Fidel Castro’s resignation had barely gone once around the Web before U.S. politicians and the mainstream media recycled all the old Cold War rhetoric against him.
Bush denounced him, shedding crocodile tears for the people in Cuba “who suffered under Fidel Castro.”
McCain denounced him, saying his resignation “is nearly half a century overdue.”
Hillary Clinton said it was time for Cuba to “join the community of nations.”
And Barack Obama called Castro’s resignation “the end of a dark era.”
Compared to what?
Compared to the mafia-ruled corporate playpen that Battista presided over before the revolution?
Compared to the hundreds of thousands of people our puppet regimes killed in Guatemala and El Salvador?
Compared to the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua?
Compared to Pinochet’s Chile?
Or the juntas in Argentina and Paraguay?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m no apologist for Fidel Castro.
I totally opposed his repression of political freedoms, his use of the death penalty, the locking up of dissidents, the intimidation of poets, the quarantining of people with AIDS early on in the epidemic.
These are showstoppers for me. That’s why I’ve never been a Fidel supporter. That’s why I’ve laughed when some other progressives told me that Castro’s Cuba was some kind of model.
But it must be said that on the other side of the scale, he brought literacy, education, a social safety net, and health care to the people of Cuba.
And he resisted U.S. imperialism not only in Cuba but around the world.
He was an irritant to U.S. Presidents used to getting their way in Latin America, and other parts of the Third World. That’s why they repeatedly tried to assassinate or overthrow him.
His ability to withstand these assaults and to present a powerful critique of capitalism and U.S. foreign policy inspired millions of people, despite his sorry record of repression at home.
It’s not his repressive policies that are at the root of U.S. hostility toward him, since the United States has supported governments that have been much more repressive. (Look at Indonesia under Suharto, who was responsible for the deaths of about a million people when he came to power, and was responsible for the deaths of 200,000 more when he invaded East Timor in 1975. All the while, Washington backed Suharto.)
No, the real reason for the hostility toward Castro is that he poked his finger in the eye of the giant, and he exposed the flaws of his powerful neighbor to the north.