Fidel Castro, In Context

castroFirst of all, let me clarify that I am not a fan of Fidel Castro. Fidel was an authoritarian dictator who brutally crushed any opposition and silenced dissent with the blunt instruments of imprisonment and torture. The United Nations and Amnesty International were right to condemn the abuses of human rights perpetrated by order of Fidel Castro. The United States was right to denounce such an anti-democratic  regime.

There’s just one thing that bothers me.

Fidel Castro’s revolution was a response to the authoritarian dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, in comparison to whom Fidel Castro was a choirboy with a mischievous streak. Batista did all the bad things Castro did, but on a much larger scale and with a sadistic flair that Castro, for all his brutality, never acquired. Censorship of the media, torture, public executions, acts of random violence against innocent citizens for no reason but to terrorize – Batista took it all to such an extreme that an already brutalized and terrified populace rose up against him with Fidel Castro in the lead. In the aftermath, Castro ordered the execution of hundreds of Batista’s men – who had just finished murdering at least ten times that number of Cuban people, often on the basis of suspicion alone.

Without Batista, there would have been no Castro.

And the USA condemned Batista, right? Because censorship and torture and violent oppression are wrong…right?

Well, that’s what bothers me. Batista had the financial, logistical and military support of the USA until he fled the country with all the wealth he could carry in 1959, when the Communists won the Cuban Revolution. Batista’s ties with US corporations (who turned an obscene profit from exploitation of what was basically slave labor) were as cozy as was his relationship with the US Mafia, whose gambling and prostitution operations in Cuba filled the bank accounts of the Batista family as well as the Mafia bosses’. Cuba was a gold mine for wealthy criminals, landowners and family members of the dictator. Meanwhile, the Cuban people lived in squalid misery. The average Cuban family in 1953 had an income of $6.00 a week, 15% to 20% of the labor force was chronically unemployed, and only a third of the homes had running water.

I can’t help wondering what would have happened if the USA had been as outraged over the plight of the Cuban people under Batista as we were with their suffering under Castro.

After the Cuban Revolution, things didn’t get much better for the average Cuban. Still no freedom of the press, still dangerous to speak against the government. Of course, the average Cuban could now get world-class health care and education. Many Cubans experienced electricity rationing and food shortages, whereas under Batista, most Cubans had no electricity at all (let alone running water) and food was always short. As bad as Cubans had it with Castro, it was a big improvement over Batista.

Maybe that’s why they didn’t have another revolution in Cuba, even when the USA tried to help start one in 1961. If things had gotten worse for the average Cuban, they would have risen up against Castro like they did against Batista. But they didn’t, because things got better. Not great; not as good as they should have – but better.

Castro was a bad man. Batista was much, much worse. So why did we always hear so much about the evil of Castro, yet so little about the evil of Batista?

Maybe it is because Castro was a communist – which means he was not interested in doing business with US corporations – and Batista was a fascist – which means he was very interested in said business. The powers that run things in the USA have generally been OK with fascist dictators like Batista.

And Pinochet. And the Somozas. And Trujillo. And Rios Montt. And Arellano. And Banzer. And Duvalier. And Fujimori. And Noriega. And Suharto. And many, many more around the world. These were not good leaders, not men of the people. Castro was bad. Every one of these guys was worse. Most Americans have never heard of them. American schoolchildren associate the phrase “Latin American dictator” with the name “Fidel Castro”.

Fidel Castro is dead. He was an authoritarian dictator guilty of crimes against humanity. We will have the right to cry shame on Fidel Castro when we have severed all of our ties to the many fascist dictators we still coddle to the benefit of our financial elite; when we have given equal attention to the evils perpetrated by each fascist dictator of the past who enjoyed the aid and abetment of American military and financial might; when we have rid our own government of every parasitic politician who accepts personal gain at the cost of human suffering anywhere.

Fidel Castro is dead. There are many worse men kept alive and comfortable by your tax dollars because fascism is profitable. That, my fellow Americans, is what should anger you.