The rise of Fidel Castro, when I was a teenager, came as something of a surprise to me. And that was the first inkling that I had that the American government wasn’t the high-minded organization of my history books.
In these most perilous political times, it is of critical importance to know whether the America we have is the one we want and, most of all, whether the America we have is the one fundamentally oriented to human rights as it was designed by our founding fathers.
Fidel Castro happened because of a disastrous and disgusting policy of the American government. The Cuba of the time was being run by a ruthless and thoroughly corrupt dictator, Fulgencia Batista. He suspended the previously democratic government. He tortured and murdered thousands of Cuban citizens. He created a playground for wealthy tourists, offering them rampant prostitution and every other conceivable illicit pleasure money could buy. He provided a working base for the Mafia, who used it to promote their illegal activities, including the delivery of an endless stream of drugs to the United States. He presided over the almost total destruction of the Cuban middle class, driving all but the very wealthy of the island into poverty. In short, he was the very worst of history’s short list of dirty, rotten bastards.
What is for me the very saddest part of the story is that, throughout his despicable tyranny, he was supported by both American industry and the government of the United States. Our government provided Batista with the weapons with which he slaughtered all who opposed him. It also ignored his collusion with the Mafia, tacitly protecting the Mafia’s injection of drugs into the arms of people throughout the country. It was , all in all, a despicable program of conduct, and America should be just as ashamed of its conduct during this time as it should be of its oppression of African Americans, its attempted and sometimes successful genocide of native Americans and its centuries-long refusal of equal rights for women.
Fidel Castro, whatever else he may have done, ended all of that. He drove Batista out of Cuba to Portugal and ultimately Spain, where he lived off the billions he had stolen from the Cuban people until his death. He shut down a prostitution industry that had condemned thousands of Cuban women to the degradation of that trade. He chased the corporate con men out of the country, destroying their program of impoverishing and degrading the Cuban people.
He also turned gradually to the support of the Soviet Union. Gradually, I say, because he first offered the United States the opportunity to help him restore prosperity to the people of the island. The United States not so politely declined, and the Soviet Union jumped at the opportunity. Castro took the offer, and Cuba gradually suffered more and more of that that glum, oppressive and now failed system of governing.
He probably did many of the things for which those who fled Cuba condemned him. He probably did restrict citizens’ access to information. He probably did imprison, and even torture and kill, those who opposed him. He certainly imposed an economic policy that resulted in little growth and many shortages. Given the economic blockade imposed by the U.S. during his reign, the lack of goods and financial opportunity is not a great surprise.
Castro’s failures, however, were not the reason why the United States opposed him, tried to invade his country and tried, over and over, to murder him. It did all that at the request of those very corporations and gangsters who had effectively enslaved all but the wealthiest of the Cuban people. His real failure was to find a way to provide his people real freedom and real economic opportunity, all while refusing to allow the creeps and criminals who had once ruled his country back into power. It was a tough assignment, made all the tougher by the enmity of his neighbor, but it was, nevertheless, a failure. He avoided the worst of the Soviet suppressions, but his rule did reflect that old criticism that socialism eliminated the gap between the rich and the poor by making everybody poor.
In the end, I give him my vote as a liberator. He opposed, and defeated, all those elements of American society that I despise — the financial vultures and the criminal vultures. We are about to be subjected to a government in the hands of one of those vultures, a government that is already advocating restrictions on the press and policies that will increase even more the gap between rich and poor. The ugly forces of greed and corruption made Castro the only logical choice for the Cuban people. Let us hope we Americans are not forced to make such a choice.