Fidel Castro Was Anything But Courageous / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer

Fidel Castro harangues the crowd. (Archive)
Fidel Castro harangues the crowd. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer, 28 November 2016 – It is not elegant to criticize someone who has just died, but seeing the messages from the heads of state around the world exalting the supposed courage of the recently deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the truth must be told: Castro was anything but courageous. On the contrary, he was a coward.

In the first place, he was a coward for not allowing a free election in 57 years, from the time he took power in 1959. Only someone who is afraid of losing doesn’t desire to measure himself against others in a free election.

In the second place, Castro was a coward because he never allowed a single independent newspaper or non-government radio station or television channel. His critics didn’t even have access to the official channels. It was as if they did not exist.

Castro gave the vast majority of his interviews to journalists, models or sports figures who revered and honored him. And the few interviews he gave to serious journalists were monologues, in which he did all the talking.

I remember in the late 1980s, when I asked the Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez to intercede for me to ask for an interview with Castro. He laughed and said: “Why do you want an interview with Fidel? He never says anything in an interview that he hasn’t said in one of his five hour speeches.”

Castro’s fear of losing his omnipresent image as Maximum Leader was such that he forbade the media to talk about his private life. He had to be portrayed as a demigod who had sacrificed his life for the public good. For decades, the names of his wife and children were a state secret.

When I traveled to Cuba in the early 1990s, a journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) the communist youth paper, told me he had been reprimanded by his boss for trying to publish a photo of Castro eating dinner. The commander could never be shown eating, said the journalist.

Even the circumstances of the death of Castro may have been a government montage: Cuban official media say he died on November 25, which is the same day that Castro and his guerrillas left the Mexican port of Veracruz on the yacht Granma in 1955 to start their armed insurrection in Cuba.

Did they tamper with the date of his death to show it as a heroic journey to the afterlife, which coincides with the date of the beginning of his revolutionary epic six decades ago?

Third, Castro was a coward because he did not allow any independent political party. According to the Cuban Constitution drafted by Castro, only the Communist Party, which he presided over for decades, is allowed on the island.

Castro used the United States trade embargo as an excuse to prohibit independent political parties and freedom of assembly. Even after he handed the presidency to his brother Raul, although he remained a powerful figure behind the scenes, the Cuban regime intensified repression of the peaceful opposition despite the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba that began under President Obama in 2014.

According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an unofficial group, documented political arrests have soared from 6,424 in 2013 to 9,125 so far this year.

Fourth, Castro was a coward because he never allowed international financial institutions to monitor or verify the positive economic statistics of his government.

Castro boasted that Cuba reduced poverty and improved health and education, and much of the international press believed it, unquestioningly. But unlike most countries, Castro never allowed the World Bank or other credible international institutions to undertake independent studies on the island.

He boasted of the educational progress of Cuba, but never allowed Cuba to participate in the International Student Assessment (PISA) testing program. In fact, many studies show that other countries such as Costa Rica made more social progress than Cuba, without paying the price of mass executions, imprisonments and exiles.

Fifth, Castro never allowed international human rights organizations to conduct on-site investigations into human rights abuses. According to the research group Cuba Archive  Castro was responsible for 3,117 documented cases of executions and 1,162 cases of extrajudicial executions. In any other country, he would have been declared a war criminal.

I am sorry, but the conventional narrative that Castro was a courageous revolutionary who defied ten US presidents and survived numerous assassination attempts does not impress me at all.

Courageous leaders are those who have the courage to compete with others in free elections. Castro was a coward who never dared to allow the Cuban people to exercise their basic rights, and who condemned his island to misery.

His death should be a reminder that there is no such thing as a good dictator. Whether a right-wing autocrat as Augusto Pinochet or a leftist like Castro, all dictators are bad and, deep down, cowards.


Editor’s Note: This article was previously published in Spanish in the newspaper El Nuevo Herald. It is reproduced with the permission of the author.