The ancient Romans had a saying – De mortuis nihil nisi bonum – about the dead, say either nothing or good. Hard as I tried, I was not able to do either. Progressives the world over, when describing the achievements of Fidel Castro, Hero of the Soviet Union, who died at the ripe old age of 90, have been dripping tears of loss, admiration and grief. The words used in such eulogies range from fiery to passionate, and include “charisma”, “ideals”, “belief” and many superlatives in between.
Let me give you my perspective, that of a former USSR citizen. Picture the port of Odessa in the early Sixties. The Caribbean missile crisis has just ended. The Odessa port workers, the very same proletarians, purportedly bound by class solidarity with the oppressed of the world, refuse to load grain onto a cargo ship bound for Cuba. Quite possibly, because of the chronic food shortage in the motherland of the world proletariat, this grain had been bought in capitalist Canada of the US, shipped to the USSR and then consigned to be shipped once again, this time back across the Atlantic to feed the revolution in Cuba. The wharfies sing a ditty, very poplar in Odessa at the time. It is a parody of a revolutionary Cuban song much beloved by disseminators of official Soviet propaganda:
Cuba, return our bread,
Cuba, take back your sugar,
Cuba, why don’t you go away and get f…ed,
Cuba, you’re such a loser
It was such a politically incorrect, counter-revolutionary ditty that the port area was immediately surrounded by the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ uniformed enforcers and the ‘ringleaders’ summararily arrested. There are no prizes for guessing what happened to them. I suspect that there were no ringleaders as such. Those dragged away were simple stevedores, struggling to feed their families in the semi-starving Soviet Union of Khrushchev times, and outraged that, instead of nourishing their own children, the food they were loading was destined for ‘the bearded maniac’.
Oh, Fidel Castro was popular with some, alright, but his popularity, I suspect, was largely due to the cinematically exotic good looks of a testosterone-dripping alpha-male, rather than his politics and accomplishments. So, what were his accomplishments and goals? What did Fidel Castro bring to the world? What, in short, did he leave behind?
I will not recount Castro’s bio – anyone remotely interested can find plenty of information. I’d like to start from January 1, 1959, when the rebels of his rag-tag army rolled into Havana and declared Cuba free – Cuba Libre! Freedom and cigars for everyone! Yippee! Hurray!
Oh, that magical night, when the hated and corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista, a dictator who lived it up but also let the Cubans live, was overthrown after a grueling and, in many ways, miraculous guerilla campaign. The rebels, who called themselves Barbudos, refused to shave off their beards until the revolution was victorious. They were led by the youthful Castro — son of a prominent family, student of law, incurable romantic with the mindset of a highwayman. Fidel had a rudimentary, but fundamentally sound, knowledge of Marxism. His understanding was direct and simple: rob the robbers, steal the stolen, just as grandpa Karl had envisaged. That was precisely the aim of his legendary adventure – a Robin Hood-style enterprise with the subsequent spread of ‘Communist liberty’ to everyone else. Do you disagree? Read on, you might change your opinion.
Cuba, a medium-size island in the Caribbean, situated at its closest point just 90 miles from Florida’s beaches, was America’s vacation playground, like Bali for modern Australians. The tourism and gaming industries, sugar crop, rum distilleries, tobacco plantations and primo cigars were the mainstays of its economy. There were no other industries. One of the first things Castro did after seizing political power — in full compliance with Marxist diktats – was to nationalise (read: “steal”) the hotels and drive away US tourists. “Yankees, go home!”, cried the revolutionaries, and the Yankees did as they were bid, taking their dollars with them. The tourist trade collapsed. Thousands of jobs were lost. Never mind, chorused the Fidelistas, we are the revolution! We are the future! We can survive on a diet of nothing but Communist slogans and the brotherly help of our Soviet friends!
The nationalisation of the banks, sugar production and the rest of the economy soon followed. The income of an average Cuban plummeted and waves of emigration hit the island. Actually, it was not emigration – it was an exodus. Cubans, like Russians, Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese and innumerable others before them, fled the alleged paradise of Cuba Libre. Planes, rafts, boats, bath tubs – anything that flies or floats was pressed into service. Many thousands escaped to the US. How many perished? Only G-d knows.
Naturally, any ingrates still in the country needed to be taught a lesson. The country’s borders were closed. Not to be deterred, tens of thousands of Cubans invaded foreign embassies’ grounds and demanded free passage out of the country, thereby exposing the mass anger and desperation of ordinary Cubans with the Castro’s regime. Free education, the much-vaunted miracles of Cuban medicine served to impress Castro’s overseas admirers, but they were lies, and crappy lies at that that, to those consigned to live in this palm-fringed basketcase of a country.
Stripped of traditional sources of income, Cubans were nourished instead by the propagandists’ visions of a bright, revolutionary future. Like so many millions in other countries “lucky” enough to live in the various manifestations of socialist dreamland, they were fed tripe about the wonderful world being built for their children to inherit. Their own lives, however, had to be spent in penniless toil while constructing such a future. In other words, Cubans found themselves on a road that had led into a tunnel with no trace of light at the end. The holiday island, once a place of gaiety and laughter, music, romance and Hemingwayesque characters, became a prison. Colonial buildings crumbled from neglect. Potholes went unfilled. Food, water and electricity were rationed, with informers everywhere to tattle on those who grumbled. And everywhere, always, propaganda and sloganeering.
Fidel, a well-educated man, envisioned a Cuba that would become communism’s forward base in the Western hemisphere — the ‘Communist Mecca’ of Latin American, just as Moscow presented itself to the captive nations of Eastern Europe. That was Fidel Castro’s master plan for his Cuba libre. El Commandante saw his country entering a state of a permanent war as it became a transit base for revolutionaries, materials and weapons that would first destabilise and then destroy the political systems and societies of its neighbours. That was the real reason he and his minions’ refused to shave off their beards — a theatrical assertion that no matter how bad things were getting in Cuba the revolution would continue. Strangely, Moscow’s Commissars did not object to their Caribbean protege’s invocation of the Trotskyite battle cry ‘permanent revolution’, so derided in the ideologically hidebound Soviet Union. Castro was the virus intended to infect and afflict other nations, not the country which paid his bills.
Given the near-total destruction of the Cuban economy, the USSR had to take up the slack, supplying and sustaining the fabled “island fortress of Communism in the Western hemisphere”, as the propagandists liked to put it. The USSR, despite being pauperised by its own economic model and the insane policies of Nikita Khrushchev supported the non-existent Cuban economy to the tune of millions US dollars daily. What it all achieved was to make Cuba the fulcrum and centre of gravity for gaggles of adventurers whose aim was to liberate someone, anyone. The flames of revolution were fanned in Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Columbia and Nicaragua. Castro sent fighters, trained in Cuba, to various countries, with disastrous results. He extended his revolutionary assistance to Angola and Mozambique in the “anti-colonial struggle”, doing nothing to ease the miserable lot of either country’s residents. At home, he made his lust for domestic enemies’ blood a staple of his tyranny. His plans for killing were, to put it mildly, extensive. For some reason his admirers in the West projected their fantasy that he was an essentially decent dictator. Yet all the while his body count bore comparison with those of Stalin, Mao, even Hitler.
And that murderous inclination could easily have been so much worse. It is a matter of historical record that Castro was inflammatory in the extreme when urging the Soviet leadership to confront the US, and the fool Khrushchev was receptive to Castro’s harangues. I will not recount the history of the Cuban missile crisis, but that was the result. If not for the leaders of the Soviet Armed Forces’ successful conspiracy to oust Khrushchev and silence his bellicose idiocy many millions of people might long since have been reduced to glowing ash in landscapes of utter nuclear destruction.
Castro has himself now been incinerated and his ashes placed with undeserved reverence and respect in their crypt, but his countrymen will continue to suffer. They still have one of the world’s lowest per capita incomes. They still endure life in a police state. They remain inmates of their island prison. The people of Angola and Mozambique will long remember the scars inflicted by Cuban mercenaries. Latin America still shudders at memories of the mayhem wreaked by Castro’s exported ‘revolutionaries’.
All this is the real legacy of Fidel Castro. May he rot in hell for all eternity.
Dr Michael Galak and his family came to Australia as refugees from the Soviet Union in 1978