November 28, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO, FAILURE?

The reactions to Fidel’s death have mostly fallen along predictable lines. There are the expected conservative condemnations of a dictator, and the equally predictable lefty eulogies of a man who defied American power and sought social justice. Liberals attack conservatives for bashing Fidel while giving right wing dictators a pass; conservatives attack liberals for overlooking Fidel’s dismal record when it comes to issues liberals claim to care about, like freedom of expression and gay rights.

But there’s something else to think about: whether you loved Fidel, loathed him, or fell somewhere in between, it was John Paul II who sized him up best. Fidel, the Pope said, was a man of destiny. But his destiny was a tragic one.

In some ways, Fidel has to be accounted a success. He took power in Cuba in 1959; almost 70 years later the island is ruled by his chosen successor. He wanted to assert Cuban independence of the United States; Cuba not only sided with the USSR in the Cold War, but it intervened against U.S. interests in wars in Angola, Ethiopia and the Middle East. He wanted a socialist revolution; he got one. He wanted to break the power of the old Cuban elite; he did. Fidel himself, the island he ruled and the revolution he created became global symbols of resistance to U.S. power and to capitalist order. In all this he succeeded, often brilliantly. The ruler of a small and poor island in the Caribbean succeeded in writing himself into the pages of world history in a way that no other Latin American ruler has ever done.

Yet with all this success, Fidel must ultimately be accounted a failure, and if he was honest with himself, he had to have known it. It is not just that Castro failed as a socialist; his greatest failure was as a Cuban nationalist. . . .

Lee Kwan Yew, Augusto Pinochet, Francisco Franco, Chiang Kai Shek, Park Chung-he: all of these dictators and authoritarians can mock Fidel Castro. They left their countries better off than they found them, and while many of them committed terrible crimes, they can also point to great accomplishments. Fidel has only the crimes.

Well, he was the incalculably wealthy absolute ruler of an island nation. So he had that going for him, which was nice.

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