Nov 26, 2016 Fidel Castro’s brutality was not justified by the embargo, assassination attempts, nor Guantanamo
Fidel Castro, who died on November 25, 2016, was at once beloved and detested by countless people worldwide. His admirers were not only communists and socialists. Too many people praise him without acknowledging how intentionally and unjustifiably brutal was his rule, starting with executions for political reasons, and moving on to prohibiting dissent and jailing dissidents and others left and right for political reasons.
Castro’s brutality was not justified by the United States’ occupation of the island after the Spanish-American War, support of brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista, decades-long trade and tourism embargo of the island, sometimes even bizarre assassination attempts against Castro, nor continued occupation and use of Guantanamo, Cuba, an occupation that the United States never would have tolerated had the shoe been on the other foot.
People can marvel all they want at Castro’s leadership in overthrowing his predecessor brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista, his government’s drive to provide education and health care to all, his government’s help to other developing countries (that help included sending troops to Angola in 1975, which I do not praise), and his staying power against United States government efforts to eradicate and destabilize him. Certainly Castro’s interest in ending racism in Cuba and abroad is praiseworthy — although that does not automatically justify any means for doing so, including Cuba’s military support for the Marxists in Angola — but racism apparently remains far from eradicated on the island (see here, too).
I have already seen two lawyers — whom I otherwise admire in many ways — heap plaudits on Castro on Facebook. One responded to a detractor that nearby brutal governments did not improve their citizens’ lot nearly as much as did Castro’s government. The other lawyer privately responded to me, unconvincingly, that all leaders have flaws, including FDR with imprisoning Japanese Americans during World War II. Neither lawyer overcame the countervailing fact that Castro allied himself with the brutal Soviet Union, made Cuba the staging ground for the 1962 missile crisis, embraced the likes of Venezuela’s professional human rights violator Hugo Chavez, and consistently and grossly violated human rights while in office.
Sadly, the United States government showed its ugly side by criminalizing tourism to Cuba during the decades-long trade embargo. Yes, the ideal of a trade embargo is to squeeze away revenue to a nation in the hopes of reversing that nation’s government’s course, but banning Americans’ free worldwide movement is antithetical to the ideals of the United States of assuring robust liberty to its people.
United States law did not ban all travel to Cuba, for instance by relatives of those in Cuba and by “educational” groups, which could be used as an end run to tour the island. Also, apparently Americans could travel to Cuba from such third countries as Mexico and simply not get their passport stamped in Cuba.
As with all trade embargoes, the United States trade embargo was a double-edged sword. The embargo at once harmed the Cuban government but also the very populous that the embargo was meant to help in the interest of replacing a regime (that proved early on to have full staying power against a U.S. trade embargo), or loosening the human-rights violating grip of a regime that was not loosening that grip despite the embargo.
Jennifer Lynn McCoy recently pointed out the work done by Jimmy Carter as president and again in the 2000’s to help pave the way to ending the trade embargo against Cuba and to normalize diplomatic relations between the two nations. Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives believes “Carter harbors regrets for not normalizing relations with Cuba.” Of course, Reagan and the two Bush presidents could not have been relied upon to normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries, and Obama was a better bet for doing so than Bill Clinton both in terms of who they both were at the time as presidents, and the increasing support by Americans to normalize relations.
The sky has not fallen now that the United States and Cuba have normalized diplomatic relations and now that Americans are flocking to the island in such high numbers that not enough hotel rooms are available to accommodate them. Diplomatic relations between the two nations should have been normalized no later than when the Soviet Union collapsed, thus making Cuba no threat to the United States. The factors that kept the United States in strong political and trade relations with China despite its government’s consistent brutality, but with the embargo against Cuba, is explained by such factors as exploiting hostilities between China and the Soviet Union, China’s great geographic distance from the United States, China’s essential role with the United States economy, Cuba’s embrace of such distasteful nearby leaders as Hugo Chavez, and the great political influence of Cuban-Americans opposed to thawing relations between the nations.
Would President Obama have felt emboldened to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba at any point other than during the last half of his last term in office, when the political fallout of doing so is reduced? Nevertheless, better late than never for doing so.
The Fidel Castro era of course is not entirely gone. He started turning over his power to his brother Raul a decade ago, and Raul Castro remains Cuba’s leader in a dynastic move of sorts. We must push for human rights protection worldwide — in Cuba and everywhere else — starting with human rights in the United States, which are going to be threatened all the more with the approaching Donald Trump presidency.