fidel castro, the mindless pawn?

As you might have guessed we are flooded with information about Cuba every day. We get stuff from readers, from organizations and we get news alerts from places like Google and Yahoo. I used to depend on those Google news alerts a lot. And I still glance at them, but usually for every good story there are 8 or 9 Granma or Prensa Latina stories coming out of the propaganda factory in Havana so it’s rare that anything catches my eye. But I came across this intriguing headline:

Castro’s Cuba: made in America

I didn’t know what to expect but then I clicked the link and was instantly offended when I saw the sub-headline:

Fidel Castro was a by-product of the Cold War, his regime more the creation of external pressures than of any internal ideology.

Knowing what I was getting myself into, I read on:

To anybody unfamiliar with the political history of the past half-century, it might have seemed bizarre that an internal handover of power – from the president to his brother – on a tiny Caribbean island should have caused such a global storm of comment. It clearly can have nothing to do with the real importance of Cuba in the world. Rather, it confirms that Castro’s elevated status has always been symbolic – as a symbol of communist evil for his enemies, especially within the USA, and as a symbol of liberationist hope for his admirers in the West and the developing world.

First of all I have a big problem with the characterization of Cuba as tiny. The author tries to minimize Cuba’s importance based on size, but where does he get his definition of tiny? Has he looked at a map? For the record, Cuba is a larger country than South Korea, Portugal, Austria, The Czech Republic, Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and Belgium to name a few. None of these countries are known for their “tinyness”.
Perhaps the author was referring to the fact that Cuba has a small population? But that can’t be it. I mean Cuba has a greater population than: Greece, Sweden, Norway and the aforementioned Portugal, Austria, The Czech Republic, Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland, and Belgium. Cuba ranks 73 out of 224 in population.
So Cuba is not a tiny country, either in landmass or population. So what gives? Why is the author trying to minimize the importance of Cuba?

Even as a symbol, however, Castro had long since ceased to stand for anything much. He may only just have resigned, yet as a creature of the Cold War he effectively left the world stage in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union on which he depended. That his resignation could still cause such a global media furore revealed the depth of some lasting misconceptions.

Try telling those 11 million Cubans that live under fidel and his infernal policies that he’s a figment of their imagination.

Much of the recent discussion of Castro among both his Euro-groupies and his conservative critics has taken his claims to have led a 50-year socialist revolution at face value. Yet in reality he never set out to do any such thing, and he did not end up where many have assumed. Castro’s regime and reputation has been far more a product of the peculiar political pressures of the times than of any personal drive or ideology.
In particular, Castro was a by-product of US foreign policy. It has become fashionable these days for idiot anti-Americans to blame Washington for anything that they see going wrong in the world, from the Middle East to global warming. But one thing for which the USA was definitely responsible was the creation and perpetuation of Castro’s Cuba.

Idiot anti-Americans, so far this guy is describing himself to a tee. It sounds like this guy is going to completely ignore history and replace it with his own convenient version. Not only that where this guy is heading is a complete absolution of fidel and his policies and his murderous ways because after all it was the United States’ fault.

From 1899, when the US invasion of the island and expulsion of the Spanish colonialists marked the birth of American imperialism, Cuba was considered part of Uncle Sam’s backyard. By the 1950s, Cuba under the corrupt regime of General Batista was like a cross between a metal mine, sugar plantation, casino and whorehouse for American capitalism.

Ugh. Repeating the worst of the calumnies that those idiot anti-Americans learn in college.

Fidel Castro’s 26th July Movement of young Cubans was a nationalist revolt against a foreign-backed dictatorship, of a sort seen in many other parts of the Third World. It was avowedly non-communist. Castro succeeded, not by mobilising the mass of Cubans, but because the conscript army of the decrepit dictatorship crumbled before his small guerrilla army. Batista fled Havana on 1 January 1959, the rebel forces rolled in, and Castro was soon installed in power.

What was it that this guy said about taking castro’s claims about the revolution at face value? Looks like he bought the whole darned fairy tale hook, line and sinker.

If America’s propping up of Batista had helped to create the circumstances for the Cuban revolution, US opposition to Castro drove the new regime into the Soviet camp. Rebuffing Castro’s early charm offensive, US presidents Dwight D Eisenhower (until January 1961) and John F Kennedy set out to put the Cuban upstart in his place and show that Washington was not to be defied on its doorstep. As a result Castro built closer links with the Soviet Union. It was only after the Eisenhower administration took increasingly aggressive economic and diplomatic steps to punish Cuba that Castro moved to expropriate some $850million of US assets in the summer of 1960.

I am never going to defend Batista, but it’s a gross oversimplification to say that Batista was “propped up” by the U.S. government. Batista was a Cuban creation. Did the U.S. support/recognize Batista? Yes. Batista was generally friendly to the U.S. and despite his previous links to the Cuban Communist Party (when he had been previously Cuba’s constitutional president) was decidedly anti-communist in how he governed in the 1950s.
But this joker completely glosses over the fact that U.S. withdrawal of support (though it was unofficial) by stopping the sale of arms to Batista was probably the decisive factor in ending Batista’s rule and allowing castro to fill the vacuum. This was a miscalculation on the part of the U.S. state department that had become enamored of castro and exactly those promises that he was a young a democrat.
To somehow claim that fidel was “pushed” into the Soviet orbit and into Marxist ideology is not only obviously false but ridiculously so. Any in depth study of castro’s history shows a very determined young man who was obsessed with power. He was a manipulator and a deceiver. It’s hard to believe that a democrat could become the antithesis of a democrat, a Stalinist, simply because of a perceived slight. Our author might not recognize a pretext when he sees one, but I trust that you my enlightened readers do. And for the record, castro wanted U.S. refineries to process Soviet oil. The refineries refused and that is what led to the expropriations.

Just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, Castro’s communist statelet of Cuba assumed a symbolic importance for both sides in the Cold War, becoming a football between the two superpowers. This came to a head during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the dramatic armed stand-off between Wasington [sic] and Moscow over the latter’s plan to install nuclear weapons on the island. (That loud diplomatic crisis was also more symbolic than is often assumed, quietly resolved through a behind-the-scenes deal whereby the Soviets ditched their Cuban missile plan and the Americans withdrew theirs from Turkey. Castro had little say either way.)

Nuclear armed castro? Nothing to worry about according to this so-called student of history. Never mind that we now know that Khrushchev was relieved to pull the missiles out of Cuba because he was afraid castro would start World War III. You see, according this author, everything you know about the world is wrong. And I suppose those wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola and other places where Cuba sent troops and weapons were symbolic too. Those bodies that piled up in those wars, nothing but a metaphor.
Then he goes to talk about the post-soviet era:

Isolated, impoverished and under pressure from the US embargo, there would have been inevitable limits on what Castro could achieve in terms of economic and social development. But in the event he achieved considerably less than that. His nationalistion of foreign-owned industries was the sort of defensive economic measure common in the developing world in the post-colonial era. The imposition of state monopolies did not signify the transfer of control to the Cuban people. His refusal to share real political power outside of his clique – a measure he justified, along with the repression of opponents, as a necessary response to America’s undeclared war on Cuba – ensured that the Cuban masses were denied anything approaching ‘people power’.
Yet most Cubans who recalled the grim pre-revolutionary era of US influence on the island stood by Castro against the Yanqui Imperialists. Their resilience in the face of such adversity has long deserved our solidarity and respect. For some of us that solidarity with ordinary Cubans did not ever mean supporting Castro or his politics. But others on the Western left never seemed quite able to make that distinction.

Ah yes, the Cuban people stood by castro as they took the front doors of their houses along with anything else that could float and decided to take their chances with the Florida Straits and the sharks rather than remain in Cuba. If Cuba’s people stand by fidel and his system against the Yanqui Imperialists then why is that Cuba makes it illegal for its citizens to leave the country without permission?
If there’s one redeeming thing in the whole piece, it’s how the guy concludes it.

Since the end of the Cold War and his slide into impotence, it has become safe for celebrity lefties to lionise Castro once again, since he is no longer a threat to anybody. He has become a sort of Celebrity Communist himself, mixing with Hollywood directors and other high-profile figures. In the past few years, as Cuba has begun to open up and change has become inevitable, it has even become fashionable in some Western circles to suggest that ‘one must visit Cuba before Fidel goes’ – as if the passing of such an isolated and distorted society, trapped in time with its 1950s American cars, will be something to mourn.
It is a sign of the degraded state of the Western left that what they once hailed as a socialist paradise has now been recast as a sort of nostalgic ‘paradise lost’ theme park in the Carribean [sic]. The Cuban people might be justfied [sic] in thinking they can do without such solidarity in the future.

The only problem is that he needs to look in the mirror and see that by repeating easily proven falsehoods and underestimating castro’s capacity to manipulate people inside and outside of Cuba that he’s doing Cubans just as much of a disservice. Not only that, it smacks of the bigoted paternalism that many of these lefties suffer from. Usually it’s “well they don’t have liberty but they have health care” as if Cubans aren’t entitled to same kinds of things that “civilized” people are. In this case, it’s minimizing castro into some sort of pawn who was moved by forces outside of himself. Thus the Cuban people have been victimized not by castro but by the United States and to a lesser extent the Soviet Union.
Sorry, no cigar.

1 thought on “fidel castro, the mindless pawn?”

  1. Poor little, and he sure was little, Fabio Grobart, forgotten teacher of stalinist tyranny, and he had to run through, so many until he found his ideal in the Castro brothers. It seems nobody remembers his name. Raul once called him “El Maestro” a designation usual reserved for a single far better man.

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