Castro Dead. Hooray!

castroThe 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



  • dcburgos

    Thank you for the article Dr. Galak. I grew up in Latin America at a time of tremendous social upheaval… sadly, generations of young Latin Americans fell for the rhetoric, propaganda, and myth around Fidel and Che with disastrous consequences that to this day impair freedom and development in Venezuela and Bolivia in particular. On the other hand Chile has been able to grow from the ashes of the failed Socialist government and subsequent years of pain under Military dictatorship… the comparison with Venezuela could not be greater.

    • PT

      I was always amazed by the excuses made for Chavez. The man used to celebrate annually not his election win, but his previous failed coup attempt. I remember working just outside London when “Red Ken” negotiated his deal with Chavez for cheap diesel. Boric Johnson pointed out the hypocracy of the richest city in the world getting subsidised diesel from a “Third World country”, and asked how this fitted with “Red Ken’s” principles. The guy seated next to me was an engineer from Venezuela and he hated Chavez!

      Now back in Australia, I think lefties like both crooks because they upset the Amerucans in their own “backyard”. Pure spite.

      • Jody

        I used to work with a Deputy Headmaster who really admired Chavez. My erstwhile boss came from a working class background in the sticks and always identified with students who were ‘doing it tough’ (his favourite expression), constantly undermining discipline enacted by teachers – you see, he identified with the kids and instead of authority he exercise his ‘welfare’ credentials!! Well, anyway, he loved Chavez and said to me one day at lunch (and with a straight face) “Chavez hated George Bush”. I answered, “well, he would”. When talking with one of my colleagues the next day (when we were both on bus duty) I told him about that little exchange and he answered, “How old is he? Still 18, presumably”.

        And that sums it up; infantile people make infantile judgments about despots.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com

    Ardent advocates of Marxism/socialism have not learned anything from all the tragic disasters perpetrated by its practitioners, nor they ever will. They simply explain all the catastrophes as the mistakes made by all the previous revolutionaries and pledge to do it better next time. Sadly, there is no shortage of enthusiastic supporters. Most of the Australian Labour politicians and even some of the Liberals subscribe to the leftist tenets with the Greens marching determinedly under the red flag with the hammer and sickle.

  • Andrew Campbell

    I am much comforted by the Christian doctrine of the justice and judgment of God. Castro died peacefully, but now he faces God. Yes!

  • PT

    I’d welcome Castro’s death if it ended the regime. But it did not. Castro handed over to his brother years ago. I’ll cheer when the regime finally crumbles.

  • ian.macdougall

    Fidel’s popularity, I suspect, was due largely to the cinematic good looks of a testosterone-dripping alpha male, rather than his accomplishments.

    We all know that Lenin was a German agent, and that Mao was a Soviet agent, and now we know that apart from ambition, all one has ever needed to succeed as a Latin American revolutionary are cinematic good looks, which Fidel Castro arguably had. No regime in any country ever collapses because of internal stresses formed by antagonistic and competing interest groups, mafiosi, classes, castes or what have you. And pigs will fly.

    If one is going to dump on someone like Castro, it helps if one first talks the regime preceding him up. This Michael Galak attempts to do. Cuba was, “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… “
    In other words, Cuba was a fun place, with a couple of wholesome primary industries and a couple of wholesome secondary industries built on top of them. (Oh, and incidentally: pretty well the whole lot was American owned.) That, plus a wholesome gambling (sorry ‘gaming’) industry: the whole thing should have been rock-solid; sweet and honey-pure, and as stable as the Bank of England.! Not a whiff or scrap of organised crime in or around the wholesome Batista regime (well, maybe it had the odd fault, but don’t they all?) And the innocent and child-like Cuban peasants were all happy and contented with their lot: until Castro and his bunch of godless adventurers landed and quickly led them all astray.

    And pigs will fly.

    Truth is, nothing like the corrupt and antidemocratic Batista regime would have been tolerated for five minutes by most of us living in modern Australia, and hopefully not by Michael Galak either. Hopefully, not anywhere; particularly not if he had to live under it.

    The principal fact is that the European colonisation of Central and South America was from the Iberian Peninsula, beginning in 1492 with the Columbus Expedition. At that stage, Spain and Portugal still ran on type-specimen feudalism, and they transferred that political and economic structure holus bolus to South America and the Caribbean. I suggest that the subsequent history of Latin America, with its weak democratic revolutions and record of coups and anything-but-benign military dictatorships, can be best understood in this light.

    Moreover, it is not much use judging any historical personage except by the standards of their own time. Take China for example. The First Opium War of 1840 taught the imperial powers of Europe that China was wide open for plunder. Huge personal fortunes were there for little more than the effort of picking them up and pocketing them: more so than even on the goldfields of California and Australia. China was a huge but helpless goose to be easily plucked, cooked and devoured. Thus Mao and his communist army were really creatures of the 19th Century British, French, Russian, German and Japanese carve-up of Imperial China. But by 1914, these same British, French and Russians, were ready to go for the throats of the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians, producing the bloodbath of the First World War; with Lenin’s revolution and Soviet regime directly resulting.

    Then came the 1920s and 1930s: fascism in Europe, and the Japanese invasion of China. The world was heading back into general war in Europe, Asia and the Pacific. Except that it was not the Japanese who eventually emerged victorious in China, but Mao’s army; because that army was the only one with the will and ability to fight the invaders. And the Chinese peasants welcomed them as liberators. It is all there in Edgar Snow’s classic Red Star Over China.

    The Cuban revolution would not have occurred the way it did without the preceding Soviet and Chinese developments. But despite propaganda to the contrary, Castro had little or no material support for his revolution from outside. So corrupt was Batista’s mafia and ancien regime that all they both needed was a bit of a push, and over they toppled; as had happened previously in China and Russia.

    But then the Cuban revolution ran into two problems: (1) The people who get elected to office in liberal democracies tend themselves to be not very enthusiastic democrats. In fact, many of them are positively antidemocratic, and will rig and gerrymander elections and do ‘whatever it takes’ to win office and hold onto it. The same problem brought the Russian and Chinese revolutions unstuck. Having overthrown murderous and oppressive regimes, the revolutionaries preferred to keep power in their own hands, and were understandably reluctant to trust their lives to any elected representative government. After all, many, many people from the former regime who had done damned well under it wanted them all well and truly dead.

    One does not overthrow a ruthless, corrupt dictator like Fulgencio Batista by waving placards, shouting slogans and calling for open and free elections. An army is essential, which has to be built as the revolution progresses. And importantly, armies necessarily have a top-down hierarchical command structure. Historically, there have been plenty of armies that fought for democracy, but no successful army was ever internally democratic. They are necessarily hierarchies of skill and experience (and if fighting for corrupt causes, of connections as well.)

    It is a rachet-up, on-again off-again process, and liberal democracy did not arrive in the Anglophone world simply or easily. In Britain, Cromwell’s overthrow of royalty and its aristocratic supporters was undone in the Restoration and the subsequent regicide hunts and gruesome deaths of many of the revolutionaries. Liberal democracy was not achieved in the Anglophone world until cemented into place by the American Revolution of 1776.

    The Cuban revolutionary army began with 82 men, but after betrayal by a guide, they were ambushed and reduced to just 12. But those 12 went on to grow the army and make the revolution.

    Next problem: (2) having endured so much danger and hardship, the revolutionaries do not want to risk it all being hijacked by CIA agents and such with bottomless pockets. In 1954, this happened to the Viet Minh, with connivance and pressure exerted on them by Mao’s government in Beijing. Subsequently, the ‘democratic’ Americans shoehorned the murderous despot Ngo Dinh Diem into power in Saigon. (It must be emphasised here: colonialists are never democrats.) France had emerged from WW2 flat broke, and unable to finance colonial wars. So the US financed first France’s attempt to recolonise Vietnam: then the Diem and subsequent stooge governments, and the war against the ‘Viet Cong’. Despite their crushing victory over the French colonialists at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Vietnamese national liberation fighters had to begin the whole process all over again, and wait until 1975 before they had what they could call a government of their own.

    So it is sad but understandable that those who had to fight a revolutionary war against a mafia installed and kept in power by the ‘democrats’ in Paris and Washington were reluctant to risk everything by putting themselves up for electoral endorsement.

    • murray.walters

      So it is sad but understandable that those who had to fight a revolutionary war against a mafia installed and kept in power by the ‘democrats’ in Paris and Washington were reluctant to risk everything by putting themselves up for electoral endorsement.

      Was this last paragraph the corollary of your post-imperial contextualization?

      …and so, if we must be down-in-the-dumps, let it not be too deep or for too long, for you see there is an inescapable kind of logic at work here. The original plucky band of brothers — 82 but reduced to only 12 by the winnowing winds of the heroic revolutionary war — were born inexorably by the great tide of history (Oh stop it!) to establish a bloodthirsty fascist dictatorship. But, once ensconced in power they could never turn back because (and here’s the rub) there were undeniable ‘risks’ involved. There were risks of losing ‘everything’ (and whom among us could face losing ‘everything’, or nearly a billion dollars, whichever is the lesser?) in asking the people, the flotsam and jetsam of that bloody tide (again with the tide thing!), if everything was still to their liking. But stare down those risks they did, and bravely so, for over half a century, and still going.

  • ian.macdougall


    Was this last paragraph the corollary of your post-imperial contextualization?

    I guess from that quote that you are some kind of lawyer. Or suffering from that terrible disorder known as verbosity. (The two conditions often go together.) In any case, I would invite you to simplify things here by telling any reader of this what you think the Cubans, Castro & Co particularly, should have done re the Batista regime in their homeland in 1959. Should they have, for example, respectfully asked Batista and his henchmen for free and fair elections ASAP? Should they have just coped his regime sweet for however long it took? Remember that repressive dictatorships like his were the norm in Latin America at the time.
    What would you have suggested they do?

  • ian.macdougall

    Should they have just copped his regime sweet for however long it took?

    • murray.walters

      Whatever regime copping they had to endure ended in 1959. That’s a long time ago even for an old lawyer like me. My suggestions, since you asked, are that having decopped Batista they didn’t murder, torture, impoverish and immiserate three generations and several millions of Cubans – at least those who couldn’t cop being drowned and eaten by sharks coz they couldn’t keep up with Susie Moroney on the way to Miami.

      I would also have counselled against recommending a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the USA, bringing the world as close at it has ever been to nuclear holocaust.

      I would’ve patted myself on the back for teaching the peasants to read about me by candlelight.

      I would have rested on the laurels of my vainglorious doctor-exporting sausage factories.

      I would have taken my hundreds of millions of dollars (Dr Google says $900,000,000 but she might be out by a few bob), shaved off my beard and gone into hiding hoping against hope that one day, hordes of sweaty hipsters would wear, not my colleague Che (the butcher of La Cabana) Guevara’s likeness, but my very own revolutionary visage on T shirts – preferably ones made in China by the slaves of comrade Mao who was, at much the same time, causing the deaths by starvation of tens of millions of his countrymen.

      But let’s not forget what the Crusaders did. And it’s easy to be smart in hindsight I always say.

  • ian.macdougall

    Whatever regime copping they had to endure ended in 1959. That’s a long time ago even for an old lawyer like me.

    Well dodged sir!
    But my original question, though evaded, still remains. In 1959, what should Castro & Co have done about Batista and his gangster regime?
    Should they have just sat tight, and hoped for it to fall, however long it took?
    Should they have asked the US, which supported Batista in many ways, to stop supporting him?

    It appears to me that modern liberal democracy (of which, incidentally, I whole heartedly approve) does not come without cost, and is arguably not the default condition of humanity. Norman Mailer could have been right: that default may well be fascism, to which Batista’s Cuban regime and most others in Latin America until recent times were arguably related. I think that British history since Magna Carta also confirms this. While the unelected House of Lords retains the veto power it has, democracy in Britain is by no means complete.

    But Castro was in a different category, and I’ll tell you why. He and his comrades-in-arms came to power by launching a courageous (and for them, costly) attempt to overthrow Batista through an insurrection, necessarily of course, armed. And as Batista’s forces were defeated or forced to surrender, their arms passed over to the revolutionaries, who retained them.

    This was not yet another Latin American putsch, emanating from a standing army. This was different. Most importantly, the population at large retained their arms, which were crucial two years later in defeating the Bay of Pigs invasion. No despot, Latin American or otherwise, ever does that. For example, in Stalin’s Russia, getting caught with any firearm (and by definition, all private firearms were illegal) could land you in the gulag for a long stretch, if not in front of a firing squad.

    It was not long before there was friction with the US. In 1961, the exiles launched the Bay of Pigs invasion from the US. The convoluted politics of this arguably resulted in the assassination of President Kennedy. And like a Friday night drunk, history lurches on.

    But if you murray.walters had been a Cuban living there back in 1959, what would you personally have done, (never mind what advice you would have given to others). ?

    • dcburgos

      I believe the adequate term here is: sophistry… Your verbose (and indeed it is) argument reduces to a defense at worst or an excuse at best of the worst excesses of those who fundamentally betrayed the Cuban people and by extension exerted a dark and still extant influence on generations of Latin American youth. What should they have done in 1959 is your question… my answer is; overthrow Batista, restore democracy and freedom for the Cuban people and transition to open elections… the danger that Batista and his henchmen could get back in is overstated. There were many Latin Americans who fought for and assisted the revolution, they were mainly young idealists but there were many older, skilled Latin Americans who were ready to die defending the revolution… I know this for a fact. Castro and the revolutionaries degenerated into murdering oppressors and enemies of the Cuban people, they persecuted those who opposed their conversion to a Marxist-Leninist even though they had put their lives on the line… all argument to the contrary is not only historical revisionism but it smacks of cultural ignorance.

      • ian.macdougall


        What should they have done in 1959 is your question… my answer is; overthrow Batista, restore democracy and freedom for the Cuban people and transition to open elections… the danger that Batista and his henchmen could get back in is overstated.

        The danger of Batista and his henchmen getting back and the degree of (my?) overstatement is a matter of opinion. But it is a given that Cuba had a fractured tradition of democracy, and that the US had long since assumed the right to intervene militarily in Cuban politics whenever it suited it to do so. So what of it was there left to “restore”?

        I presume you have heard of Salvadore Allende, the democratically elected President of Chile, overthrown by a military coup carried out with the assistance of the CIA and with the approval of then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger? Or of the earlier Republican Government of Spain, overthrown by an army rebellion materially supported by Hitler and Mussolini while Britain, France and Stalin’s USSR tut-tutted on the sidelines? You know: that war that began in 1936 and became something of a tryout for the weapons and tactics to be used in World War 2?

        “Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy believed that Eisenhower’s policy toward Cuba had been mistaken. He criticized what he saw as use of the U.S. government influence to advance the interest and increase the profits of private U.S. companies instead of helping Cuba to achieve economic progress, saying that Americans dominated the island’s economy and had given support to one of the bloodiest and most repressive dictatorships in the history of Latin America. ‘We let Batista put the U.S. on the side of tyranny, and we did nothing to convince the people of Cuba and Latin America that we wanted to be on the side of freedom’.”

        (And we all know what happened to Kennedy. What we still don’t know for sure is who was behind it, though shadowy Cubans are commonly mentioned.)

        Support for representative and democratically elected government, and for the rule of law is selective, even among people claiming to be ‘democrats’. In addition, the Spanish-speaking world has an unfortunate tradition of violence in is political life, and an equally unfortunate number of Francos, Batistas, Trujillos, Perons, Somozas, Pinochets and so on happy to assume the role of caudillo or military dictator. And likewise, those who seek to make popularly supported revolutions against those dictators can finish up emulating them to a greater or lesser extent.


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