Donald Trump, the US president-elect, was unequivocal about Fidel Castro in a statement yesterday.
“The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
I hate to agree with Trump on something, but he is bang on about this. Predictably meanwhile, a certain regrettable subset of the Left showered Castro with praise: Corbyn praised his “revolutionary heroism”, Ken Livingstone called Castro an “absolute giant”; but of course, the highest praise for the man came from George Galloway who tweeted: “You were the greatest man I ever met Comandante Fidel. You were the man of the century.”
One thing I’ve always found the least likeable thing about at least a certain portion of the Left is an ability to praise horrible dictators so long as they happen to be “our” dictators so to speak, while condemning the very same behaviour in the Right (which happens, and just to be clear, is equally despicable). Freedom of speech, women’s rights, minority rights, are all core values – unless someone sets up a left-wing totalitarian state, then all of that can go out the window. Universal health care is important, but it doesn’t wash a government of all its sins, and I wish the portion of the Left that carries a flame for the Castros or Chavez could see this clearly.
I don’t want to make a case against Castro here and now – the facts are all out there if you’re interested. Instead I’d like to say what Trump is definitely wrong about in regards to Cuba, and that is his plan, however serious is unclear at this time like so much of his policy agenda, to reverse Obama’s normalising of relations between Cuba and the US. It would be a terrible mistake.
America tried to freeze out the Castros for fifty years and all they did was cement Fidel’s power while providing a convenient scapegoat for why Cuba continued to be so poor. It was a method that clearly not only didn’t work, it had the opposite effect to that intended.
I would like to see Cuba freed of its totalitarian government to become a liberal democracy, of course I would. But the way to do that seems to be through helping Cubans be exposed to more of the world and by extension how badly treated they are by their own government. But more to the point, by not freezing Cuba out, the dictatorship there loses a punching bag and an excuse for a failed economic system. Shorn of all that, perhaps the Cuban people can finally free themselves of its tyranny – and Trump’s government should help that happen as well, in any way it can.