Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at long last died on Friday, and this time it seems to be for good. His death had been rumored and even reported numerous times over the years, but the Cuban government has now acknowledged the fact, and it’s now safe to raise a toast with a Cuba Libre.
Castro seized power in Cuba on New Year’s Day in the year of our birth, then almost immediately started the mass executions and police state tactics that turned his lovely island nation into a hellish gulag, and has been a persistent problem to us and the rest of the world ever since. Our first inkling of how very scary the world can be came when he nearly provoked a cataclysmic global war by inviting the Soviet Union to plant nuclear missiles in his country, and he helped continue that constant threat through a long Cold War by sending soldiers and saboteurs to foment communist revolutions throughout South America and Africa. Even after the demise of the Soviet Union he continued to impose a dictatorship on his country, and to exert an insidious influence on politics everywhere.
Of course he had his apologists and admirers on the left here, who long agitated for normalizing diplomatic and economics relations with Cuba and eventually elected a president who would pursue that course. They touted the high literacy rates and universal access to excellent health care supposedly found in Cuba, cheered the same anti-democratic “peoples movements” that Castro supported around the world, and made the usual excuses for the murderous brutality and totalitarian suppression of fundamental human rights that came along with it. We’ve long been skeptical about those literacy rates and pristine hospitals, and been convinced by better proof about the nastiness of Castro’s regime. Over the years we kept reading about Cubans tying inner tubes together or turning bicycles and styrofoam boxes into paddle-driven boats to try to get the 90 miles or so from Cuba to the United States, although we can’t ever reading about anyone taking such extreme measures to get Cuba, and we’ve known enough of the fine people who somehow escaped to productive lives in America to believe their corroborating stories.
Over our years of newspaper reading presidents and prime ministers and popes and pop stars have come and gone, but the Castro name has kept popping up. Fidel’s brother Raul still clings to dictatorial power in Cuba, so we suppose we’ll keep seeing it for a while, but there’s always a chance that cult of personality that has largely propped up the dictatorship will pass along with the personality. There’s a new president in the United States, too, and he’s talking admirably tough about how very bad Castro had been, but he was also talking deals back in the campaign days, so perhaps that’s just a negotiating tactic to get himself and Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth a good casino deal.
We’ll hope for the best. Cuba has a glorious musical and culinary and literary and religious tradition that speaks to something profoundly joyful at the heart of its culture, but it also has an almost unbroken history of bad government. At the moment America hardly seems in any condition to instruct them on the matter of good government, and the Cuban people are going to have to assert the best of themselves if their condition is to improve, but at least the task should be easier without Fidel Castro around.
— Bud Norman