as anything but a failure.

In the end, the U.S. was the best friend Fidel Castro had in terms of helping him consolidate and keep power. The Bay of Pigs invasion was the tool Castro needed to tell his people that the United States was indeed their real enemy. The embargo, the second greatest failure in the history of American foreign policy, allowed Castro to blame his own failings on the United States, often with quite a bit of justification. But the needs to cater to the interests of the old white landowning Cuban repressive class now in Florida was more important than actually engaging the Castro regime and creating reforms, even while we were doing that quite successfully with China and Vietnam and to some success with the Soviet Union by the Gorbachev era.

It was long past time for Castro to go. I don’t know quite when the sell-by date passed. One presumes 1991 as much as any. Unfortunately, the greatest failure of Castro is the inability to imagine a future without him. Today, Raul Castro has slightly opened the nation, but obviously it is still suffering from limited freedom. Fidel Castro was not a good man, but neither was he a demon. Will Cuba be better off without him? Probably at this point. Would Cuba have been better off today than if Castro had never taken power? That answer is far from clear. Thinking about Castro not in terms of simplistic moral judgments that ignore the complicity of the U.S. in Castro’s rise and what he was responding to but rather placing him in the context of the second half of the twentieth century is the proper way to evaluate his impact. And that impact is deeply complicated, divisive, and ambivalent. At worst, that makes him no worse than most world leaders from the era, especially from the global South, where nations and rulers have long been subject to imperialism, destabilizing covert operations from the United States, and postcolonial povety.

…That every commenter either says “this post is wonderful” (thanks!) or “this post is terrible” is hilarious to me because it basically sums up every single discussion about Fidel Castro for the last nearly 57 years.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • MAJeff

    He oppressed gays in terrible ways but on the other hand Ronald Reagan condemned thousands of gay people to die of AIDS and the U.S just elected Mike Pence as Vice-President so American liberals should probably look at their own nation first on this issue

    Yup

    • ASV

      Are liberals keeping quiet about Pence?

      • Ahenobarbus

        Nope, and they certainly wouldn’t if Pence sent gays to forced labor camps.

        • MAJeff

          But mental hospitals, probably not.

          • DocAmazing

            And “boot camps for troubled teens”, almost never.

      • veleda_k

        I wasn’t aware liberals were such fans of Reagan, apparently.

    • XTPD

      Erik’s sentence structure there offends me as a Communist.

      Also, quibble: The Dominican Republic was never an economic powerhouse in the way that Cuba was (IIRC it hadn’t even gotten parity with Haiti until about WWI, and even then Haiti’s being looted by France was a significant contributing factor), and by most measures its racial composition is significantly more African than Cuba’s.

    • Emmryss

      If I were an oppressed Cuban gay I’m not sure I would care what Reagan’s other hand was doing in the States or find that at all consoling. Other than scoring a debating point, what is the point of such “equivalencies”?

      • MAJeff

        You mean Reagan’s genocidal approach to AIDS? I guess, maybe, American hands ain’t clean.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Trying to make Castro’s death about Reagan’s (lack of) AIDS policy is like making #TrumpFuhrer’s election about NAFTA. It’s a red herring.

          Before the Pearly Gates Castro will stand or fall on his own. Reagan has nothing to do with it. Reagan certainly didn’t make the man employ secret police and torture prisons.

          • aturner339

            He didn’t. Though Reagan wasn’t exactly ideologically opposed to either so long as they took place at least 90 miles away.

          • MAJeff

            Hmm. Comparative approaches to anti-gay policies and their impact are irrelevant.

            I guess gay lives are irrelevant.

      • The issue here is pinkwashing, trying to either distract from your human rights issues by pointing to your supposedly stellar record on gay rights, or trying to distract from your own problems with gay rights by pointing to someone else’s worse behavior. It’s a favorite tactic of the Israeli right, who like to compare the lives of LGBT people in the rest of the Middle East to how they live here as a way of showing that we’re the liberal ones. Which ignores a) the fact that gay rights in Israel, which were pretty advanced in the 90s, have basically stood still for twenty years while the rest of the Western world passed us by, b) that Israel doesn’t actually do anything to help persecuted gays in the Arab world, most notably Palestinian gays, and c) that it’s possible to be good on gay rights and bad on a lot of other things.

        In the case of Castro, I think there are voices coming from the right wing castigating him for his persecution of LGBT people, and while the content of that is true, coming from people who, in their day to day lives, couldn’t care less about gay rights and in fact lionize people like Reagan, it’s more than a little hypocritical, and worth calling out.

        • gmack

          I think this is basically right, but I want to add a general reflection on why it is sometimes useful to make such equivalences.

          The illegitimate point to be made about such equivalences is the tu quoque argument: Castro did some bad things vis-a-vis gay people, but you did too so suck it USA!

          The legitimate point to be made about such equivalences is to try to call our biases into question. When criticizing a practice that we have designated as “not our own” (e.g., a practice that we associate with another culture), we have a strong tendency toward moral self-righteousness. They do X, and we would never do such a thing. And such self-righteousness can distort our evaluation both of our own practices and of the ones we’re criticizing. The critique of the practice becomes a distancing strategy, a way to define “us” and “them.”

          I recall coming across an interesting case of this in the book 1491. The book drew attention to the Aztec practices of human sacrifice. They are, by any measure, quite horrible. But the author pointed out that (a) highlighting those practices were part of Spanish propaganda efforts to justify the colonization of the Americas, and (b) that the Europeans who were preoccupied with the barbarity of the practice also engaged in burning heretics at the stake; in many respects, the public burning of heretics was also a ritual sacrifice to the Christian God. If the author’s goal in pointing out (a) and (b) was to mitigate the horror of the Aztec sacrifices, then this would be reprehensible. But I don’t think that is the goal. The goal is to provide context that might cause some reflection on our moral outrage at the practices. Point (a) allows us to see that the moral outrage at the Aztec practices is, even if it is morally justified, not politically innocent. And (b) invites us to see the Aztecs not as “other” but as like “us” (i.e., the Europeans who, it turns out, engaged in very similar practices even though we tend not to interpret them this way). Particularly in the context of European relations with Amerindians, these seem to me to be quite helpful contextual factors.

        • JR in WV

          Ms Nussbaum, again I agree with you. Worth pointing out both Reagan’s disdain for gay and gender fluid folk and Castro’s hateful treatment of same.

          I like to think that Dence won’t get to send people to mental institutions on account of their sexual orientation, but I’m a glass half full person. Or should that be spelled Dunce?

          And Castro did accomplish objectively good things while at the same time he committed human rights violations quite similar to those W Bush and his minions committed at the prison at Gitmo. Health care, education (although without much opportunity to put that education to good use!) freedom from apartheid in South AFrica, etc.

          Not sure that either Reagan the Demented nor W Bush the Stupid accomplished much positive in their lives, so on the balance I’m voting for Fidel as the more positive life in those three guys.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Both sides do it after all.

  • howard

    You historians: trying to provide context in a world that demands hot takes!

  • Whidby

    It’s really not the complicated: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/26/cuba-fidel-castros-record-repression.

    If imprisoning thousands of people just because of their political views does not make someone a “demon”, you live in a different moral universe than I do.

    • solidcitizen

      Right, we imprison thousands of people because of their race, which is fine. Imprisoning them for their political views would be so gauche.

      • McAllen

        Right. If we’re going to call Castro a demon we must also call ourselves demons. Which perhaps we should do!

      • ThrottleJockey

        Puh-leeze. The hell we do. We imprison people for committing crimes. We do not round up innocent blacks for being black.

        And to hear Soledad tell it blacks here in the US get treated better than blacks in Cuba.

        • (((Hogan)))

          Yeah, I’ve never heard of the school-to-prison pipeline either.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Don’t get me started Hogan, there are innumerable differences between the school to prison pipeline and Castro’s regime. Try talking to a few political refugees and you’ll quickly apprehend the differences.

            • cpinva

              “Try talking to a few political refugees and you’ll quickly apprehend the differences.”

              which ones, as there are many? if you’re talking about those that left Cuba when Castro took over, I have scant sympathy for them. they were, for the most part, Batista supporters, who did quite well under his dictatorship. they owned all the land and the businesses, while the average Cuban had little to nothing, which is why they supported Castro in the first place.

              given the multiple attempts to kill him/destabilize the gov’t, by the US, Castro’s paranoia wasn’t completely unreasonable. nor was his pointing to the US, as the country “most likely to invade”, in his high school yearbook.

            • MilitantlyAardvark

              Alex Andreou ‏@sturdyAlex 6h6 hours ago
              Same people praising Castro as a flawed visionary, last month couldn’t bring themselves to vote Hillary.

              Pretty fucking flexible standards.

          • solidcitizen

            I’ve never heard of stop-and-frisk, either. Or declaring black neighborhoods “No loitering” zones.

            • cpinva

              oh stop now guys, TJ will start crying, and you know what a mess that usually ends up being.

            • Deggjr

              I’m sure that no matter if you’re black or white in the United States, if you use marijuana your chances of being arrested are the same.

              Oh wait.

              At least those arrests don’t create political prisoners.

          • ColBatGuano

            Or disparate punishments for crack vs. powder cocaine.

            • MilitantlyAardvark

              Who was that Rodney King fellow?

              And what about that little rascal Trayvon Martin?

      • Murc

        Right, we imprison thousands of people because of their race, which is fine.

        Maybe BOTH are wrong? Crazy, I know!

        • solidcitizen

          Yes, both are wrong. Or demonic, as Whidby would have it.

      • pianomover

        Lets not forget that uniquely American form of torture known as solitary confinement.

        • cpinva

          um, it’s not “uniquely American”, it’s been used all over the world, for centuries.

    • Simeon

      This kind of CIA nonsense is the wages of liberalism.

      A materialist understanding of history allows for a proper analysis of the Cuban Revolution.

      “Repression” and “authoritarianism” are not merely choices that governments sit down and decide to make. In Cuba, the revolution was legitimately fragile. The weight of world imperialism was bearing down upon it, and Fidel and his comrades knew that it would never stop. When you’re in such a weak position and fighting such a steeply uphill battle, then any chink in the armour threatens to reverse all of the gains you’ve made. Too often, there is an unavoidable choice between repression and inglorious defeat.

      The reason the United States allows for a wide range of political views without punishment is not because the United States is more enlightened than Cuba. It is because the United States government and class system is more stable, more entrenched, less fragile. (Have you noticed that persecution of Communism in the USA correlates to those times when Communism was a genuinely popular mass movement that might have presented a viable threat to American capitalism?) So we can see that the USA and Cuba are actually the same on the question of imprisoning political dissidents: both will do so if said dissidents are believed to be a genuine threat to the existing order.

      • Nang Mai

        The US has a somewhat wide range but there is one line that must never be crossed. The whole system always comes down with insane and disproportionate force against anyone dissenting against Capitalism. Look what happened to the peaceful protesters at Occupy Wall Street and now with the Dakota Access Pipeline. The police are facing the wrong direction — hurting people who thought they had the right to assemble and speak — instead of arresting the company executive that said to various media outlets that he intends to drill whether or not it ever receives a permit because he is willing to take the fine. The rule of law does not apply to him because he represents capitalism. The Bundy thing in Oregon was tolerated because they advocated Capitalist values.

        • Origami Isopod

          The Bundy thing in Oregon was tolerated because they advocated Capitalist values.

          Wut. They’re a bunch of welfare kings.

          • DocAmazing

            …making money selling beef.

      • Breadbaker

        That’s an awfully convenient argument. Castro’s regime has lasted almost 57 years. Did it never cease to be fragile, even though essentially every adult, working Cuban was educated under it, has received the benefit of improved health care and has known no other regime (including the restrictions on information and travel).

        The torture may be because of the fragility of the regime or it may be because they kind of liked to do torture.

        • EliHawk

          Also, the regime may be fragile because it turns out people don’t like authoritarian torture regimes. The idea that the choice in Cuba was Castro or Batista after, say, 1962 is stupid. It’s like right wingers saying the only choice for Chile is Pinochet or Castro. It’s bizarre that, at a time where almost all of Latin America is run by (admittedly often highly flawed) democratic regimes, that the only choice is which murderous dictator mouths my left/right slogans.

          • DocAmazing

            Democratic regimes like Brazil and Honduras?

        • Simeon

          Do you not think they’ve cut back on that sort of thing? The last use of capital punishment in Cuba was over a decade ago. Even then, it was a lot rarer than in the first few years of the republic, and especially so for political crimes.

      • MilitantlyAardvark

        A materialist understanding of history allows for a proper analysis of the Cuban Revolution.

        I wait with bated breath!

  • Jewish Steel

    Marvelous. Thanks for this, Eric. I prefer my takes cool and considered.

    • DrDick

      Agreed. This is a very nice, nuanced take on complex and flawed man in a complicated situation.

      • ThrottleJockey

        It’s apologetics is what it is. The effort to make him the equivalent of Ronald Reagan is absurd. Dictatorship is unforgivable. Full stop.

        Just like Hitler making the trains run on time is no excuse, neither is free education or health care. This is no different than #TrumpFuhrer thinking. The end justifies the means.

        • urd

          Hardly.

          You need to brush up on your reading skills. I’ve had my issues with Erik’s posts in the past, and will likely in the future, but this is a well reasoned, well thought out piece.

          Dictatorship is unforgivable? Perhaps you should tell that to several US president, including Obama who released the following statement:

          https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/22/statement-president-death-king-abdullah-bin-abdulaziz

          Or do you mean dictatorship is bad only when it opposes US interests?

          Castro, and the situation in which he lived, was complex and does not break down easily into simpleton soundbites.

          I’m sorry if this shatters your world view.

          • cpinva

            “I’m sorry if this shatters your world view.”

            TJ’s world view tends towards the naïve absolutism of the very young, which I’ve suspected he is for some time now.

        • Simeon

          The effort to make him the equivalent of Ronald Reagan is absurd.

          Well, I agree with this part, at least. ;)

        • MAJeff

          The effort to make him the equivalent of Ronald Reagan is absurd.

          What’s worthwhile about Ronald Reagan?

          • EliHawk

            The fact that he didn’t try and execute Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Tip O’Neill, and Robert Byrd, submitted to a democratic reelection campaign in 1984, and peaceably transferred power to a democratically elected successor, chosen in an election that included opposition parties, in 1989? I know it’s small potatoes, but it’s still more than Castro ever did.

            • Nang Mai

              The list of people he didn’t try to assassinate pales compared to those he did. See: genocide and war crimes of Central and South America. Or: 10s of thousands dead in East Timor. In addition: support for apartheid in South Africa. And don’t forget his funding of Osama bin Laden. Appointments James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and Anne Gorsuch for the EPA. Laughing at people dying of AIDS.

              etcetera

              Perhaps worst of all were his crimes against reason. He once said trees produce more air pollution than cars.

              • EliHawk

                Perhaps worst of all were his crimes against reason. He once said trees produce more air pollution than cars.

                Yeah, that’s totally worse than things like imprisoning dissidents, executing them by firing squad, and ruling as an authoritarian dictator for half a century. Saying something stupid about air pollution that one time. What an amazing crime that was.

                • DocAmazing

                  Y’know,I was a little kid when he declared martial law in Berkeley, and well recall neighbors of mine rounded up due to his War on Drugs policies. In raw numbers, I bet he gives Castro a run for his money with respect to imprisoning dissidents.

                  Reagan’s smiley-face authoritarianism claimed quite a few lives, but they don’t get streets in Miami named after them.

                • Nang Mai

                  Part and parcel. Stupidly combined with greed are at the heart of Reagan’s war crimes. His folksy brand of anti-intellectualism has been embraced by the Republican party leading to arguably its ultimate expression in climate change denial which if it continues to remain unchecked will lead to the extinction of all life as we know it on this planet. So yeah. Even though I meant it as a joke maybe it is horribly true.

              • cpinva

                “Perhaps worst of all were his crimes against reason. He once said trees produce more air pollution than cars.”

                he also claimed that condiments counted as vegetables, when discussing food help to children of low-income people, with respect to free school meals. he was an odd man, in many respects.

                • rhino

                  Ketchup, at that, which may be a clue to Erik’s use of him as an archetype of evil…

        • liberalrob

          Hitler making the trains run on time

          Well, technically it was Mussolini who got credit for that…the German trains already ran on time.

          • witlesschum

            Mussolini, of course, didn’t make the trains on time, he made people afraid to point it out when they didn’t. Castro did some of both.

  • Jordan

    This is basically the perfect reaction, thank you.

    • sibusisodan

      Yup.

    • DrDick

      Indeed.

    • Nang Mai

      Great summary. ty for the voice of reason. I would add one other accomplishment that seems to be absent from most lists I’ve seen today: Cuba today leads the world in organic farming techniques. Creating food security on an island blockaded from trade was a monumental achievement.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        “Blockaded from trade”??? JFK lifted the blockade a long time ago and it was never again instituted. The US alone had a trade embargo against Cuba. But, nobody else did and they had plenty of trade, mostly sugar exports and oil imports, with the USSR, Europe, Canada, the rest of Latin America, and other places.

      • (((Hogan)))

        Cuba hasn’t been “blockaded from trade”; the US is the only country imposing an embargo. They trade with pretty much everyone else.

        ETA: or what J. Otto said.

        • Nang Mai

          My bad for using the word ‘blockade’ which apparently pushed some buttons. However, the US embargo resulted in hardship for the people and was condemned by the UN every year from the 90s on even as far as I know until 2010.

          I regret that the use of that word erased the stunning achievement of a small island establishing not only local food security for its people but also that it was done using organic methods. Cuba does lead the world in this area and has become a model for sustainable agriculture.

          • (((Hogan)))

            My bad for using the word ‘blockade’ which apparently pushed some buttons.

            Well, if you think of “that’s not true” as a button, then yes.

            And I’m not sure what you mean by “food security.” If you back out sugar, was Cuba a net exporter of food?

            • Nang Mai

              Food security is not about exporting commodities; it is about providing access to adequate quantities of quality food. Food insecurity in contrast is when the population experiences limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food — sort of how 1 in 8 Americans live today. In my city the vast majority of children qualify for free or reduced lunch programs.

              After the collapse of the Soviet Union the average daily caloric intake of people in Cuba went down to somewhere between 1000-1500 calories. The country had to quickly re-learn its entire system of agriculture and in only four years it converted almost entirely to organic methods allowing people to now enjoy an average of 2,600 calories per day.

        • cpinva

          “Cuba hasn’t been “blockaded from trade”; the US is the only country imposing an embargo. They trade with pretty much everyone else.”

          while this is technically correct, the US embargo, imposed shortly after the revolution, had deleterious affects on Cuba. while it’s true it had trade with many European countries, and of course the USSR and members of the Eastern Bloc, the US embargo had substantive adverse affects on Cuba’s development, since we are a hell of a lot closer (90 miles) than any of those other countries.

          with luck (and Raul as “president”), Fidel’s death might finally pave the way for official open lines, between Cuba and the US, to the benefit of both countries. obviously Cuba first, because it’s so far behind in everything but education for its children, and solid medical care for all its citizens. I suspect when Raul kicks the bucket (hey, he’s 85, actuarially, he could go any day now.) the whole damn country could open up and blossom.

          • (((Hogan)))

            “Technically correct”?

            OK, fine. The embargo has indeed been very bad for Cuba, which is why I don’t see the need to exaggerate by calling it something much worse than an embargo. Maybe that’s just me.

      • DocAmazing

        One other great achievement: training and supplying health-care professionals to much of the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Travel anywhere in the Caribbean or Central/South America and get sick, and you’re likely to be treated by a Cuban-trained (or actual Cuban) physician and/or nurse. Add also: vaccine research. The current Meningococcus B immunization was developed in Cuba, for example.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          There are also Cuban doctors and engineers in a number of African countries including Ghana. In Equatorial Guinea almost all doctors are either Cuban or Israeli.

          • cpinva

            yeah, both countries are nearly rabid, with respect to training well qualified health care providers. and they ship them all over the place. interestingly enough, so does Egypt. it was an Egyptian born and trained Dr., who initially recognized my wife’s liver disease, at an emergicenter no less! had it not been for this wonderful lady’s experience in her home country, it would most likely have been more months, before the disease was diagnosed.

            • ExpatJK

              I’d also put the Philippines on this list!

              • DocAmazing

                There are a number of countries that export medical professionals (add India and Pakistan to the list), but those countries usually don’t maintain much of a physician-to-population ratio; it’s more medical brain drain. Cuba manages to do both: export and retain medical professionals.

      • Connecticut Yankee

        This is an interesting way to spin Castro’s disastrous economic policies causing a multiyear famine in a country that was the richest in Latin America before he took over

  • CrunchyFrog

    Excellent write up. You may be subconsciously underplaying some of the negatives. On gay rights, for example, the references to US Republicans really doesn’t lessen the seriousness of this issue in specific, and in general as a rhetorical device almost any bad act by another country could be made to seem less worse by comparing it to a policy position taken by some Republicans.

    On the other hand, on the matter of clinging to power by whatever means – including political prisoners and execution – I’m torn. If he had moved to a constitutional democracy how long would it have been before US agents infiltrated the election and installed their own dictator? In an era – still continuing – where former colonial powers regularly install and prop up dictators outside the small set of first world countries what is the best approach for a left-leaning government to take to avoid having this happen to them?

    • Philip

      On the other hand, on the matter of clinging to power by whatever means – including political prisoners and execution – I’m torn. If he had moved to a constitutional democracy how long would it have been before US agents infiltrated the election and installed their own dictator? In an era – still continuing – where former colonial powers regularly install and prop up dictators outside the small set of first world countries what is the best approach for a left-leaning government to take to avoid having this happen to them?

      +1. The simple and unfortunate reality is that no democratic government could have survived in Cuba. The US would not have allowed it.

      • Manny Kant

        This is absurd. It’s been over a quarter century since the Berlin Wall fell. The vast majority of non-Cuba Latin American countries have been holding free elections for most of that time. Several of them have even elected anti-American Castro admirers.

    • yet_another_lawyer

      I agree. Bothsidesdoit is just as fallacious internationally as it is domestically. “Sure, Cuba sent gays to forced labor camps… but America didn’t contribute enough money to AIDS research. So, you know, both sides.”

      • Dilan Esper

        I don’t think you need that sort of reasoning. The US has been an oppressor of the Cubans for more than 100 years. First by propping up governments which tolerated slavery, stole lots of money, and welcomed the mafia, and then through the embargo. And unlike Castro, we aren’t sovereign there so we have less right to be doing anything.

        There’s no false equivalence here. The US is, in many places, a force for evil, and Cuba is one of them.

        • DrDick

          We agree for a change. It is also the case that the US actively persecuted and imprisoned gays for their identity during the same period, which would be what Stonewall was all about.

        • cpinva

          “There’s no false equivalence here. The US is, in many places, a force for evil, and Cuba is one of them.”

          well yeah, but USSR & Red China, so there! the more I read about US international activity, just since WWII, the more I realize that Eisenhower (no one’s nominee for greatest president) was only partly right, in his warning about the “military/industrial complex”. he left out the “paranoia industrial complex” that sustained the military/industrial one.

          I’m not certain the CIA could possibly have been any more inept, during its first 30 years of existence, but whatever competence it derived from its predecessor, the OSS, was quickly squandered, as it attempted to deal with the colonies that wanted independence, from US allies, after WWII ended. Vietnam comes quickly to mind, and Truman refusing to meet with a young Ho Chi Minh, who wanted US help in convincing France the colonial power era was over. how many died, because of that arrogance?

          shit, I could start a list of squandered opportunities, for the US to be the good guys, but why bother.

          • DocAmazing

            Ah, if it were only ineptitude on the CIA’s part. The rot begins at the root. Allen Dulles was much like Prescott Bush: he was looking out for his client’s financial interests first, fighting Nazis/Communists second. The late-period OSS and the early CIA cut innumerable deals with various Nazis and supported the most God-awful dictators as long as they were good for business; stability came a distant second, and democracy wasn’t a factor at all.

          • BiloSagdiyev
      • SaRA

        Bothsidesdoit is obviously a problem if the comparison is inapt. But in this case, Eric is comparing outcomes: the gay people who have died in the US because of Republican policy to gay people who have died in Cuba because of Castro. You’re right that the methods differed, but aren’t the US gays just as dead as the Cubans? And for the same reasons. Far from being a mere budgeting issue or a matter of philanthropy, as “didn’t contribute enough money” implies, the American deaths were just as motivated by anti-gay animus as Cuba’s.

        I have a hard time deciding whether a government that openly oppresses its people is worse than one that operates surreptitiously and laughs off the deadly consequences of its policies. Is building your own prisons worse than taking advantage of and deliberately worsening the social consequences of a deadly disease?

        Ultimately, I don’t think the comparison is meant to make Castro look “less worse” (and I am in no way defending Castro’s human rights policies); it’s meant to remind us that the US is “more worse” than we regularly think. And we now have Mike “Just-stirred-up-an-AIDS-epidemic-in-Indiana” Pence in power to make that “more worse” a reality again. Cuba, otoh, apparently has Mariela.

        (US sexual policies contributed to the spread of the disease both here and in Africa, if you want a way back into the critique of US imperialism side of the argument.)

        • Jon_H11

          I have a hard time deciding whether a government that openly oppresses its people is worse than one that operates surreptitiously and laughs off the deadly consequences of its policies. Is building your own prisons worse than taking advantage of and deliberately worsening the social consequences of a deadly disease?

          I’ve thought a lot about this too. I think when it comes to moral judgement I’d have to say that open oppression is morally worse than de facto oppression. An open white supremacist is morally a more despicable person than a person who supports a state that’s social structure perpetuates disparate outcomes corresponding to race but does not explicitly condone racist sentiments.

          Even though he was responsible for far more deaths, I think we can say that Stalin was in that respect morally superior to Hitler–he did what he did as a means to an end, and he wasn’t going to divert trains from the war effort simply to fill the gas chambers. On the account of gay rights Reagan was Castro’s morally superior by far.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            Stalin did in fact divert thousands of trains and other military resources to send people to their death. He just did not have gas chambers. But, in the middle of World War II he forcibly deported over two million Soviet citizens on the basis of their ethnoracial identity to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia. This massive ethnic cleansing involved the forced removal of many tens of thousands of soldiers from the front ranks of the Red Army and sending them to labor camps and special settlements.

            https://www.academia.edu/10570930/The_Loss_Retention_and_Reacquisition_of_Social_Capital_by_Special_Settlers_in_the_USSR_1941_1960

            • Jon_H11

              I was unaware of that. Bad example. Was Stalin’s purge racially eliminativist or paranoid internment?

              • J. Otto Pohl

                Stalinist repression was varied. But, I’d argue that the WWII national deportations fit the model of internal colonialism pretty well.

                https://www.academia.edu/7464931/Colonialism_in_One_Country_The_Deported_Peoples_of_the_USSR_as_an_Example_of_Internal_Colonialism

                • cpinva

                  and I would argue otherwise. the pre-wwII national deportations/slaughters of anti-intellectuals was simply a hint, of what would come, after the war’s end.

                  those who read the writing writ large on the wall, got the hell out of there.

              • CrunchyFrog

                Stalin and Mao were on par with Hitler in terms of 20th century dictators who caused the deaths of 10s of millions. In sheer numbers Mao probably caused the most, then Stalin, and Hitler last (but not due to lack of trying).

                It is interesting – in a bad way – how the three of them are perceived in such a different light today. Nixon’s fawning over Mao after his death is stunning when put in this context.

                I suppose, though, there has been some progress in terms of how we evaluate world leaders. In 1950s surveys school children in the US generally ranked Napoleon as the greatest world leader in history who was not American.

                • elm

                  Who do you think they rank as greatest world leader now? Honest question, as I have no clue. I’d bet Churchill, but I expect Napolean would still get a bunch of votes.

                • Manny Kant

                  One difference between Hitler and Mao/Stalin – Hitler was just getting started. Mao and Stalin more or less got to do what they set out to do. Hitler was stopped from doing even more damage.

                • DocAmazing

                  Funny you should mention Churchill and 20th-c. mass starvations:

                  http://www.ibtimes.com/bengal-famine-1943-man-made-holocaust-1100525

                  This, of course, merely one of the mass-murders committed by the British Empire in the previous century, and only one of the ones with Churchill’s fingerprints on it. Of course, deliberate mass starvation by the British has a long and storied history.

                  But hey, Mao.

      • MAJeff

        but America didn’t contribute enough money to AIDS research. So, you know, both sides.”

        Talk about dishonestly underplaying the situation.

    • ThrottleJockey

      There is no excuse for AUTHORITARIANISM. NONE.

      And never.

      Not to put too find a point on it but this is #TrumpFuhrer thinking.

      • urd

        Then what is the excuse for the US government supporting such regimes?

      • (((Hogan)))
        • urd

          But ThrottleJockey was young and naive back then…oh wait.

          In the same thread…that was a quick self-contradiction.

          • cpinva

            shocking.

        • elm

          That isn’t the only thread where TJ has waxed poetic about the wonders of Singapore and how maybe a little repression is worth it if it leads to clean cities with low crime. While I am sympathetic to his take here, it is at stunning odds to his own recent proclamations.

          • (((Hogan)))

            He’s not one to let consistency get in the way of grandiose moral posturing.

    • Simeon

      On gay rights, for example, the references to US Republicans really doesn’t lessen the seriousness of this issue

      It’s important to be critical when it’s deserved, but it is certainly worth examining the sort of language that is used about socialist leaders and comparing it to the sort of language that is used about leaders in capitalist countries.

      Talk of Winston Churchill tends to be in the context of WWII, and Churchill’s contributions to the defeat of fascism are laudable, to be sure. But do you know how many discussions I’ve seen online about Winston Churchill that don’t contain statements to the effect of “Churchill locked up gay men”? A hell of a lot! (When criminalisation of homosexuality does come up, it’s usually attributed to “the British government”, rather than any specific individual; and it’s almost always only brought up because of a single historical celebrity who was victimised by the law.) And I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anybody say the same about Eisenhower!

      Where I live, homosexuality was illegal until 1986. In histories of the issue, people talk about the injustice of the law, but I’ve never heard, in the context of my own country’s history, “Such-and-such imprisoned gay men.”

      Yet the equivalent statement with respect to Castro seems to be omnipresent wherever I go.

      We can all agree that homosexuality should not be illegal, and it is enormously unjust that it ever was. But why does there seem to be a double standard when talking about Cuba as compared to talking about other countries like America, where being gay could get you imprisoned until 2003?

      • Manny Kant

        I think there’s a difference between laws being on the books criminalizing homosexuality and actually making the effort to imprison large numbers of gay men. My understanding is that anti-sodomy laws were rarely enforced for consensual homosexual activity in either the United States or the UK. Oscar Wilde, notably, only got prosecuted after he had unwisely sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel.

  • SIS1

    I don’t think its too hard to proclaim that without Castro and his revolution, Cuba would be a richer, more uneducated and sicker country than it is today – just examine every single one of its neighbors.

    • howard

      I agree: sans Castro, Cuba is not scandanavia on the Caribbean.

  • Hercules Mulligan

    Good, nuanced take.

    Where’s Fidel’s hit Broadway musical?

    • mikeSchilling

      Fidel-er on the Roof?

      • Gregor Sansa

        Habana-town?

        • Origami Isopod

          Habamilton.

    • Simple Desultory Philip

      The Best Little Whorehouse in Cuba? How To Succeed In State-Owned Business Without Really Trying? Varadero Beach Memoirs? Cats-tro?

    • DocAmazing

      You jest, but…

      http://chethemusical.com/

  • sonamib

    Thank you for this long and nuanced piece. I had only a hazy memory of early 20th century Cuban history, so it’s very informative for me to view Fidel placed in his proper context.

  • mikeSchilling

    Would that it were so simple.

  • Gareth

    If you want to fight effectively against an elderly man who has contempt for democracy and human rights and a feckless attitude towards nuclear war, and who rants about evil foreign influence while being a puppet of Russia, perhaps you shouldn’t praise Fidel Castro.

    • petesh

      Ha, ha! You so smart.

      • Gareth

        There’s something wrong with your font, but thanks for the compliment.

        • DrDick

          Nothing wrong with that font, it is the official LGM sarcasm font. What is wrong is you.

          • XTPD

            “What is wrong with you”

            I’m pretty sure this is snark on Gareth’s part.

            • petesh

              Personally, I have no intention of marching on Washington with a Che T-shirt and a Fidel hat & cigar. I am, however, more than willing to stipulate that the revolutionaries of my youth do not deserve universal scorn in their fucking obituaries. Hell, I’d even apply that to Huey Newton, who was an asshole when I met him (I was waiting tables, he was holding court).

    • SIS1

      Well, if anyone wants a false equivalency fail, here is one.

      • Sev

        Forgive me, General, but I think you’re in denial here.

    • McAllen

      I wouldn’t want Castro to be our president. But we have to think about how the US has acted throughout history if we want to be able to usefully respond to the situation it finds itself in today.

    • ThrottleJockey

      This, this, and this.

    • urd

      Said without any irony or understanding of US history.

      Hilarious.

  • Gregor Sansa

    I agree with others: this is very well-done overall.

    On the “second-worst foreign policy failure” point, I’d argue that the US’s worst failures were its “successes” in Iran and Guatemala.

    • XTPD

      Wilson & T. Roosevelt’s interventions in Latin America are probably more important than Operation PBSuccess in perpetuation caudillo rule.

    • Sev

      That old CIA line, “Nobody talks about our successes!” But we do, we do. If only there were fewer of them.

  • Calming Influence

    Excellent piece, Erik. I know I’m generally just a sarcastic dick in the comment section, but this kind of stuff from you front-pagers is why I came here in the first place. I learn from you. Thanks.

  • mikeSchilling

    Castro sent Cuban troops to Africa in return for Soviet aid. Opposing apartheid had nothing to do with it.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Turn that around. “Cheney supported the South African regime to resist communist influence in Africa. Racism had nothing to do with it.”

      Even if it were 100% true, it would be irrelevant to assessing impact. And it’s actually over 50% a lie in the case of Cheney, and probably for Castro too, though I don’t know enough to be sure.

      • mikeSchilling

        “Cheney supported the South African regime to resist communist influence in Africa. Racism had nothing to do with it.”

        Indifference to racism had everything to do with it. And the same is true of Castro. They had sides, not principles.

        • Simeon

          Fidel chose his side based on principle ;)

        • BiloSagdiyev

          You know what group were indifferent to South African apartheid? Racists. This, of course, always complicates things, just like not all Trump voters are racists or Nazis or Klansmen. But…

    • Thom

      Opposing Portuguese, South African, and American imperialism in southern Africa had a lot to do with it. And Castro was an honored guest at Mandela’s inauguration.

      • mikeSchilling

        That is, favoring Soviet imperialism in souther Africa. It boggles me that at this late date people think the Soviet Union had goals besides self-interest. That’s been clearly false since 1939.

        • rhino

          It boggles me that you think people don’t understand that self interest is ALWAYS the goal of nation-states.

          It further boggles me that you seem to think national self interest is not somehow informed by the ideals and desires of the people making those decisions on behalf of the nation state.

          • mikeSchilling

            The ideals and desires of the Politburo did not including enhancing human rights.

  • sleepyirv

    If we are unwilling to attack all dictators: be it Castro or some American propped up fascist, I don’t see the point at all. What are we, those who believe in democracy or those who believe in certain economic systems? Because all these nuisances, important as they be to describe WHY Castro did certain things and WHY Cuba is Cuba hardly gets him off the hook for that.

    • SIS1

      Democracy is not an end – its a tool to an end. We should never forget that.

      • ThrottleJockey

        That’s where you’re wrong, my friend, so very, very wrong.

        Democracy and Justice are ther only things worth fighting for. And certainly the only things worth dying for.

        • Snuff curry

          A vote in every pot.

        • (((Hogan)))

          Does your family know you feel that way?

        • AstroBio

          So, are you suggesting that justice is impossible without democracy?

        • MilitantlyAardvark

          Democracy and Justice are the only things worth fighting for.

          So now we know that TJ hasn’t discovered girls. Or possibly boys.

        • SIS1

          Yeah, 5,500 years of recorded human history are on my side, not yours.

          Democracy is merely a form of organizing governance. That is it. It can lead to good, or to bad.

          As for “Justice” – what despot doesn’t think they dispensing this?

          • BiloSagdiyev

            Democracy is merely a form of organizing governance. That is it. It can lead to good, or to bad.

            I would ask you for concrete examples, but… uh… recently… no need.

        • rhino

          Utter nonsense. If I could actually install a ‘just king’, and drop all this democracy crap, I would do so in a shot. Means to an end is precisely what any system of government is about.

          There is *nothing* sacred about democracy, it is simply the best tool devised so far to prevent the strong from preying on the weak. The very instant we come up with a better way I will not weep for voting booths nor election campaigns.

    • Dilan Esper

      I have no problem attacking Castro as a brutal dictator.

      The problem is that democracy was never on the table, and the actual alternative was to have the Batista era continue.

      • ThrottleJockey

        You’re right. Physics 101 says that once a revolutionary wins he has no choice but to become a dictator. My my my of only George Washington had gotten the memo.

        • Dilan Esper

          Many revolutionaries make bad presidents. There are more Mugabes and Yeltsins than Washingtons and Mandelas. Nobody here is letting Castro off the hook for that.

          But he nonetheless was both a better leader than Batista and someone who did some very good things in certain areas. And, importantly, Cuba is going to have a better future going forward because he kicked the white oligarchs and the Mafia out and stood up to the Americans.

          Dictatorship is horrible, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t degrees and nuances.

        • Charlie S

          I’ll see your George Washington and raise you one Salvador Allende.

      • Sev

        Some of the popular leaders in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow did have more democratic instincts, so I’m not sure you’re right about that. Castro, of course, had the charisma, the ruthlessness, and the troops.

      • LeeEsq

        Cuba could very well be in a much better place today if the Batista era continued. Batista would not have democratized but his successors could have been forced to in the same way that Chiang Kai Shek’s heirs were made to democratize in Taiwan. See also South Korea compared to North Korea.

        • SIS1

          Looking at Latin American history makes this a very problematic and unlikely scenario. It is far more likely that Cuba would have become the narco-State given its easy reach of the US East coast.

          • And far from impossible that narco-state is in the cards going forward for the island.

          • Manny Kant

            Most Latin American countries have held free elections for decades now.

        • rhino

          Not sure the brutal capitalism of South Korea and Taiwan is something to long for. I wouldn’t hold them up as a great example of how wonderful things come out of repressive regimes.

          It’s arguable that cuban peasants are the only lower class who’s llves actually improved after a revolution. Certainly the US cannot be so described, when you consider the american revolution locked in chattel slavery for almost a century.

      • MilitantlyAardvark

        @EddyElfenbein
        Look, I’m not wild about how the Alderaan thing was handled but the Empire made great strides in literacy and public health.

    • (((Hogan)))

      By all means, carry on the struggle against Fidel. At this point I like your chances.

      • rhino

        +1

    • JR in WV

      If we are unwilling to attack all dictators: be it Castro or some American propped up fascist, I don’t see the point at all.

      Fixed that for you…

  • petesh

    Excellent piece, Erik, Balanced, accurate and nuanced. Yes, you could have stressed the negatives more, but then you could also have stressed the positives more. There was a time when Fidel was the great symbol of global resistance. Emotionally, at the time, this was extremely important, to the world. Just the image of Fidel at the U.N. was a mind-blowing assertion of possibility. And, dammit, right now I need some mind-blowing assertions of possibility.

  • Dilan Esper

    This is very good. One quibble- I am quite sure that Castro was good for Cuba in the narrow sense that someone had to kick the mafia, the casinos, and the rich white elite out (and expropriate their property) before any real reform could take place. Castro stayed way too long and oppressed way too many, but at least the people who lost their riches in 1959 aren’t getting them back.

    • SIS1

      So, educating the populace and investing in Cuba’s human capital (for lack of any other capital to invest in) was a secondary good to screwing the 1959 elite? I think you may have that backwards.

      • Dilan Esper

        Not “screwing” them. Stripping them of their power. As long as they had outsized power and influence, the social programs wouldn’t happen.

        You can look at the history of the American South and see how this works.

        • SIS1

          Even in that rephrasing, the social programs are the goal, and removing the elite the precursor. The fact that Castro’s government actually we ahead with the social programs (within their limited circumstances) is what should be remembered.

          Also, sadly it’s too early to proclaim that the old landowners won’t get their power back – they still have the backing of our rich and powerful.

          • When will the first Trump Hotel open in Havana?

            • Dilan Esper

              Depends. If Trump feels beholden to the anti-Castro Cubans, never. If he sees it as a business opportunity, soon.

              • MilitantlyAardvark

                If Trump feels beholden

                Has he ever?

              • BiloSagdiyev

                I can’t keep track of all Trump scandals and be aware of all internet traditions, but I believe Trump has already violated US law on business dealings in Cuba.

        • rhino

          Revolutions have to start by turfing the powerful. That’s the defining characteristic. The next hurdle is keeping a new and equally small set of people from replacing them, and reinstating the authoritarianism. That’s where the Cuban and American revolutions broke even, and the Russian revolution failed.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      but at least the people who lost their riches in 1959 aren’t getting them back.

      Huh? Last I heard there are people in the State Dept. with a list of properties and names, keeping track of who deserves what back, waiting for the day.

      (Sorry, no link. My head is full of old rubbish.)

      • Dilan Esper

        You are quite right they have that list, just as there are Palestinian refugees who still have the keys to their houses in Israel that their families occupied 70 years ago.

        But they aren’t getting them back.

        The facts are on the ground. Any compensation of Cuban Americans and American corporations will have to either be in lieu or symbolic, or maybe the US government simply won’t lift the embargo until another generation dies off.

  • Calming Influence

    …and Thomas Jefferson was boinking his slaves.

    I don’t think Erik is trying to let Castro “off the hook” for any of his bad decisions, but rather point out that he was a complex person who wasn’t governing in a vacuum, but in a dangerous cold war world where Cuba was a tiny dot on the map. As Obama and others have pointed out, being president means all your decisions are the most difficult ones. We learn from others mistakes, and it’s wise to look at the totality of Castro’s Cuba. To dismiss him as simply “bad” because of a single decision, or decisions based on commonly held attitudes is a mistake. History isn’t “good” or “bad”. It just “was”.

    • Origami Isopod

      This.

  • Fidel Castro and Winston Churchill probably had in common few points of temperament, but there are some intriguing career parallels: each died at ninety after a decade out of public life; they will both of them be remembered as political leaders who successfully fended off ruthless continent-spanning predatory empires bent on invading their respective islands. Also, the two men pursued strategic partnerships with the Soviet Union for defensive purposes, and both were fond of cigars. Churchill lived to see Germany laid in ruins; Castro lived to see Donald Trump elected president. Eerie, no?

    • Origami Isopod

      who successfully fended off ruthless continent-spanning predatory empires bent on invading their respective islands.

      Churchill, of course, was quite gung-ho about preserving his own nation’s ruthless continent-spanning predatory empire.

    • MilitantlyAardvark

      they will both of them be remembered as political leaders who successfully fended off ruthless continent-spanning predatory empires bent on invading their respective islands

      I suspect that over time people will remember them for the cigars and all else will fade into the tobacco-scented mist of mass ignorance.

    • Manny Kant

      Castro had a secretary named Churchill, and Churchill had a secretary named Castro.

  • Murc

    I hate to be on the same side as TJ, but the constant Castro apologetics today from people who ought to know better is vile and sickening. “many errors.” Christ.

    This post is basically a long justification of all Castro’s evil bullshit on the grounds that the US was also doing worse evil bullshit, the problem of which should be self-evident, and it’s especially galling because of the intellectual hypocrisy involved from a man who is trotting out a “well, he was a man of his time” argument who, quite rightly, refuses to accept that as a justification anywhere else. Mealy-mouthed tut-tutting about Castro’s “mistakes” before launching into a couple hundred word blowjob about him managing to get basic education and healthcare policies right doesn’t change that.

    • urd

      Are you sharing TJ’s reading comprehension issue, because it sure seems like it.

      I didn’t take this as another example of “Castro apologetics”.

      If anything it seems you have an issue with any position that doesn’t fully vilify or demonize the man.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      I was actually pleasantly shocked at how critical the post by Loomis was. I expect both he and you will soon be tried, convicted, and expelled from the “progressive” movement for not being unconditional supporters of Castro and his regime. I will of course never be asked to do a guest post on LGM. But, if I had been asked to do this post it wouldn’t have been radically different. I’d put more emphasis on the incarceration of political dissidents after the consolidation of the revolution had eliminated all those associated with Batista. I’d also note his support with Cuban soldiers of the brutal dictatorship of Mengistu in Ethiopia against Somalis, Eritreans, the Oromo, and Tigreans. On the other hand I’d also note that Cuba managed to collectivize agriculture and socialize the economy without the mass violence employed by Stalin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh. So in comparison to other communist regimes Cuba in fact does relatively look better in a number of aspects.

      • Simeon

        What about support for Palestine? I know that’s a hobby-horse of yours.

    • manual

      Shitty take. 0/10. Would not read again

    • Nick056

      Agree. The post was almost very good but, for the love of God — “errors.” Sometimes liberals deserve what we get.

    • elm

      I agree with both you and Erik. The human rights abuses and dictatorial repression are a bigger negative than Erik is making them out to be and the day-to-day life of most Cubans has been pretty awful under Castro (widespread and frequent shortages of basic goods like milk and toilet paper etc., few luxuries, limited freedoms, and so in.)

      On the other hand, Erik is right that Castro delivered a lot of good things to Cuba, especially early in his reign. While communism in general seems to be good at providing basic education and health care to its population, Castro seemed to achieve more (and more quickly) than other communist countries. Had Castro began transisitioning towards more freedom and democracy as other dictators did (or if his reign had ended earlier so that his successors could do so) then his legacy could be much different today. But
      , in my opinion, it’s hard to justify his many decades of repression of human rights abuses. That other countries, including the US, have their own faults is also not an excuse.

  • UserGoogol

    Something which annoys me about the conversation about Castro is that generally speaking, “liberals” and “leftists” are divided based on their willingness to accept compromise and lesser-evils. But that is exactly what Castro was: the lesser evil. So things are flipped around. But instead of saying “ah yes good and evil is a continuum, we have all learned a valuable lesson today” people just find excuses to call each oher hypocrites.

    • Murc

      But that is exactly what Castro was: the lesser evil.

      Compared to Batista? Sure, absolutely.

      When he was still behaving as if he were running a revolution thirty, forty, fifty years later as the immensely wealthy and comfortable ruler of his nation? Not really.

      Erik makes a lot of assertions about Castro making “errors” in this post. I don’t think Castro made a lot of errors. I think he was a-ok with things like “a nonfunctional and arbitrary justice system” and “ruling by the capricious exercise of authoritarian power” as long as he was the one sitting on top.

      Those weren’t bugs. They were features. The fact that he was also a leftist and that there were right-wing monsters ninety miles away doesn’t actually ameliorate that.

      • Dilan Esper

        I think the embargo is relevant to Castro’s performance. How was Cuba ever going to have non-caudillo rule and a growing economy so long as the US was destroying the economy and demanding all the white oligarchs and rapacious corporations must get their property back?

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Unlike the embargo against South Africa or Rhodesia the one against Cuba was not international or even regional and only had one adherent. So its effect on limiting the Cuban economy consisted mainly of redirecting Cuban economic dealings away from the US towards the USSR, Europe, and other countries rather than preventing all trade and investment. The problems of the Cuban economy stemmed from having a Soviet style administrative command economy that limited internal flexibility and a continued dependence upon sugar exports that limited external flexibility.

          • Thom

            Imagine that Ghana (I know you are no longer there, but you were there for several years) could no longer trade with Britain, and that this restriction remained in place for over 55 years. You don’t think this would hurt, even though other trade was possible?

            • J. Otto Pohl

              If the neo-colonial cocoa deals by Cadbury and others had been replaced by a generous oil deal like the Soviet Union used to subsidize Cuba it would have helped Ghana not hurt. It certainly would have allowed Ghana to avoid the horrible shortages of everything that erupted in the wake of the massive spike in oil prices during the 1970s.

              • Thom

                Good point re Cadbury. But of course there is no way to know what would have happened in this alternate reality, as there are too many variables. But my point is that losing your main trading partner, even an exploitative one, is bound to have serious economic consequences, even if other trade options are theoretically available. All that cocoa had to be sold somewhere, for instance.

              • rhino

                I read you’re no longer in Ghana. I know it’s off topic, but where did you go and what’s the story?

      • Nick056

        Thanks for this Murc. Very disappointed by those elisions and characterizations.

      • DocAmazing

        There were right-wing monsters a lot closer than ninety miles away. The entire Caribbean Basin and Central America was riddles with right-wing monsters that we actively supported. Comparing apples to apples–Latin American ruler to Latin American rulers–Castro comes out looking comparatively good, even excellent.

        • Manny Kant

          Latin America was mostly ruled by right wing monsters until the end of the Cold War, sure. But most of those countries transitioned to (very flawed, admittedly) democracies as the Cold War came to a close. Cuba never did. That is also worth taking into account.

  • aturner339

    Castro was indeed a complicated figure but the American public has shown itself to be in no mood for complications. I admire the statesmanship and restraint of Obama but the pandering and bravado of Trump may rebound to his benefit.

  • James B. Shearer

    The case for Cuba’s AIDS policy is that the mandatory quarantine did limit the spread of the disease thereby saving many lives.

    • ColBatGuano

      Well, that’s certainly a hot take.

      • XTPD

        ME NO LIKEY

      • Lasker

        Maybe not as hot as you think? I admit don’t know much on the subject but the first I heard of Cuba’s AIDS quarantine was a qualified defense of it in Paul Farmer’s “Pathologies of Power”. He’s not exactly a kook.

    • Bootsie

      Well shit that just puts the Nazi putting gays into camps into a whole new light. Thank you, Comrade Fidel!

  • bobbyp

    When it came to India, Churchill was a moral monster, directly responsible for more deaths than Castro could ever imagine.

    How do we wash the blood off our hands for putting Mobutu in power?

    Oh, right, Fidel executed some of his political opposition.

    Behold! Innocence!

    Good piece, Erik.

  • bobbyp

    There is a term for somebody who asserts, “The ends do not justify the means.” That term is “liar”.

  • Bootsie

    But you are lynching negroes.

    • MilitantlyAardvark

      Erik Loomis is doing this?

      The things one learns on the internet!

      • (((Hogan)))

        It’s the punch line to a Cold War-era joke about the Soviet Union.

        • MilitantlyAardvark

          Yes, I know.

    • XTPD

      +1962

  • Mtrost

    This is the world into which Fidel Castro entered.

    It feels a bit off that some of the examples you used in the paragraph preceding this sentence took place years after the Cuban revolution (hence long after Fidel Castro ‘entered the world’).
    There are other examples of US imperial fiddling around that would fit chronologically (e.g. Iran).

    • (((Hogan)))

      Well, it helps to read the rest of the paragraph, which is about how Castro responded to and was perceived in the world after he entered it.

  • MilitantlyAardvark

    http://io9.gizmodo.com/fireflys-shepherd-ron-glass-dies-at-71-1789386169

    Ron Glass, known for playing Shepherd Book on the acclaimed Joss Whedon show Firefly and its follow-up film Serenity, has passed away at the age of 71. No other details have been released at this time.

    You know, I never did see Castro and Ron Glass together….

  • manual

    This is wonderful. All the way around.

  • manual

    This is wonderful.

  • AstroBio

    Thanks for pointing out the Human Development Indices, fascinating stuff.

  • Nick056

    Wow. Terrible. It’s possible to contextualize Castro in terms of Batista and American interference in Cuba without going light on his brutal repression of dissent, or drawing false equivalence between his policies and those of his American counterparts. Liberals just can’t let this one go.

    • aturner339

      This holds domestically but falls apart when one considered the levels of brutality the US has directly enabled among allies.

      • Nick056

        Loomis’s post is full of distortions, lies, and omissions. It’s actually really terribly worse than I thought on second reading. For a start, he pretty clearly summarizes the purges that occurred after the defeat of Batista as executions of Batista loyalists. This is ridiculous. This beautiful New Yorker piece tells the story of William Alexander Morgan, an American who fought with Castro, opposed Communist consolidation, and was murdered after a show trial. He was far from the only one in that position. Meanwhile, contrary to the claims that Cuba delivers better healthcare than far wealthier nations, as of the 2000 WHO Survey, Cuba had the 39th ranked healthcare system in the world. To be sure, that’s far better than many countries with similar histories. But every single wealthy country, including the US, got better ratings for healthcare delivery. This “complicated” take scrupulously avoids humanizing the people Castro had killed or given 30 year sentences after show trials and exaggerates the successes of his domestic policies.

        • OK comrade.

        • DocAmazing

          every single wealthy country, including the US, got better ratings for healthcare delivery

          In other news, apples were found to be an inferior fruit because squeezing them failed to render orange juice.

          • Nick056

            That’s a very weird thing to write. Loomis wrote this:

            Castro’s policies were a mixed bag. He absolutely provided outstanding health care and education to his people. This is something beyond what far wealthier nations have achieved. No one can really deny the success of these policies.

            … Which is a pretty straightforward claim that Castro provided superior healthcare and education to his people than what people in wealthier nations enjoy. At least in terms of healthcare, that isn’t so. I’m evaluating the actual claim asserted.

        • Nang Mai

          Nick056, You might want to look at the current WHO report (2016). Cuba compares very favourably to the US. In some areas such as life expectancy, infant mortality and physician density either meets or greatly surpasses. Even more important, Cuba’s stats are improving whereas in the US many measures are getting worse.

          • Ronan

            Well the argument is often made in rebuttal, that pre Castro Cuba was developmentally closer to southern Europe and Ireland than Haiti or other countries in the Caribbean. So the comparison with where Cuba is now should be made with those countries
            I think this is kind of stupid, as it purposely ignores the geopolitical context at the time in the Caribbean, but this is the argument people like brad de long etc put forward.

          • Nick056

            Cuba does okay in the 2016 report. But not across the board. It’s Maternal Mortality Rate was higher than Mexico’s and more than twice that of the US. They also had high rates of suicide — the third highest in the Americas and higher than many European countries (but the US does poorly on that metric as well).

            The WHO doesn’t do single-number ranking every year, and while Cuba does well given its history compared to Western powers, I don’t think it’s an unqualified success story. Their child mortality rate, for example, is good compared to the US and terrible compared to most of Europe.

            • Nang Mai

              A couple of things: the US maternal mortality reported rate is suspect because of a general lack of data and analysis. Please see http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/93/3/14-148627/en/ for a detailed discussion.

              The most important fact is how the statistics are trending. Cuba’s numbers are consistently improving; the US not so much. Perhaps over time the introduction of the ACA will change that trend.

  • Simeon

    Not all of Castro’s international moves were as consistently on the right side as these, including his opposition to Betancourt in Venezuela.

    Wasn’t Betancourt opposed to Castro?

    • Yes. Castro went after Betancourt, even though the latter was democratically elected.

      • MilitantlyAardvark

        Did Jill Stein raise money for the Caracas recount?

      • Simeon

        I mean, wasn’t it a mutual thing? While Betancourt was trying to expel Cuba from OAS, did you expect Cuba to respond with friendship and gratitude?

        I’m not saying Betancourt wasn’t a good option for Venezuela at the time. Just that it might be a little hard for government A to support government B when government B is opposed to government A.

  • celticdragonchick

    The only thing I can say about Castro is I sincerely hope he is being anally violated by Satan in an infernal cell next to Pol Pot.

    • The Great God Pan

      Speaking of Pol Pot, this piece immediately came to mind while reading Erik’s post. I offer it without comment.

      • celticdragonchick

        Jesus Christ. I don’t know what to even say that. It sounds like something from the Holocaust deniers in the French National Front Party.

        • ExpatJK

          I briefly clicked the link, just to see who wrote it, and the author is Israel Shamir. I believe he is a Holocaust denier and anti-Semite, so you’re not far off…

      • Oh please jump in a lake.

        I guess a nuanced take of a controversial but significant figure is the same as saying that the Khmer Rouge were awesome.

        Clearly I’m the one with the problem.

        • celticdragonchick

          Eric, you really do lapse into apologia in your piece, and Castro is simply not defensible. I don’t care how much you hate Reagan’s policies or whatever fucked up stuff we did back in the 40’s and 50’s…Castro was responsible for his own actions and he was a bloody handed dictator. He repressed and murdered dissent and sent the GLBT community into hiding or the gulag. I take that last bit kinda personally. So fuck him. You should know better, btw.

  • daves09

    Economic policies-bad.
    Social policies for the majority-good, for minorities, gays for example-bad.
    Castro’s internal policies compared to any other commie regime-remarkable.
    No mass murders practically makes him unique.
    Delivering on his promises. Producing education and health care superior to what was available in the USSR or the East European countries.
    Doctors who actually knew how to doctor, teachers who knew how to teach.
    Authoritarian certainly, but seemingly absent the soul killing police state ala the stasi.
    So yes, a mixed bag, in other words, human.
    Having gained power he found it impossible to give up until it fell from his hands. But that is also a very human trait-see the US Senate.

  • AMK

    The comparison isn’t between Castro and some Cuban Social Democratic Unicorn. It’s between Castro and Batista or Trujilo or any of a dozen other Latin American strongmen, who give you the violent repressive dictatorship without any of the social provisions. legal organization (if not protection) and basic quality of life–healthcare, education, etc–that indisputably improved people’s lives. In that sense, Castro was a net plus for Cuba in the same way that Lenin was a net plus over Tsarist Russia.

    • DrDick

      Exactly, except for some people adding “communism!” into the mix makes it ultrahorrible.

      • AMK

        Castro took a bunch of rich people’s vacation houses. If he had set up a Westminster democracy, turned Cuba into Carribean Singapore and then retired to travel the world preaching nonviolence with Tutu and the Dali Lama, most of these people would still be shrieking about his attack on “freedom” and “human rights.”

    • AdamPShort

      Yes this is the one piece that is never allowed in polite discourse in America. It’s not allowed to talk honestly about what the good guys did. You can exaggerate what the bad guys did if you want, or stick to the facts; it’s your choice.

      But evil is what they do. Try to talk about evil that we did and you will be quickly deemed inadmissible. Moral equivalence! The worst possible sin.

      Any momentary departures from correct behavior on the part.of the US and her allies are simply the inadvertent oversights of a global hero too zealously consumed with the obligations of good neighborliness.

    • elm

      And this is true for when Castro took office. But most of Latin America has democritized in the decades of Castro’s rule (even if many of them are still flawed democracies with dictatorial backsliding) while Cuba has stood still. Human rights abuses and repression have decreased throughout most of Latin America since the 70s and 80s (though has not been eliminated), while Cuba remained a repressive dictatorship.

      If one thinks that democracy and freedom are to be valued in an of themselves (a legitimate point of debate going on upthread) then Castro deserves much of the abuse heaped his way.

      • DrDick

        Tell that to alvador Allende or the people of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, all beneficiaries of American policy in the 1970s and 1980s.

        • elm

          Nowhere did I say the US were the good guys. And I said since the 70s and 80s. I stand by what I said: most of Latin America has been democratizing and reducing their repression and human rights violations since the 70s and 80s. These countries are far from perfect on these dimensions but have made greater strides than Cuba under Castro over the last 30 odd years.

          • DrDick

            They have become nominally more democratic though, as we have seen in Central America, even that is a bit shakey. On the human rights front it is much more problematic and Cuba still does better on public education, health, and a number of other areas Cuba still does better than anyone else in Latin America.

        • languid

          I suggest you read How Allende Destroyed Democracy in Chile.

          When the public session resumed, the members immediately proceeded to vote. Once the count had been made, the President of the Chamber declared the Resolution approved by 81 votes to 47. At 9:49 p.m. the session ended.

          The following day, August 23, the page-wide headline of El Mercurio read:

          “Resolution by Chamber of Deputies THE ADMINISTRATION HAS SERIOUSLY VIOLATED THE CONSTITUTION.”

          The Resolution, approved by almost two-thirds of the members (63.3 percent), accused President Allende’s administration of 20 concrete violations of the Constitution and national laws. These violations included: support of armed groups, illegal arrests, torture, muzzling the press, manipulating education, not allowing people to leave the country, confiscating private property, forming seditious organizations, and usurping powers belonging to the Judiciary, Congress, and the Treasury. The Resolution held that such acts were committed in a systematic manner, with the aim of installing in Chile “a totalitarian system,” that is, a Communist dictatorship.

          It is an extraordinary fact that the Chamber’s Resolution had been approved by all of the members from the Christian Democratic Party, the majority party whose undisputed leader was Senate President and former President of the Republic Eduardo Frei Montalva. Only three years earlier, on October 24, 1970, that same party had given all of its votes in order to elect Salvador Allende president in the Congress.

          As the democratically elected Chamber of Deputies passed the resolution with a strong 63% majority, a resolution which Allende correctly stated promoted a coup, your narrative doesn’t fit the facts. The coup was made in Chile, not in the US.

  • Harkov311

    I suppose as a small-d democrat I have a hard time excusing a dictatorship for any reason. And yes, that includes the U.S.-backed ones. One wrong turn doesn’t deserve another.

    I completely understand why Castro made the choices he made, in the historical context. Some of those choices were beneficial to Cuba, and others were not. But I have a really hard time getting past his refusal to step down and trust his people to continue socialism on their own, having shown them how much better it was than what came before.

    I suppose I differ from some of the commenters upthread in that I think democracy actually is an end in itself.

  • kayden

    Late to the comments but I have to say that this post was well written and nuanced. Castro’s stance against apartheid and towards the liberation of Black African countries against colonial powers is to be commended. Ditto his education and medical breakthroughs in Cuba and abroad (there are Cuban doctors all over the third world).

    None of the above excuse Castro’s dictatorship, mistreatment of the LGBT community or arrest/murder of dissidents. But he’s not as big a demon as many of the authoritarian rulers who have been supported by the United States in the past (and at present). It will be interesting to see what happens when Raoul passes. Will Cuba democratize then or will another dictator take over?

  • Slowpoking a bit here, but want to thank you for this insightful and nuanced piece. Castro was a complex figure, neither as perfect as his defenders want us to believe nor as monstrous as his enemies claim, and reducing him to simple soundbites and sloganeering does him and us a disservice. As is often the case, the political reality was quite a bit more complicated, and this piece is probably the closest I’ve seen to capturing what it actually was, as well as providing some often elided and greatly needed historical context.

  • Pingback: Professors praise, defend Castro: 'Inspiration, remarkable, powerful, complex' - The College Fix()

  • Pingback: The legacy of Fidel Castro | Phil Ebersole's Blog()

  • Pingback: A Day in My Life - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Pingback: Erik Loomis: the URI professor being targeted by Trump’s alt-right ‘fascist networks’()

  • Pingback: Trump’s alt-right ‘fascist networks’ are targeting URI professor Erik Loomis()

  • Dagmar

    And, most of all, without Castro, Las Vegas would be a wide spot on a desert highway.

  • languid

    And this is the world context in which we have to evaluate Castro. In the end, which nation is better off today, Cuba or the Dominican Republic? Or any of its similar neighbors around the Caribbean basin.

    Apparently you are not aware that had you asked the following question in 1959 or 1960- which is better off, Cuba or the Dominican Republic- you would have been laughed out of the room, for asking a question with a VERY OBVIOUS ANSWER.
    For example, consider Physicians per 1,000 people in 1960: .95 for Cuba, and .12 for the Dominican Republic.

    A better question would be: which nation has improved more, Cuba or the Dominican Republic?
    Life Expectancy, 1960
    Cuba 63.9 years
    Dominican Republic 51.8 years

    Life Expectancy, 2014
    Cuba 79.4 years
    Dominican Republic 73.5 years

    Increase in Life Expectancy, 1960-2014
    Cuba 15.5 years
    Dominican Republic 21.7 years

    As the Dominican Republic has increased its Life Expectancy from 1960-2014 6.2 more years than Cuba has during the same time span, by this measure the Dominican Republic has improved more than Cuba.

    As the Dominican Republic has considerably closed the gap with Cuba, it would appear that the Dominican Republic has done better.

    You are not the only person who ignores two important facts about evaluating Cuba. First, while the Cuba that Castro inherited in 1959 had its problems, it was relatively well off. Cuba’s Life Expectancy was 8 years higher than that of Latin America when Castro took over. Cuba’s Life Expectancy in 1960 was higher than Portugal’s. Second, many countries have made comparable or greater improvements in health and education since then without imposing a totalitarian System. From 1960 to 2014, Latin America’s Life Expectancy improved 19.1 years, compared to Cuba’s 15.5.

    World Bank: World Development Indicators

  • Pingback: Controlling the Political Narrative: Baggers Build From the Ground Up, and So Should We – Surviving Trump's America()

It is main inner container footer text