Castro’s true legacy is a trail of blood
Castro's true legacy is a trail of blood
By Jeff Jacoby
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
It was on New Year's Day in 1959 that Fidel Castro's guerrillas toppled
Fulgencio Batista, and a week later that Castro entered Havana and
launched what has become the world's longest-lived dictatorship. This
week thus marks the 48th anniversary of Castro's revolution — and the
last one he will celebrate, if the persistent rumors that he is dying
prove to be true. Which makes this a good time to ask: What will be said
about Castro after his death?
For decades, journalists and celebrities have showered Cuba's despot
with praise, extolling his virtues so extravagantly at times that if
sycophancy were an Olympic sport, they would have walked off with the
gold. Norman Mailer, for example, proclaimed him "the first and greatest
hero to appear in the world since the Second World War." Oliver Stone
has called him "one of the earth's wisest people, one of the people we
The cheerleaders have been just as enthusiastic in describing Castro's
record in Cuba. "A beacon of success for much of Latin America and the
Third World," gushed Giselle Fernandez of CBS. "For Castro," Barbara
Walters declared, "freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone
were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on
earth." Covering Cuba's one-party election in 1998, CNN's Lucia Newman
grandly described "a system President Castro boasts is the most
democratic and cleanest in the world."
During a 1995 visit to New York, writes Humberto Fontova in *Fidel:
Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant*, a blistering 2005 exposé of Castro and his
regime, Cuba's maximum leader "plunged into Manhattan's social swirl,
hobnobbing with dozens of glitterati, pundits, and power brokers." From
the invitation to dine at the Rockefeller family's Westchester County
estate to being literally kissed and hugged by Diane Sawyer, Castro was
drenched with flattery and adoration at every turn.
When Castro dies, some of his obituarists will no doubt continue this
pattern of fawning hero-worship. But others, more concerned with
accuracy than with apologetics, will squarely face the facts of Castro's
reign. Facts such as these:
? Castro came to power with American support.
The United States welcomed Castro's ouster of Batista and was one of the
first nations to recognize the new government in 1959. Many Americans
supported Castro, including former president Harry Truman. "He seems to
want to do the right thing for the Cuban people," Truman said, "and we
ought to extend our sympathy and help him to do what is right for them."
It was not until January 1961 that President Eisenhower — reacting to
what he called "a long series of harassments, baseless accusations, and
vilification" — broke diplomatic ties with Havana. By that point Castro
had nationalized all US businesses in Cuba and confiscated American
properties worth nearly $2 billion.
Well before he came to power, Castro regarded the United States as an
enemy. In a 1957 letter — displayed in Havana's Museo de la Revolucion,
Fontova observes — the future ruler wrote to a friend: "War against the
United States is my true destiny. When this war's over, I'll start that
much bigger and wider war."
? Castro transformed Cuba into a totalitarian hellhole.
Freedom House gives Cuba its lowest possible rating for civil liberties
and political rights, placing it with Burma, North Korea, and Sudan as
one of the world's most repressive regimes. Hundreds of political
prisoners are behind bars in Cuba today. Among them, writes Carlos
Alberto Montaner in the current issue of Foreign Policy, are "48 young
people [imprisoned] for collecting signatures for a referendum, 23
journalists for writing articles about the regime, and 18 librarians for
loaning forbidden books." Political prisoners can be beaten, starved,
denied medical care, locked in solitary confinement, and forced into
slave labor. Castro long ago eliminated freedom of religion, due process
of law, and the right to leave the country.
He also wiped out Cuba's once-flourishing free press. According to the
Committee to Protect Journalists, Cuba is one of the world's leading
jailers of journalists, second only to China in the number of reporters
? Castro stole Cuba's wealth.
While Cubans grew progressively poorer under communism, Castro exploited
them to become one of the world's richest people. Foreign companies
doing business in Cuba must pay a significant sum for each worker they
hire — but most of the money goes to Castro's regime, while the workers
receive only a pittance. Castro also controls Cuba's state-owned
companies, whose profits account for much of his wealth. Castro insists
that his personal net worth is zero, but in 2006 Forbes magazine
estimates the amount to be $900 million.
? Castro shed far more blood than the dictator he replaced.
According to the Cuba Archive, which is meticulously documenting the
deaths of each person killed by Cuba's rulers since 1952, Batista was
responsible for killing approximately 3,000 people. Castro's toll has
been far higher. So far the archive has documented more than 8,000
specific victims of the Castro regime — including 5,775 firing squad
executions, 1,231 extrajudicial assassinations, and 984 deaths in
prison. When fully documented, the body count is expected to reach
17,000 — not counting the tens of thousands of Cubans who lost their
lives at sea while fleeing Castro's Caribbean nightmare.
"Condemn me, it doesn't matter," Castro said long ago. "History will
absolve me." But Castro's ultimate day of judgment draws near, and
history is not likely to be so kind.
Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political
commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.