Fidel Castro RIP
Without any doubt, Fidel Castro will remain one of the 20th-century’s major historical figures. But there are two stories about Fidel – just as there are two stories about everyone and everything. To some, Fidel will always be the heroic revolutionary who rescued Cuba from a corrupt kleptocracy and instituted an egalitarian society in defiance of Washington and the West. To others, he was a brutal tyrant who crushed all opposition and trampled over human rights. In fact, both stories are true. To the Marxist, however, the “opposition” crushed would be greedy class-traitors, and the human rights trampled over would be those of people seeking to debase the moral climate of society. It is worth remembering that Plato’s vision for his Socratic Republic entailed expelling all the poets and artists as social debasers – even though Socrates himself was sentenced to death for “corrupting the morals of youth”.
It is often indicative of character when people rejoice over the death of a figure beloved of many – and this is what is happening now in the Floridian Cuban community. Many of these people escaped the island, or were expelled by Fidel, either as criminals or class-traitors. It is easy to understand both points of view, but I have been to Cuba a number of times, and am inclined to think that Fidel did far more good than bad. The complaints of emigres are all too often that their purloined wealth was confiscated, either in the form of land returned to the peasants who farmed it, or from confiscated rentier properties, which contribute nothing to national productivity. Few seem to remember the state Cuba was in before Fidel’s revolution. Run by a puppet dictator, it was ostensibly owned by the American Mafia, which had turned it into a private fiefdom of gambling and prostitution. The crime colony island of Spectre in Ian Fleming’s excellent James Bond novels is based on Cuba – Fleming himself lived in nearby Jamaica. Before this period, Cuba had been invaded and plundered by the US as part of a burgeoning would-be tropical empire. The United Fruit Company, active across the Caribbean and Central America, was owned by the Mafia. Like many Third World nations, the island was still in the 17th-century when the 20th-century dawned. Fidel Castro seized it by the neck and dragged it forwards, as Mao had done in China, and Stalin had done in Russia. When absolute power corrupts absolutely, what happens? It would seem to be a galloping paranoia, a fear of all critics and criticism – real or imagined. In Fidel’s case, however, it seems to have been more real than imagined. We know for a fact that the CIA were trying to kill him – preposterously at times. Someone was once hired to put a poisonous powder into his shoes that would make his hair and beard fall out – presumably on the premise that such an un-American beard must be the source of his power. Then, of course, there was the disastrous Bay of Pigs attempt at invasion. True, Fidel had allowed the Soviets to place nuclear missiles on the island, but he seems to have realized he was just a pawn in a far larger game, ordering the missiles disarmed and returned to Russia – and thereby averting the Apocalypse. John F. Kennedy’s sensible withdrawal from conflict with Cuba is said by some to be the cause of his assassination – which seems to have been a plot by the Mafia and Cuban exiles.
Few countries are suited to immediate democracy, and Cuba is certainly one of them. This, of course, assumes that democracy is even viable anywhere. Yet, whatever Fidel did, he was adored by the vast majority of Cubans for over fifty years. Most had seen their lives improve dramatically. When I was first there, the Leader would drive himself around Havana in a jeep, cigar clenched in his teeth, and stop to chat with anyone he encountered. He was not a man of the people – he was educated at a private Jesuit school with Pierre Elliot Trudeau – yet he understood the people, and they responded to him with love. At least ten million people will be mourning him tonight. Cuba is definitely a far better place because of him – and the greater good is a Marxist principle.
One of my favourite anecdotes about Fidel is from the memoirs of Kenneth Tynan, the eminent theatre critic and playwright. He was on the island with Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway and others. Cuba’s most famous resident, Hemingway had not left after the revolution, as some seem to think he did. Indeed, understanding the island better than most, he approved of Fidel, who, like most of his close revolutionary comrades, was still very young at the time. This lustrous crew were awaiting an audience with young Fidel, when Truman Capote said, to whoever was listening, “Do you think that boy over there would go get us some tacos if I gave him the money?”
“Unlikely,” said Hemingway, “he’s the Minister of Health…”
The Travels of Trudeau le Petit
He’s swanning around Africa now, bleating about women’s rights, and denying his party fund-raising is dubious. A PM used to be able to avoid these embarrassing questions on foreign trips – but not anymore. Like his bromancee, Obama, he seems to be so thoroughly decent and innocent that one is inclined to believe his protestations. But, with innocence, comes naivety. At the Madagascar Francophonie, countries seem to have issues far more pressing than those Trudeau is blabbing about. Mali, for example. The French want Canadian troops in there and elsewhere to help quell chaos. But le Petit seems more concerned with women’s rights across the continent. Perhaps this is a grave problem to many western industrial women, who only hear about Africa in the media. But, to the Liberians or South Sudanese, the appearance of this bright and bushy white kid preaching modernity must be perplexing. Imagine if he had beamed himself down into 19th-century England, during the Industrial Revolution, declaring votes for women and a fair minimum wage. Even the Proletariat, whose average age of death was then nineteen, would have thought he was out of his tree. Change comes slowly, and if it comes quickly there is upheaval and mayhem – and then no improvement at all. Karl Marx understood this, and he advocated gradual change from the top down to avoid catastrophe. He believed the revolution, when it came, would happen in England – because he thought it depended upon general education. What happened in Russia would have surprised him, and he wouldn’t have approved of it in any way. It is hard to accept that le Petit is so naïve he thinks western social values can be instantly implemented by nations that are still effectively in the late 18th-century. They have many other more pressing issues than human rights, so why keep harping on the topic? I hate to think that Trudeau is only doing it to court favour with his dewy-eyed fans back home…
Paul William Roberts