A great leader has died. Yes, he was flawed – all right, deeply flawed – aren’t we all? But great.
Uh-oh! Get ready … Boom! Here comes the global blast of contradictory pronouncements of Fidel Castro’s stewardship over a tiny Caribbean island nation of eleven million people. Its very geography, just 90 miles from the continental United States, destined it to become a political weapon of the hot-and-cold warring powers of America and the Soviet Union.
At its core, Castro’s tale addresses the far more complicated story of what exactly is a leader. Not just a list of possible qualities, but an examination of qualifications, self-selection, and whether the post can ever truly represent the will of the people under a system dictated by the demands of capitalism.
Anyone who still believes that the leadership of unallied countries’ only leverage is measured either in mineral wealth or geographic advantage for military bases, is naive in the extreme if they ignore the skullduggery behind the election scenes.
Castro spearheaded one of the most successful resistance movements ever.
He was great in his embodiment of the people against tyranny. The fact that as a frontman for a manipulative Soviet regime he himself was shoved into the corner of tyranny, was probably his only recourse against a concerted American campaign to deprive Cuba, an island nation dependent on imports, of free trade in the non-Communist world.
Post facto analyses of such political change both demonise and elevate its figureheads. Castro is no different. He was human, he made errors of judgement, some truly despicable, even criminal by any standards. He was also a hero to a section of his people – and those like them throughout the region and later on other continents – people who were previously ignored, exploited, and sacrificed wholesale. No other country in history, other than Cuba, has achieved a higher standard of literacy nor benefitted from more successful universal dental and medical care.
That is not the equivalent of justifying Mussolini’s fascism by noting how efficient his railways were. So, flawed? Certainly. But certainly a hero.
In the lava-heat of polarising views, it’s vital to keep remembering that whoever takes on the mantle of a leader will automatically, and from the start, be the subject of hatred and the misapplied mud of blame… in part for deeds enacted at the incitement of others.
The young Castro, a trained lawyer who rebelled against his wealthy chaotic family, focused on resistance as his tool. Recognising the effects of wide-spread poverty and corruption around him, he allied himself to anti-imperialist political movements to crowbar the subjugated people from under the thumb of the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
Batista’s elite power-base, a carbon-copy of so many other pliable Latin American regimes, was only possible with funding and political approval from successive US governments, covertly holding hands with the Mafia and big business. Cuba’s celebrity-beckoning resorts and especially drug-flooded casinos as a perfect money laundry, drew a curtain in front of the even more lucrative mining resources being exploited for the benefit of US-owned oil companies, and to the detriment of a deliberately ill-educated population. Of course a populist movement to threaten such hedonism and opulence triggered the wrath of successive US governments and their associates for decades. No more Havana cigars? Unthinkable!
Sadly, Castro, as a Catholic of confused socio-cultural values, couldn’t embrace the humanity of sexual politics – and that is appalling. And yes, as the people’s choice as head of state, his private island fiefdom on Cayo Piedra with its heliport and private medical facility, far outstrips the lifestyle of any Cuban worker. It’s actually pretty modest in comparison with Putin’s palace, or the White House, or the Queen’s 800-room Buckingham Palace and her additional handful of lush living quarters.
Okay. But what about the deaths?
Without citing too much detail, some perspective is required. On Hitler’s watch, some 6 million were tortured, starved, gassed and shot. Under Pol Pot about a million and a half were starved and executed out of a population of 7 or 8 million. This doesn’t excuse the point-blank gun-barrel justice of Castro and his lieutenant Che Guevara in their mission to cut the American strings of the Batista puppet. But compare.
Never brought to trial himself, Batista found a new sybaritic life in fascist Spain after slaughtering some 20,000 Cubans. And yes, Castro did sanction the jailing, and early on, even the deaths of a Human Rights Watch estimate of between 3-5 thousand political opponents. It cannot be denied that while he helped construct a more democratic alternative to dictatorship, he also adopted Soviet-style restrictions on the press and free movement of people.
But because so many political pundits and the media choose to spoonfeed simplistic pablum to viewers and readers – Fidel Castro, over the astounding five decades of his premiership/presidency, has personified a cartoon-like demonisation of anti-capitalism. In Western eyes he’s viewed as the bogeyman, the monster, the creature to be feared. He was, in fact, the straw man masking the more fundamental complexities of the jockeying for power in a post-war world.
This brand of one-upmanship has been true both of the left and the right. Recent history shows how once-castigated rebels-deemed-terrorists – I mean Nelson Mandela – have been internationally lauded as freedom fighters and bestowed with the highest honours of the land. We also see in front of our very eyes, how other ruthless heads of state are not only tolerated but have a blind eye turned to the obscenities inflicted on their populations – and all in the name of economic mutual advantage.
This realpolitik pertains predominantly through-out Asia [including Turkey], Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and to a lesser extent in parts of Europe.
The complexities revealed by the reactions to Castro’s death only unlock the door to a discussion on leadership. My next article will take this further with implications for the UK in a post-truth era.
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This post was written by outRageous!