In Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Vincent Canby of the New York Times noted in his review of Nestor Almendros’ Improper Conduct, “playwrights, doctors, poets and painters as well as more ordinary folk such as tour guides and hairdressers, a number of whom spent time in one or more of the country’s forced-labor camps.”
And as the late Susan Sontag observed: “The discovery that homosexuals were being persecuted in Cuba shows, I think, how much the left needs to evolve.”
More than three decades later, the response to the death of Fidel Castro confirms that the left has not evolved at all, and may even be worse than during the dictator’s heyday. As Paul Hollander showed in Political Pilgrims, that was about as bad as it gets.
“Fidel sits on the side of a tank rumbling into Havana on New Year’s day,” wrote New Left icon Abbie Hoffman. “He laughs joyously and pinches a few rumps. . . Fidel lets the gun drop to the ground, slaps his thigh and stands erect. He is like a mighty penis coming to life, and when he is tall and straight, the crowd immediately is transformed.”
For American leftist writer and academic Saul Landau, Fidel Castro was “a man who has been steeped in democracy,” and “a humble man.” For Angela Davis, American academic and Communist Party candidate for vice-president in 1980 and 1984, “Fidel was their leader, but most of all he was also their brother in the largest sense of the word.” And so on, to a pitch of absurdity perhaps best captured by Norman Mailer, who said of Castro:
“You were the first and greatest hero to appear in the world since the Second World War, the answer to the argument of commissars and statesmen that revolutions cannot last, that they turn corrupt or total or eat their own.” Castro did all that, and more, but on his exit, more than 60 years too late, the left cut loose a torrent of hagiography.
British Labour Party boss Jeremy Corbyn said Castro “will be remembered both as an internationalist and a champion of social justice.” He did have “flaws” but Corbyn did not elaborate.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Fidel Castro was a “remarkable leader,” who “made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.” He was also “a controversial figure,” but the prime minister, son of pro-Castro prime minister Pierre Trudeau, did not say what might have caused the controversy.
Former Soviet boss Mikhail Gorbachev said Castro “strengthened his country at the time of the toughest American blockade” and led his county “onto the road of independent development.” For Chinese president Xi Jinping, “dear comrade and true friend” Fidel Castro made “immortal contributions to the development of socialism around the world.”
Likewise, for French president Francois Hollande, Fidel Castro “represented, for Cubans, pride in rejecting external domination.” Vladimir Putin, called Castro, “a wise and strong person,” an “inspiring example for all countries and peoples,” and a “sincere and reliable friend of Russia.”
President Obama, who like those Olympic referees in 1972 put time back on the clock for the Castro dictatorship, recalled, “the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation.” The U.S. president also hailed “the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.” Muslim leaders were also fond of the man.
“I firmly believe that Allah (God) has chosen you and the Cuban people to begin this process of servicing human needs, thus setting the stage for all people of goodwill to emulate this mode of service to others.”
In 2014 Farrakhan said: “Fidel Castro made solidarity among the peoples the reason of his existence.” In similar style in 1992, Iranian Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khameini said “it is his personality to believe and rely on people.”
The apologists might have consulted the various Amnesty International reports, which hardly capture the full picture. With no apology to Francois Hollande, Fidel Castro allowed the Soviet Union to impose complete domination of Cuba. That helped Fidel Castro drive a prosperous nation to sub-Haiti levels of poverty. His repression was such that Cubans flee at the first opportunity, leaving everything behind, at great risk to their own lives. That is why the Straits of Florida have become a graveyard without crosses.
The social justice crowd might have a look at Orlando Jimenez-Leal’s documentary 8A, which captures Castro’s show-trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa and other officers. Their government lawyers pleaded with the court that their clients must receive the death penalty, duly carried out with no appeal.
The entertainment and artistic communities might recall that Fidel Castro called American jazz the “music of the enemy” and jailed trumpeter Arturo Sandoval for listening to the Voice of America. Saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera defected in 1981 but it was ten years before the Castro regime would allow his family to join him.
Meanwhile, as Susan Sontag said, the left needs to evolve but at Castro’s death the left remains essentially uncritical of this truly porcine figure. If leftist politicians are so wrong about a sado-Stalinist dictator and his totalitarian Communist regime, why should anybody listen to them on anything else?
“Fidel Castro’s legacy,” said Donald Trump in a statement, “is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”
The president-elect should tap Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Rivera to put together a band for the inauguration.