For more than five decades, the Castros kept the people of Cuba under the jackboot of Communist tyranny. When the doddering Fidel finally relinquished the reins of power in 2006, it was only to hand them over to his brother Raul.
The Castro regime has even found a tender spot in the rancid fantasies of left-wing intellectuals, from Jean-Paul Sartre and Susan Sontag down to the narcissistic maunderings of workaday scribblers like Nation writer Elizabeth Sutherland. Castro, Sutherland wrote,
seems utterly devoted to the welfare of his people—and his people are the poor, not the rich. When he speaks, it is as if his own dedication and energy were being directly transfused into his listeners with an almost physical force.
According to the journalist and filmmaker Saul Landau, Castro was “a man who has been steeped in democracy . . . a humble man.” Other commentators fell over themselves to reaffirm this message. Castro was “a passionate humanitarian” who (according to Julian Bond) “made one think of the connection between socialism and Christianity.” Readers with strong stomachs can find an inventory of such emetic mendacities in Paul Hollander’s classic book Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society.
The truth is rather more grisly and requires a stomach strong in a different sense: not to withstand the hypocritical sentimentalities of intellectual fellow-travelers but to witness the murderous and soul-blighting frenzy of totalitarian tyranny: the wholesale torture, imprisonment, forced labor, and murder of countless thousands whose only crime was expressing a desire for freedom.
A partial but fully documented listing of the Castros’ crimes against humanity is collected at a web site appropriately called “Castro’s Greatest Atrocities and Crimes.” Be sitting down when you inspect its report.
So now that Castro has finally shuffled off his mortal coil, what does the world have to say? Our childlike pope expressed his sadness and “grief” at his passing. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his sorrow at the death of the “larger than life leader.” British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn concurred, describing Castro as a “massive figure in the history of the whole planet” and praising the tyrant’s “heroism” and work for “social justice.” Then there was the aspiring totalitarian Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Union, who tweeted: “With the death of #FidelCastro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.” The New York Times, weighed in with an intermittently sycophantic expostulation. Castro wielded power “like a tyrant,” true, but he was also “the fiery apostle of revolution,” a “towering international figure,” who “bedeviled 11 American presidents.” Admiration swamps criticism. It was always thus at the Times. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Castro had no more fervent apologist than Timesman Herbert Matthews. There was a reason that National Review once ran an ad campaign featuring a picture of Castro with the legend “I got my job through The New York Times.”
It is especially instructive, I think, to compare the response of President Barack Obama to Castro’s death with the response of President-elect Donald Trump.
Here’s the meat of Obama’s official response:
At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation [Indeed, just think of the thousands who are dead and maimed because of Castro. That’s “altering the course” alright!]. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.
For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends – bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.
So, as with everything Obama says, the response is centrally about him, Barack Obama (“During my presidency. . .”), but that there is not a word, not a syllable, about Castro’s decades-long litany of atrocities.
Compare that with Donald Trump’s response. Trump began this morning with a Tweet: “Fidel Castro is dead!” Then came his statement:
Today, 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. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.
How much cleaner, more manly, more honest was Donald Trump’s response than Barack Obama’s. Ditto with Vice-president elect Mike Pence’s response: “The tyrant #Castro is dead. New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba. Viva Cuba Libre!”
I like it. Will the NeverTrump chihuahuas acknowledge the strength and inherent decency of Trump’s and Pence’s responses? Of course not. But who cares? They are about as pertinent now as is Hillary Clinton.