The legacy of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro died yesterday at the age of 90.  He ruled Cuba from 1959 to 2006 and was widely admired as a brave patriot and revolutionary who defied the power of the United States.

He was indeed a patriot and a brave man, but I never believed in him or what he stood for.

Fidel Castro in 1964 (Magnum)

Fidel Castro in 1964 (Magnum Photos)

Human beings cannot flourish under any system based on giving absolute power for life to a single person or small group of people can work.  Human life is too varied and complex to be subject to the will of a tiny elite of self-selected masterminds.

A number of people asked me at different times whether giving people bread was more important than freedom of the press or voting in contested elections.  I answered that I didn’t see the connection between giving people bread and denying them the right to ask for bread.

They asked me whether a nation has a right to change its political and economic system.  I answered that they do, and they have a right to change their minds if the first change doesn’t work out.

The Communist dictatorship was established supposedly to safeguard the ideals of socialism.  That was the purpose of all the suppression and regimentation.

Now the government of Cuba, like the governments of China and Vietnam before it, is renouncing socialism and opening itself to the capitalist world market, but the dictatorship remains.

Samuel Farber, writing for In These Times, explained the problem with the Castro system.

Under his leadership, the Cuban one-party state was established in the early 1960s and was legally sanctioned by the Constitution adopted in 1976.  The ruling Communist Party uses the “mass organizations” as transmission belts for the party’s “orientations.”  When these “mass organizations” were originally established in 1960, all the previously existing independent organizations that could have potentially competed with the official institutions were eliminated.  These included the “sociedades de color,” which for a long time had been the bedrock of black organizational life in Cuba, numerous women’s organizations mostly engaged in welfare activities, and the trade unions which became incorporated into the state apparatus after a thorough purge of all dissenting views.

Fidel Castro’s personal control from the top was a major source of economic irrationality and waste. The overall balance of his personal interventions in economic affairs is quite negative. These ranged from the economically disastrous campaign for a 10-million-ton sugar crop in 1970, which failed to achieve its sugar goals and greatly disrupted the rest of the economy, to the economic incoherence and intrusive micro-management of his “Battle of Ideas” shortly before he left office.

Source: In These Times.

Jay Nordlinger, writing for National Review, recalled the great Cuban dissident Armando Valladares. who was imprisoned for 22 years for refusing to say, “I’m with Fidel.”   He heard Valladares talk about his experiences in 1986 at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government:

After Valladares’s speech, the students came after him:  Hadn’t Castro “done some good things for his people”?  Hadn’t he delivered universal health care?  Hadn’t he brought about universal literacy?  [snip]

Valladares gave an answer I will never forget. He said it gently, earnestly, yearning for the students to understand.  I will paraphrase it:

Say all those things are true.  They’re not, but just say they are.  Can’t you have those things without torturing people?  Can’t you have them without wrongly imprisoning them?  Can’t you have them without killing them? Without denying them rights?  Without forbidding them to speak freely, without forbidding them to worship, without forbidding them to vote and have a normal political life and pursue their own destinies, and so on?

Why is material well-being — not that Cuba has it, or anything remotely like it — but why is material well-being incompatible with freedom?  Or not even with freedom: with the absence of a stifling, horrid dictatorship?  Why?

Source: National Review.

I don’t deny that the Castro government did some good things.  I oppose the economic blockage of Cuba which continues under the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.   Nor do I excuse atrocities by U.S.-basked dictators such as Pinochet in Chile, Admiral Galtieri in Argentina, or Rios Montt in Guatemala.

All I want to say is that the path to freedom does not lie through dictatorship.


Update 12/14/2016

I came across the following in the comments section of an article on Cuba in The Guardian:

I was myself in the same prison Mr. Valladares was (state prison “Combinado del Este”) and I was put in a punishing cell for days bleeding, urinating blood and with a galloping fever after a beat up by prison wardens, for attacking one of their own in front of all other prisoners …

Now, did they torture me?  Well, no!  They could have actually killed me and they didn’t (by choice)! In fact, right in that notorious prison I could see how they trained police not to abuse people (to the point of killing or badly hurting them), which amazes me.  Why do police constantly kill people in the U.S. for, as they say here, very “questionable” reasons?

I observed the training of aspiring police would openly get in the prison yards, specifically about “how to NOT shoot at/abuse people” (yes, all you need is love … no, namely, -training-, Beatles stanza may have been).  I will take the time to document here what I saw for you or anyone who cares about the truth of matters to find out if it is true or not.  Basically Cuban police were trained into routines and procedures:

1) notice if “element” has any kind of weapon and/or is under the influence and let other police know right away

2) (try to) move “element” out of their area/context/stage and if possible make other unencumbered people leave the area

3) let “element” notice that you have encircled him/her, own area

4) don’t move your eyes from the “element’s” and keep line of communication verbal or visual with “element” even after telling “element” to freeze/hold hands up

5) if “element” is carrying a gun or holding a knife don’t shoot right away unless you notice “element” will imminently make use of it

6) if you have to shoot don’t do it fatally (but peripherally to the legs …) if possible give warning shots towards a void area

7) under no circumstances should more than one police shoot

8) you don’t start or escalate a problem with “element” because “element” says something or looks at you in funny ways

Interesting to notice is that they trained them making them alternate as “element” and police (“you are not doing your ‘element’ part well …”).  Even more interestingly is that, in addition to making police take the first part of their training right in prisons.  They could also see other police that had been imprisoned for not following regs right there in criminal prisons having to live in the same quarters and cells as other prisoners!  If you are police the last thing you want is for all criminals in Havana to know who you and your family are.  You will have to grow eyes in the back of your head.  You won’t ever again get asleep with both your eyes shot.  In Cuba they have exclusive prisons for military and police, Ariza, but those that overdo abuse were sent to regular prisons. …

Source:  The Guardian

Hat tip to Homo Symbolicus

My response:

  1.  The United States would be a much better place if our prison guards and police received such training.
  2.  I would greatly prefer to be a poor person in Cuba than a poor person in countries with right-wing death squads, most or all of which are backed by the U.S. government, if those were my only alternatives.
  3.   The U.S. government should stop waging economic war against Cuba, and let its economic and political system stand or fall on its own merits or lack of merit.
  4.   I still do not believe that a state socialist dictatorship offers a path to a better society.


Fidel Castro (1926-2016) by Samuel Farber for In These Times.

Fidel Castro: The Cowardice of Autocracy by Arch Ritter for The Cuban Economy blog.  [Added 11/28/2016].  This includes links to other interesting and informative articles.

Castro: It’s Complicated by Eric Loomis for Lawyers, Guns and Money.  [Added 11/28/2016]

Questions I never got to ask Fidel Castro by Paul Webster Hare, former British ambassador to Cuba [Added 11/29/2016]

The Clean Hands Problem by Glen Newey for The London Review of Books.  [Added 11/29/2016]

The End of Fidel by Alma Guillermoprieto for the New York Review of Books.  [Added12/1/2016]

How Cuba’s Greatest Cartoonist Fled From Castro and Created ‘Spy vs. Spy’ by Eric Grundhauser for Atlas Obscura.  [Added 12/1/2016]

Castro paradoxes can’t be reduced to black, white by Jesse Jackson for the Chicago Sun-Times [Added 11/29/2016]  A more favorable view of Castro.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey).

The Fierce Debate Over Castro’s Legacy by John Wight for Counterpunch.  [Added 12/1/2016].  A favorable view of Castro.

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15 Responses to “The legacy of Fidel Castro”

  1. 61chrissterry Says:

    Reblogged this on 61chrissterry and commented:
    The good and the bad in Cuba, but which is the most prevailing?


  2. The legacy of Fidel Castro — Phil Ebersole’s Blog | D.J. Garcia, Gentleman & Scholar Says:

    […] via The legacy of Fidel Castro — Phil Ebersole’s Blog […]


  3. whungerford Says:

    It is easy to label world leaders one doesn’t like as dictators, but in the case of Castro, there may not be much truth in it.


  4. philebersole Says:

    I did not use the word “dictator” as a form of abuse. I used it as a political/social science term to refer to an individual, other than a hereditary monarch, who exercises power unchecked by laws, courts legislatures, a loyal opposition or contested elections.

    Fidel Castro’s reign in Cuba can be plausibly defended in many ways. You could claim that although a dictator, or by virtue of being a dictator, he brought about an increase in literacy, public health and other living standards. You could claim that as the leader of a country subject to covert and economic war by the United States, he had no choice but to be a dictator. You could claim that he was preferable to the alternatives, the right-wing dictators supported by the CIA and Pentagon.

    What you cannot plausibly deny is that he was a dictator.


  5. whungerford Says:

    What is the evidence that Fidel Castro was a dictator? Does Cuba not have a parlement? When we look at Castor’s detractors, he looks quite good by comparison.


  6. philebersole Says:

    Members of Cuba’s National Assembly are chosen in elections where there is only one candidate, and the people have a choice of voting “yes” or “no”.

    This is not my idea of democracy.

    Some things to read: –


  7. whungerford Says:

    Doesn’t it reflect ethnocentrism to claim that Cuba’s government, with whatever faults it may have, makes the Cuban President a dictator, while our government, with all its faults, doesn’t make our President a dictator?


  8. philebersole Says:

    A quotation:

    Before impugning an opponent’s motives, even when they may legitimately be impugned, answer his arguments.
    ==Sidney Hook


  9. hsymbolicus Says:

    Dear Phil:

    you have been one of the very few (perhaps, the only?) case in which I have noticed AI not to be totally wrong and off the mark. It suggested your blog to me and I have actually found your write ups for the most part informative, interesting and/or insightful. At times I have sent some of your blogs to friends and they asked me “where/how did you find this?” I tell them “my buddy AI” 😉

    I don’t think that anyone with some sense of reality would argue that Fidel Castro and his brother are (for the most part) not dictators. BTW, there are elections in Cuba, which are a farce (in which “We the people” participate!) and after coming to “the land of ‘the’ ‘free’ and ‘the’ ‘brave'” it was not easy for me to swallow that so-called “representative democracy” is just another type of farce, in which almost half of U.S. citizens choose not to participate.

    I 100% agree with you when you say: “Human life is too varied and complex to be subject to the will of a tiny elite of self-selected masterminds.”, but IMO what I think you fail to see is that there was/is way more to the Cuban revolution and to Castro becoming a dictator than Castro himself. Also, along the same lines, at times I wonder if you gringos realize that your “freedom” and “democracy” mean and can be only sustained by the -subjugation- and -exploitation- of other countries. USG doesn’t give a sh!t about “freedom” and “democracy”. They “love freedom” and “support democracy” as long as it is aligned with their interests, that is, they can benefits from it.

    I have just one question for you: Tell me about a single LA government, which U.S. hasn’t deposed when it doesn’t suit them (regardless of them being democratic of not). USG has kept messing with the Cuban people ever since. They seem to be very angry about Castro not being a graduate from the so-called “School of the Americas” where so many LA people where being taught about “democracy”, “freedom loving”, “embracing capitalism” and all that great stuff.

    You seem to be impressed by Armando Valladares’ words. Let me just tell you that the idea that people in Cuba would be “imprisoned for 22 years for refusing to say, ‘I’m with Fidel'” I find preposterously ridiculing.

    I gave my extensive opinion about the Cuban revolution/the Castros’ dictatorship and someone was also telling me about Valladares:

    See you,
    Ricardo Camilo López


  10. philebersole Says:

    The U.S. government, as you say, has a shameful record of interfering in Latin American politics and putting dictators in power.

    Fidel Castro, if nothing else, was a sincere patriot who tried to make his country independent.

    I agree that the United States should lift its economic embargo against Cuba and hand over the Guantanamo naval base to the Cuban government.

    But the fact that one side is bad is not evidence that the other side is good.

    I do not believe that a state socialist dictatorship represents the path to freedom for any country.

    It is interesting that Cuba is governed by the principle of hereditary succession, rather than an electoral process – the brother of the ruler succeeds when the ruler dies.


    As a direct answer to your question –

    The U.S. government hasn’t as yet deposed Rafael Carerra of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua or (though it’s trying) Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. 8=)


  11. hsymbolicus Says:

    But the fact that one side is bad is not evidence that the other side is good.

    I am not trying to suggest that in any way.

    I do not believe that a state socialist dictatorship represents the path to freedom for any country.

    No, but then the best model of a socialist country to me is Finland 😉

    I think it was Einstein the one that said: “Political systems are fine, what isn’t is their excesses”. I think capitalist enterprise is good for some societal aspects (as long as they don’t mess with Nature and remain within the bounds of humanity, morality) and socialism is good for other ones (say education and health care as they do in Canada and most European countries). I don’t see why they can’t both be and prosper together (in the U.S. version of capitalism)

    It is interesting that Cuba is governed by the principle of hereditary succession, rather than an electoral process – the brother of the ruler succeeds when the ruler dies.

    Cuba is just a crazy @ss place, after so many years of living deprived of basic rights they will need time to make sense of things and understand how “freedom” is supposed to work. As many LA people have repeatedly told me: in Cuba with all its problems you don’t see the kinds of things that you still see in countries like Chile (where the carabineros still kill peacefully protesting kids) and the extreme excesses you see on a daily basis in Mexico . . .

    As a direct answer to your question –

    The U.S. government hasn’t as yet deposed Rafael Carerra of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua or (though it’s trying) Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. 8=)

    But in all those cases with probably to some extent the reasonable exception of Daniel Ortega, belong to entirely another era. I think you are old enough to understand what I mean. We are talking here about the not so cold war about corruption and political violence in Cuba being to such extremes that even USG and the mafia who loved “that beautiful island” were telling the Cuban government to control things a bit.

    There was not a single one president in LA that wasn’t deposed and/or country which wasn’t invaded before Castro. Cuba was invaded but things didn’t work out that well for the Cuban mercenaries/USG.

    By the way, my dad, who dedicated his life to fight against Batista, then for the revolution and ended up as chief of bodyguards of Che Guevara (Castro and my dad knew each other very well and never liked each other. My dad told me that Castro was a guy who liked to have yes men around him, that he would still trust certain people who were not yes men, but he would make sure to keep them away from him) and then was put in prison once Castro decided he was the communist #1 in Cuba (there had been a communist party of somewhat questionable reputation, but politically strong in Cuba before Castro), told me that one of the things that he never agreed with was the “ajusticiamientos” (summary rulings, killing) of thousands of people many of whom weren’t truly conspiring against the revolution but were seen as “dangerous”. My dad who didn’t like to talk much about those times, told me that those were crazy convulsive times in which they were all awaiting an imminent invasion, bombardment by the U.S. military, that many were against killing so many people at the onset of the revolution (most of whom were police and military from the ancient regime) and some were for it. He told me Che Guevara was against the killings, but since he was the chief of the Morro Castle were those killings were being performed, he had to sit every one of them. There is a law in Cuba that says that when someone is executed the prison chiefs and some other people from the Justice Department have to sit, witness the executions. People have later said that Che Guevara enjoyed those executions my dad, who sat and witness some of them, told me that is a huge lie.

    He related to me once a story about Che Guevara that sheds some light about his personality, humanity. During the bay of pig invasion after they won and took almost all of them as prisoners of war, something very weird happened. Many people were seeing their own childhood friends and even family members as their enemies. My dad told me that once he was walking along checking the barracks with Guevara when one of his childhood friends called him loudly from the inside of one. My dad ordered the wardens to open the gate for him (which, of course, was against regs). He took off his guns and told the wardens to hold them for a while till he came out (now people inside of the barrack who very well knew Che were speechless wondering what was about to happen). My dad entered the very crowded barrack by himself. Tensions were supermax at this time and that could have created huge problems in those moments, but everybody kept silent while his friend emotionally asked him to please see, tell his wife (who was also my dad’s childhood friend) whatever and many other prisoners, thinking that they were going to be shot too, compulsively asked him what was going to happen with them. My dad had a few friendly words with his friend and told him he would come tomorrow with pencil and paper for him to write the note to his wife.

    My dad, a really nice guy, who would truly value friendship above all and made his own mother (my grandma) happily smile with his jokes almost before dying, told me that as he finished talking to his friend, he realized that he had made a grave mistake and not only put himself in danger, but other troops as well. Wardens (more of them had come) awaited him outside some of them stunt some other ones with very serious faces. As if it were not enough once outside he realized that Che had stood outside and listened to the whole verbal, emotional exchange. All other wardens were speechless as my dad and Che went their way. He told me he was awaiting for Che to give him some sh!t for not following regs and risking his own safety as well as the wardens’ and prisoners’, but Che simply pat him twice in his shoulder in a friendly, proud way while the wardens still looked at them and that was that.

    Next day my dad came back with pencil and paper for his friend to write the note to his wife and children, but his time he didn’t walk into the barrack but waited outside. Some prisoners crammed the door and started questioning my dad again about “what was going to happen with them”, “if they were all going to be executed” and my dad simply told them “I don’t think so” (they weren’t ultimately). Wardens would still not talk to my dad who kept seeing some of them for some time after the incident but they, thinking my dad was crazy, untrustworthy, or both ;-), would still not talk, relate to my dad in a friendly way even though my dad was their superior.

    Ricardo Camilo López


  12. hsymbolicus Says:

    There was not a single one president in LA that wasn’t deposed and/or country which wasn’t invaded before Castro. Cuba was invaded but things didn’t work out that well for the Cuban mercenaries/USG.

    Actually, the CIA tried to kill Fidel Castro so many times that it should be listed in the guinness records

    // __ 638 Ways To Kill Castro

    I admit I do not have any first hand knowledge of Cuba or any other Latin American country.

    this would be a good start

    // __ Confessions Of An Economic Hitman (1 of 3)
    // __ Confessions Of An Economic Hitman (2 of 3)
    // __ Confessions Of An Economic Hitman (3 of 3)
    // __ John Perkins on Embracing Cuba, TPP Kiss of Death & Restoring the Life Economy


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