It is a constant source of wonderment that seemingly intelligent people persist in mythologizing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Here is former Los Angeles Times book review editor Steve Wasserman reviewing Castro's autobiography for Truthdig, the left-wing news portal founded by Robert Scheer, and slobbering all over a man of "extraordinary eloquence [and] strength of character." A few samples:
"His triumph: standing up for the right of small states to resist the bullying and domination of large powers. He was not willing to submit to the dictates of Washington, nor was he always a reliable cat's paw for Moscow. One has only to examine the roots of Castro's Africa policies, which antedated his coziness with the Soviets and were carried out independently of Soviet desires throughout much of the 1960s, to know that he very often refused to kowtow to Kremlin orthodoxy."
Utterly ridiculous. To resist the demands of his Soviet patrons is rather different than taking an independent line that conforms with Soviet foreign policy goals. Castro's imperial adventure in Angola, which Wasserman cites, was indeed his own initiative, but one, as Cambridge historian Christopher Andrews notes, that "was enthusiastically encouraged by Moscow." After Cuba decided to bring troops to Angola—troop and matériel transport was arranged by the Soviets, incidentally—the Russian-Cuban military and espionage collaboration continued throughout the conflict and spread into the war in Ethiopia. This hardly qualifies as "resist[ing] the bullying and domination" of a large power.
"…Castro disavowed terrorism as a tactic of revolutionary war. He was not a nihilist, and he deliberately eschewed, indeed, condemned, terrorism for its disregard of human life. In a letter during the fight against Batista rebuking his brother Raul for his reckless kidnapping of a group of U.S. citizens (subsequently released unharmed) Castro said: "It is essential to declare categorically that we do not utilize the system of hostages, however justified our indignation may be against the political attitudes of any government."…In a radio speech to Batista's soldiers, Castro called on them to surrender, pledging that "[n]o prisoner will be interrogated, mistreated, or humiliated in word or deed, and all will receive the generous and humane treatment military prisoners have always received from us." By most accounts, Castro's practice-during the guerrilla war at least-was as good as his promise."
Note the qualifier—"in the guerrilla war at least." Wasserman also says that "it is unlikely that, after Castro's demise, unmarked mass graves will be found filled with the remains of opponents who had been made to disappear. Cuba is not Chile under Pinochet or Argentina under the generals." It is not Chile under Pinochet—it is, and was, much worse. It is important to remind the credulous diggers of truth that immediately following the fall of Havana, the new regime quickly set forth a policy of revolutionary terror. It is estimated that 600 people were executed for connections, however dubious, to the Batista regime. None were afforded fair trials. As French historian Pascal Fontaine points out, at La Loma de los Coches prison alone "more than 1,000 'counterrevolutionaries' were shot in the years between the triumph of 1959 and the final liquidation of the Escambray protest movement." Fontaine also notes that "During the repressions of the 1960s, between 7,000 and 10,000 people were killed and 30,000 people imprisoned for political reasons." Even ignoring the executions and arrests in the following 25 years, Castro's murderous record far outstrips the number executed and "disappeared" by the Pinochet dictatorship.
It is typical of Castrophilic commenters to become moral scolds when describing Batista's Havana as a den of inequity; prostitution, gambling, mobsters. And it was Castro who cleaned up the slum of Batista's Cuba, Wasserman says: "By the 1950s, in Havana, according to Louis A. Perez Jr.'s indispensable "On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture," almost 12,000 women could be found working as prostitutes." Soviet-style communism to the rescue! (Incidentally, Perez's book puts the tally at 11,500 prostitutes, but Wasserman, of course, rounds up.) Later, Wasserman notes that "the Cuban economy is, again, dependent on sugar, tobacco and tourism (particularly sex tourism)." If he were to connect the dots, perhaps Wasserman would see that, since 1959 and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of women working as prostitutes has increased in Cuba.
Even when nominally criticizing Castro, Wasserman's analysis is baffling: "As for Castro, all things must pass. His early ideals of libertarian socialism are nowhere in evidence."
Sure, we can quibble and debate all manner of theories of Cuban communism, but I think it's safe to say that Fidel Castro in no way qualifies as libertarian.