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.
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.
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
- The United States would be a much better place if our prison guards and police received such training.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.