No tears for Fidel Castro
Sometimes history doesn’t have to wait to judge — and when it comes to dictators, even dead ones, we shouldn’t either.
With news of Fidel Castro’s death Friday — finalmente — world leaders began offering eulogies, some of which were so vapid or willfully ignorant that Castro might have written them himself. Apparently bereft of the right words, they treated Castro’s brutality as polite unmentionables, serving up platitudes as though just another important figure had passed on to his maker. Did they miss the screams? Growing up in Florida during the Cuban missile crisis, running bomb shelter drills and hearing the stories of refugees who became lifelong friends, I somehow managed to evade the charms of the revolutionary rogue, who merely replaced one dictatorship with another far worse.
It’s one thing to be respectful of the Cuban people — and I’m not suggesting we celebrate anyone’s death. But it is another to sidestep the historical horrors of a murderous, 60-year military regime and strike a pose of diplomatic equanimity that assuages only gluttons of insincerity.
It’s true that Cuba boasts a high level of literacy and a health care system free to all. Then again, you don’t see many people from industrialized nations lining up for heart surgery in Havana.
President Obama’s remarks, though eloquent, were carefully meaningless. Steering clear of specifics, he noted that Cubans are filled with emotions, “recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation.”
Yes, death, torture, oppression, imprisonment, a statecontrolled media and a miserable, state-run economy will flat-out alter a person’s course. Obama then grabbed history’s tail and gave it a yank, saying, “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
Aw, come on, let’s beat history to it. One of the worst dictators in modern history has mercifully died. It doesn’t matter that in 2008 he ceded control of the government to his brother Raul. Symbolically, his death liberates the psyches of at least three generations of Cubans and Cuban-Americans.
History will strain little in judging Castro or in sorting out his effect on the world. Now that Obama has eased the decades-long U.S. embargo, wisely in my view, as well as restrictions on travel, the tiny nation has a shot at reinvention.
President-elect Donald Trump would do well to stay in this lane rather than threaten to reinstate the embargo. He should understand that Castro loved the embargo more than anyone because, as ever, he could blame the U.S. for his failures. For Trump to fall into this same trap would be a post-mortem gift to Castro and breathe new life into cruel legacy — the dictator’s final triumph over America and the several U.S. presidents who could never quite bury him.