So Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90 and while tributes are being paid to him by many on the Left, the capitalist media has gone full throttle with its “He was a brutal dictator, who repressed his people” schtick. It was inevitable. The commentators on the Right on both sides of the Atlantic will wilfully overlook the many brutal dictators their countries supported to advance a particularly weak argument about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. If we take Cuba’s neighbour, Haiti, we can see that for the much of the 20th century, the United States has interfered in the country since the end of its occupation (1915 – 1934). Later, the bloodthirsty Duvalier family was kept in power with the United States’ connivance since the 1950s until Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier was deposed in a popular uprising in 1986. Even today, the US continues to interfere in that country and its people continue to suffer high levels of poverty, infant mortality and illiteracy.
In the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States propped up a series of dictators, most notably Augusto Pinochet and the Somoza family of Nicaragua. The US invaded and occupied Nicaragua in 1909 and installed the Somoza dynasty, which it kept in power until the Sandinista Revolution of 1979. Even then, the US supported an insurgency campaign led by the so-called Contras, who were funded with money from the sales of arms to Iran, a country that the US was ostensibly hostile towards. In Chile, Pinochet was assisted by the CIA’s efforts to destabilize the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Thousands perished or were ‘disappeared’ at the hands of the DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. Today, that country continues to feel the effects of the Pinochet era, particularly in the fields of education and public services.
In Guatemala and Honduras, two countries in which most of the land was owned by the United Fruit Company, workers were repressed and their governments were puppet regimes that were installed at the behest of the company. In 1954, for example, the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was brutally overthrown in a CIA supported coup that was led by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. We should also recall that Eisenhower’s CIA director, John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen, had once been on United Fruit’s payroll in one form or another.
This morning on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, they presented a predictable one-sided narrative of Fidel and Cuba. Invariably the Cuban Missile Crisis was brought up but not the actual cause. Instead, listeners were simply told that Castro had allowed Soviet missiles on Cuban soil and how these missiles were only a mere “60 miles from the United States”. The BBC News Channel later repeated the same narrative. What the BBC failed to mention is that the US had sited missiles on Turkish soil years before the USSR began building missile silos on Cuba. So much for facts, eh?
Perhaps the most bizarre moment on the Today programme was when Mishal Husain suggested to Ken Livingstone (via a question) that it was better to live in a supposedly democratic country with poor rates of literacy than in Castro’s Cuba where literacy rates are high.
In Africa, it was Castro’s intervention that stopped the advance of CIA backed thugs of UNITA, who were supported by Britain, South Africa and the US, who sought to extend Western hegemony on the continent. Castro also opposed the apartheid regime of South Africa, while Thatcher and Reagan provided it with unqualified support.
As for repression, it is worth remembering that during the 1950s, 60s and the early part of the 1970s, African-American voters were prevented from exercising their democratic rights in the US Deep South. The Black Panthers and other groups were routinely harassed by COINTELPRO and many were imprisoned on trumped up charges.
Yes, there are human rights abuses taking place on Cuban soil… in a place called Guantanamo Bay, which is run by the US military.
Fidel Castro wasn’t perfect but he was, by no means, the world’s worst dictator.
Viva la revolucion! Viva Cuba!