In Praise of El Jefe
The Guardian, the paper of record amongst Britain's left-wing intelligentsia, reviews Fidel Castro's autobiography and political testament, My Life (My Struggle was already taken), which it also excerpted last week. Reviewer Seamus Milne heaps scorn on "the heirs of the grisly US-backed dictator Fugencio (sic) Batista" in Miami and those who denounce El Jefe as a brutal dictator ("In Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times, one writer ludicrously branded Castro 'another version of the tyrant that he replaced in 1959').
Far from being beached by history, Castro has in his final years provided a vital link between the socialist and communist experiences of the 20th century and the new movements against neoliberal globalisation and imperialism that have taken root in Latin America and elsewhere in the 21st.
There is a gripping, almost cinematic quality to Castro's recollections of some of the most dramatic episodes—under fire in the mountains with Guevara in the 50s; his chilling exchanges with Khrushchev on the brink of thermonuclear war in 1962; hands-on negotiations with US-indulged hijackers in 2003.
A few comments are in order here: First, the three "US-indulged hijackers" were attempting to flee to their island prison when they were intercepted by the Cuban coast guard (the commandeered vessel ran out of fuel). Milne neglects to mention that a mere two weeks after they were apprehended, the Cubans were summarily executed. Soon after, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement denouncing the farcical trials as "violat[ing] basic human rights standards." HRW executive director José Miguel Vivanco commented that "To execute these men is itself a human rights violation, and to do it less than two weeks after their alleged crimes shows a flagrant disregard of the right to a defense." As for the Cuban missile crisis, it is worth pointing out that Castro's "chilling exchanges" with Khrushchev included admonishing the Soviets for failing to strike America with nuclear weapons. When Moscow agreed to remove the missiles, in exchange for Kennedy secretly removing missiles from Turkey, Castro, according to biographer William Taubman, raged: "Son of a bitch…bastard…asshole…No cojones [balls]…Maricon [homosexual]."
Speaking of homosexuality, Milne manages a brief mention of Cuba's appalling treatment of its gay citizens:
Just as revealing from the perspective of today's politics are his self-critical comments on issues such as Cuba's changing approach to gay rights ("homosexuals were most certainly the victims of discrimination")…
What a mensch, that Castro. The communist dictator's "changing approach to gay rights" means that homosexuals and those suffering from AIDS are no longer forced into the island's vast gulag system. I think this counts more as systematic persecution rather than the more benign "discrimination."
For some, Cuba's resistance to multi-party elections, its clampdown on those who work with the US against the regime, its shortages and bureaucracy mark Castro down as a failed dictator, even if the only prisoners tortured and held without trial on the island are in the US base at Guantánamo. But for millions across the world, Cuba's resistance to US domination, its internationalist record in Africa and Latin America, its achievements in health and education and its pursuit of an independent, anti-capitalist course remain an inspirational point of reference.
You heard him right, kids: there are no prisoners tortured or "held without trial" (remember, they have Stalinist show trials, after all) in Cuba.