“History always repeats itself: The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” — Karl Marx
It’s been awhile since a leader with the name recognition like that of Fidel Castro has died. Still, the death of famous people and unique reactions to these are normal, especially with social media at the fingertips of politicians, media, entertainers, and the like.
It’s fine for reactions and summations to be as varied as the people themselves. What’s a little more unusual is for people to eulogize a man like Castro in a way that defies historical fact. Such revisionist history paves a path for history to repeat itself, with terrible results.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways various folks on social media honored the death of the 90-year-old Cuban dictator.
Viva La Revolucion
Tonight Russian TV anchor Kiselev praised Castro for "being prepared to put Soviet rockets in Cuba & aim them at America" pic.twitter.com/xl5eVee9hU
— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) November 27, 2016
this from @sam_kriss is beautiful and I think captures why so many of us around the world are sorry to see fidel go https://t.co/lYrYGpZEZq pic.twitter.com/0QzQP6aDvA
— Alex Press (@alexnpress) November 27, 2016
Contributing editor @LAReviewofBooks, previously @voxdotcom pic.twitter.com/5WrXojAIqx
— Kyle W. Orton (@KyleWOrton) November 26, 2016
Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!
— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) November 27, 2016
You cannot be serious.@JimAvilaABC “even Castro’s critics praised his advances in health care and in education.”
— JWF (@JammieWF) November 27, 2016
In one headline, The Washington Post called him a “spiritual beacon” before editing that part:
The @washingtonpost's first take on Castro's death: "spiritual beacon." Headline has since been changed. pic.twitter.com/4Bw0ig4lzW
— Chuck Thies (@ChuckThies) November 26, 2016
Two other world leaders also honored Castro’s achievements as dictator. In a statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “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.’”
Likewise our own president, Barack Obama, offered a vague statement about Castro’s “accomplishments:” “We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
The historical record isn’t as kind to Castro as Obama, Trudeau, or any of the other recollections above may fantasize. As dictator of Cuba for nearly five decades, Castro plunged the country into economic depression, thwarted the God-given rights of his people, brutally murdered dissidents, and turned Cuba into a socialist state under Communist rule.
Relying on Capitalism to Save Communism
Economically, the country suffered. As this fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London describes it: “[Fidel Castro] visited an economic disaster upon the island nation of Cuba. No, it was not the US, it was not any blockade or embargo, not anything external to Cuba that caused this, it was quite simply the idiocy of the economic policy followed, that socialism, which led to there being near no economic growth at all over the 55 years or so of his rule.”
What kept Castro from entirely erasing Cuba’s Communist-imposed dour economy was capitalism, recalls this reporter (and note Cuba’s quality of life):
When the Soviet bloc dissolved at the beginning of the 1990s, Cuba suddenly lost the $5 billion to $8 billion in annual Kremlin aid and trade that had kept the island afloat for three decades.
Unable to produce enough food, Cuba’s people began to go hungry. Without the generous Soviet oil subsidy, transportation and industry were paralyzed. Without hard currency to pay for them, no food, fertilizer or oil could be imported. Left to stand on its own for the first time in 30 years, Cuba folded.
Beginning in 1993, with people eating banana peels just to feel something substantial in their stomachs and with the populace suffering an epidemic of blindness and paralysis linked to vitamin deficiencies, Castro borrowed a page from Lenin’s New Economic Policy of the 1920s and turned to capitalism to save socialism. He legalized the U.S. dollar and opened the door to small-scale private enterprise.
Castro didn’t just nearly murder his country economically, but with literal force as well. From his firing squads and forced labor camps to keeping political prisoners, Castro was no benevolent dictator. “The Cuba Archive which documents deaths and disappearances resulting from Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution has documented 3,615 firing squad executions conducted by the Cuban state since Castro took over on January 1, 1959.”
They Don’t Know. Do They Care?
Either the media and various political leaders remain blissfully unaware of what Cuba underwent while at Castro’s mercy, or they simply prefer to revise history to fit their social justice narrative. If the former, a lesson in history is needed. I suggest they begin with my colleague Dr. Tom Nichols here. If the latter, shame on them.
While revisionist history is no doubt a popular technique among the media elite, especially from the Left and especially when one political ideology begins pummeling the other in a race to prove worth or accuracy, it does no one favors. If a particular outlet or, ahem, world leader wants to praise Castro for being the murderous Communist dictator he was, that’s certainly his or her prerogative. But be honest about how his regime affected Cubans—how nearly 2 million exiles have come to the United States because they’d rather risk death than live under a Communist dictator one more day.
Communism, despite praise from Castro and its fans, obfuscates morality, ruins morale, and devastates economies. The media need not rejoice in Castro’s death, but should at least report the facts as they are, without whitewashing. Engaging in revisionist history is disingenuous and irresponsible.