Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

February 21, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

CASTRO'S LEGACY....Ezra Klein recommends Tony Karon on Fidel Castro. He's right: it's a nice piece.

Kevin Drum 10:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

You're right, it's a nice piece. Subtle, nuance, balanced, rational; in other words, totally unacceptable to an American media audience. What the hell were you thinking?

Posted by: thersites on February 21, 2008 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

I only read a few paragraphs, but here's my first reaction:

It's a good reminder that the real world, unlike the world as the Republicans would like to see it, consists of a lot of shades of gray, and not just caricatured people we should judge on the basis of the caricature. We've got to judge those shades of gray and pick and choose the best we can based on the circumstances we encounter.

Mandela and Castro-- strange bedfellows.

Posted by: Swan on February 21, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

unlike the world as the Republicans would like to see it,

Or as they would like us to see it, I more meant to say.

Posted by: Swan on February 21, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

The irony of Mandela's admiration for Castro lies in the fact that had the racists in South Africa in the early '60s been as ruthless as the Communists in Cuba in the early '60s, Mr. Mandela's trial would have taken place in the evening, and he would have been executed at dawn. The apartheid crowd was certainly evil, but when push came to shove they just didn't have as much stomach for murder in the manner of communist political leadership.

The really dumb aspect of American political leadership in the late '50s and early '60s was they didn't grasp that Castro was first and foremost in favor of Castro, and he could have been co-opted, had someone with some skill had attempted to do so. Instead, narrow special interests set the terms of the debate, much like they do today (the sugar lobby is as obnoxious as ever) and we proceeded from the Eisenhower Adminsitration's normally scaled bumbling, to JFK/RFKs bumbling on a monumental scale. By the time LBJ was sworn in, the pooch was so entirely screwed that the next 45 years were entirely predictable, with the Cuban popuation the victim, of course.

Just reflect on the fact that in the early 90's Cuba could not achieve self sufficiency in food production, and no, the embargo was not the cause. Hell, the Cuban people, if simply left to their own devices, with no interaction with the outside world, could probably produce enough food to feed themselves. No, it takes a communist to produce hunger on that scale, absent a civil war.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 21, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote:

The apartheid crowd was certainly evil, but when push came to shove they just didn't have as much stomach for murder in the manner of communist political leadership.

Maybe they just didn't have enough personnel. Anyway, if they had been around for a few more decades, who's to say they wouldn't have had a regime come along that was more like Hitler and other right-wing murderers, and pursued their agendas more murderously.

Posted by: Swan on February 21, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote: "Just reflect on the fact that in the early 90's Cuba could not achieve self sufficiency in food production, and no, the embargo was not the cause."

Just reflect on the fact that following the sudden disappearance of Soviet support, Cuba turned of necessity to organic agriculture, particularly urban and suburban organic agriculture; and also to renewable energy including small-scale distributed solar and wind generated electricity.

Cuba has in fact become a world leader in sustainable agriculture and efficient use of renewable energy -- as well as in public health, public education, literacy, biotechnology and medicine.

Cuba is in many ways a great example to study of how to successfully deal with the abrupt disappearance of cheap, plentiful fossil fuels -- which Cuba experienced when the Soviet Union collapsed, and which the entire world is about to experience due to "peak oil" and the urgent need for a rapid phaseout of all fossil fuels to prevent catastrophic global warming.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 21, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote: "The apartheid crowd was certainly evil, but when push came to shove they just didn't have as much stomach for murder in the manner of communist political leadership."

US-supported dictatorships and US-supported terrorism have been directly responsible for the murders -- and disappearances, and torture -- of many, many more innocent people in Central and South America than can be attributed to Castro's government.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 21, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

The apartheid crowd was certainly evil, but when push came to shove they just didn't have as much stomach for murder in the manner of communist political leadership. Posted by: Will Allen

Tell that to the family of Steve Biko.

Fuck off, Will. Tyrants are tyrants regardless of their political stripe.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 21, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote: "The irony of Mandela's admiration for Castro lies in the fact that had the racists in South Africa in the early '60s been as ruthless as the Communists in Cuba in the early '60s, Mr. Mandela's trial would have taken place in the evening, and he would have been executed at dawn."

Yes, it's a good thing for Nelson Mandela that he wasn't in Cuba, where he might have been bludgeoned to death by the police, like Steve Biko.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 21, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

... who's to say they wouldn't have had a regime come along that was more like Hitler and other right-wing murderers, and pursued their agendas more murderously.

The respective natures of the Hitler and apartheid regimes are to say. The agenda of South African racism was exploitation; it's goal was to expropriate and enslave the black population. The agenda of the Nazis was purgation; their goal was to exterminate the Jews and other undesirables so as to purify their society. On this level, these racisms were apples and oranges.

Posted by: John-Paul Pagano on February 21, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Secular, thanks for making my point, that Castro tyrannized the Cuban economy in a manner that depended on the Soviet Union (!) to fufill the Cuban population's agricultural needs. That is the sort of weapons-grade stupidity that really stands out; sort of like the owner of European basketball team paying Knicks' management consulting fees for insights as to how to build a winning roster.

JeffII, I know you are too stupid to grasp that some tyrannies murder their political opponents with greater efficiency than others. This is unfortunate, but it does obviate the fact that the Castro of 1961 would have placed a dissenter, as Mandela was in 1961, up against a wall, and had Mandela shot. I wonder if Mandela has ever thought of Castro's murder victims in the manner he has thought of Biko, or if Mandela just thinks omelettes were being made in Havana. Mandela speaking admirably of Castro is no different than some anticommunist speaking admirably of Pinochet.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 21, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Fidel's our Tar Baby. Thanks to that great "liberal," Bill Clinton, for making it so.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 21, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote: "... Castro tyrannized the Cuban economy in a manner that depended on the Soviet Union (!) to fufill the Cuban population's agricultural needs."

You seem to be really unhinged on this subject.

The US embargo -- and other forms of economic aggression -- "tyrannized" the Cuban economy, not Castro.

US-supported dictatorships and terrorists in Central and South America have been far more repressive, brutal and murderous than Castro's government. The mass murders of innocent civilians by the US-backed death-squad terrorist governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, let alone the crimes of the US-backed Pinochet government, let alone the crimes of the US-backed Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, make Cuba under Castro look like a paradise. And that's only considering the last few decades; as we look back further we see the brutal US-backed dictatorships of Batista in Cuba and Somoza in Nicaragua.

If you want to talk about governments executing dissidents at dawn, then Cuba compares favorably with the US-backed torture-and-disappearance regimes of El Salavador, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, etc. where tens of thousands were tortured, disappeared and murdered with the assistance and complicity of the USA.

People in Central and South America are well aware of this history. It is one reason -- along with Cuba's remarkable social and scientific achievements in the face of relentless US economic aggression -- that Castro is popular and admired throughout the region, and why the Cuban Revolution continues to inspire people who want to stand up to US corporate imperialism and the authoritarian oligarchies and dictatorships that it has so often installed and supported in the region.

I'm not defending the Castro government's human rights violations. But your attempts to portray them as far worse than apartheid South Africa are ludicrous.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 21, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

The US embargo -- and other forms of economic aggression -- "tyrannized" the Cuban economy, not Castro.

This is nonsense. Communism impoverished the Cuban people. Our silly and spiteful embargo gave Castro the opportunity to shift the blame, and many people -- including, apparently, you -- went along for the ride. The tragedy is our sanctions gave Castro's authoritarian farce cover and thus prolonged it for decades past its real shelf life.

Posted by: John-Paul Pagano on February 21, 2008 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Great analysis. Thanks for the tip.

Posted by: Chris Brown on February 21, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, no, animist, the Cuban economy need not have been such a basket case due to the U.S. embargo. Embargoes simply are never that tight, over a multi-decade period, because no one country can dominate the global economy to that degree.

Good to see you support omelette making in Cuba, all your protestations aside. The fact that you cannot concede that Mandela would have been executed if the racists in South Africa had been as committed to maintaining control via murder as Castro was, pretty much says it all. Let's put it this way; there are no Cubans with the potential to supplant Castro as head of state who have been langusishing in jail for decades. They are all dead.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 21, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a nice story of how Castro managed the Cuban economy....

On May 27, [1966,] 166 Cubans -- civilians and members of the military -- were executed and submitted to medical procedures of blood extraction of an average of seven pints per person. This blood is sold to Communist Vietnam at a rate of $50 per pint with the dual purpose of obtaining hard currency and contributing to the Vietcong."A pint of blood is equivalent to half a liter. Extracting this amount of blood from a person sentenced to death produces cerebral anemia and a state of unconsciousness and paralysis. Once the blood is extracted, the person is taken by two militiamen on a stretcher to the location where the execution takes place."

InterAmerican Human Rights Commission, April 7, 1967

Here is what Maria Werlau, the president of the Cuba Archive, and, who lived in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, and who saw first-hand how international awareness of human rights atrocities helped Chile reinstate its democracy, has to say about Castro....

"The Castro regime executed more people in just its first three years than the Pinochet regime killed or 'disappeared' in its entire 17 years in power," she says. "Yet Castro's victims, who number so many times more - and who include not just political opponents but entire families assassinated for trying to flee - remain unknown, ignored, or forgotten."

Here's a more complete description, by the
Cuba Archive:

"One leader jailed more political prisoners as a percentage of population than Hilter and Stalin—and for three times as long. Modern history's longest-suffering political prisoners languished in the prisons and forced-labor camps established by his regime. According to the Harvard-published “Black Book of Communism,” he executed 14,000 subjects by firing squad. These ranged in age from 16 to 68 and included several women, at least one of them pregnant. According to the scholars and researchers at the Cuba Archive, his regime’s total death toll—from torture, prison beatings, machine gunning of escapees, drownings, etc.—comes to more than 112,000. According to Freedom House, 500,000 Cubans have suffered in his gulag and torture chambers. Today, 47 years after the establishment of the totalitarian police state, political prisoners still languish in his regime’s prisons for quoting Martin Luther King and Gandhi."


Posted by: Will Allen on February 21, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the link, Kevin. Very interesting reading.

Posted by: bob in fla on February 21, 2008 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

C'mon, folks, don't imagine that Castro's Cuba would have had a sustainable economy if only America had been its trading partner. The country had a solid educational and medical system under his rule (although I believe "had" is the right tense), but that was from massive Soviet support -- it was in their best interest to have Cuba be a showcase for everything good that could be done under their psuedo-Communism. When the USSR collapsed, so did that carefully constructed house of cards. Cuba survived the '90s largely by looking the other way as a gray market, dollar-based and quite capitalist economy grew in tourist areas.

Arguing over whether apartheid South Africa or Castro's Cuba was worse for the majority of the people under their rule is, with all due respect, kind of like arguing whether horse piss or goat piss would be worse to make a martini with. Will's point is, I gather, essentially that in terms of policy and style, Castro has a lot more in common with Mandela's oppressors than with Mandela, and this doesn't seem to be a fundamentally unreasonable point.

Tony Karon's article (the one Kevin linked to) is a little too glib for me on some points, but I think his basic premise -- that third-world leaders have tended to lionize Castro as a symbol of standing up to American power, even when they know full well that his rule has been disastrous -- is probably accurate. Americans don't have a lot of historical memory, and I suspect most don't know a single name on the dismayingly long list of instances where, given a choice between a tyrannical dictator who supported American interests and a democratic government who did not, America intervened, sometimes brutally, on behalf of the dictator. A lot of third-world politicians can probably name every single time. Castro overthrew an American-backed tyrant, nationalized American interests, and generally thumbed his nose at America. When he was 90 miles off our coast. And did it for forty years. If you're a politician in a small country where scars of colonialism and the yoke of first-world power are still within living memory, Castro comes across still looking like a folk hero.

Posted by: Watts on February 22, 2008 at 3:20 AM | PERMALINK
Post a comment









Remember personal info?










 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly