Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Give Castro some credit, not just a knee-jerk reaction

Fidel Castro has finally shuffled off his mortal coil, and Justin Trudeau is in the doghouse for finding some nice words to say about the dead guy. Ah, politics.
Trudeau, like pretty much every other political leader the world over, was obliged to make some kind of statement on the death of a major statesman, and, like it or not, that's what Castro was. Personally, I thought his statement was pretty reasonable and appropriate:
"It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.
"Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
"While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for 'el Comandante'.
"I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.
"On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader."
Problem is, saying anything remotely nice about an avowed and unrepentant communist is just not done in some political circles. So, Mr. Trudeau was piled on by most conservative Canadian politicians, almost the whole US Republican machine, Margaret Wente (obviously), and even the Globe's Editorial. God, even the usually sober and measured Guardian got in on th act.
But it should be mentioned, before all proportion is lost in the ensuing hysteria, that many other world leaders also made largely positive and respectful statements on Castro's death, including the UN Secretary-General, most presidents of Latin America, and the presidents of the EU, China, Russia, Spain, France, South Africa, India and, yes, the USA.
Castro was a "controversial figure", as Trudeau himself admits, and his democratic failings and civil rights abuses are well-known and reported ad nauseam in thr media. But they do not necessarily have to preface every comment made about the man. Neither do we need to dance in the streets with the Cuban exiles of Miami.
And, just for good measure, neither is it reasonable to characterize pre-revolutionary Cuba as some paragon of wealth, commerce and development, as many anti-Castro partisans (and, once again, the Globe and Mail's editorial team) often insist. In fact, Cuba under Batista was a US colony in which (in the words of one Globe letter-writer) "American-owned plantations and businesses raked in huge profits using cheap labour working in slave-like conditions". The mafia controlled Havana's drugs, casinos and brothels, the government at all levels was hugely corrupt, the police force brutal and repressive, and the regime almost totally indifferent to the education, medical care, housing, social justice and economic opportunity of its people. It was a revolution waiting to happen; Castro was the man who made it happen. Yes, the revolution, like so many others before it, went astray later, but at least give the man some credit where credit is due.

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