Castro is dead

by Chris Bertram on November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro is dead at 90, so let me adapt some words I wrote when he retired back in 2008. Doubtless, there will be commentary, particularly from within the United States, that is unbalanced and hostile, and, of course it is true that Castro ran a dictatorship that has, since 1959, committed its fair share of crimes, repressions, and denials of democratic rights. Still, I’m reminded of the historian A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate. The same thing goes Cuba, for a much smaller area, and it hurt them particularly to be excluded from somewhere that plutocrats and mobsters had once enjoyed as their private playground. (Other countries, far more repressive, got a pass from successive US administrations.) So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let’s hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid at a time when the United States favoured “constructive engagement” with white supremacy. Let’s hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who bravely held off the US forces for a while when the US invaded Grenada. Let’s hear it for more than half-a-century of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!

{ 152 comments }

1

Neville Morley 11.26.16 at 8:20 am

[buys popcorn, sits back in anticipation]

2

Moonfriend 11.26.16 at 8:32 am

I was just watching the announcement of Castro’s death on ABC TV in Australia and the interviewee, Robert Austin from the University of Sydney, was defending Castro along similar lines to this post. It was refreshing to hear such things in the mainstream media despite the overwhelming elite opinion about Cuba over several decades.

3

Val 11.26.16 at 8:44 am

Let’s hear for the urban vegetable gardens, and the family doctors, and the infant mortality rate that was lower than the USA’s.

Let’s give them and Castro credit for what they did right in the face of enormous opposition. It’s inspiring to me what they managed.

4

Thomas Beale 11.26.16 at 10:00 am

Is it an achievement to have a universal healthcare system and universal literacy if the price is liberty? Only in the minds of those who think in the abstract categories of the revolutionary, in which any number of lives can be sacrificed for a principle. But it’s not an academic question for those who live it. Svetlana Alexievich’s Second Hand Time provides the oral accounts of real people from pre- and post soviet times. Both before and after 1989 are terrible, unless you are in the privileged elite. The only difference is how privilege is obtained in a totalitarian state compared to a capitalist or even gangster economy.

5

novakant 11.26.16 at 10:21 am

I’m not from the US, so have no axe to grind, and don’t think Castro was a particularly egregious ‘leader’ – but neither was Honecker and the GDR was still a pretty awful place to live, healthcare etc. notwithstanding. So I find this praise for Castro rather puzzling and slightly degoutant as it tends to paper over the many petty human rights abuses and denials of basic freedoms (movement, speech, development etc. ) – if you have to deny people, until very recently, the right to leave, maybe you’re doing something wrong.

6

Tim Worstall 11.26.16 at 11:06 am

Puerto Rico remains under that American hegemonic colonialism. It also has universal literacy and decent standards of health care. And it’s about 4 times richer from roughly the same start.

Which is the achievement to be celebrated?

7

kidneystones 11.26.16 at 11:06 am

There’s far too little space on this blog discuss the list of actions prohibited by the dictatorship on the island of Cuba for the last fifty years: start a newspaper, form a movie company, open a bookstore, import magazines and educational materials from other nations, travel freely, publish and teach without fear of persecution…every single person – man, woman, and child born on the island over last fifty years a captive of a totalitarian state…

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-36375807

8

David 11.26.16 at 11:12 am

I come from a country with universal literacy and decent health care, and neither were achieved through undemocratic and antiliberal means.

9

Mark H 11.26.16 at 11:22 am

“Of course”!

10

Commenter 11.26.16 at 11:23 am

No. Just no.

There is nothing to celebrate here. Just generations of Cubans growing up in grinding poverty under a brutal repressive regime. With their best hope a dangerous boat trip to that oh-so-horrible country that comfortable European lefties despise.

11

Layman 11.26.16 at 11:25 am

@Tim Worstall, too right! Time we lifted that blockade of Puerto Rico and see what they can really accomplish.

@David, where is this immaculately conceived nation?

12

Hidari 11.26.16 at 11:27 am

@5 It must be remember that not only is the United States the most egregious violator of human rights on Earth, it is also the most egregious violator of human rights in Cuba because of the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp.

As per usual, imagine that Cuba possessed large chunks of the United States, which it had seized by conquest, and that it used this land to torture political prisoners (sometimes to death). Also imagine that for much of the 20th century the US had been governed by a fascist dictatorship, supported by Cuba.

This doesn’t excuse Castro’s many failing, but it provides context.

13

Tom Bach 11.26.16 at 12:23 pm

Last I heard, Puerto Rico was drowning in debt and trying to declare bankruptcy. A real capitalist success story, I guess.

14

Dave 11.26.16 at 12:45 pm

I guess this is the part where we rush to define a regime based on the two categories of [good] and [bad]. I’m sure we’ll see lots of articles about the death of the tyrant and/or the righteousness of the communist revolution in the face of imperialism. I don’t buy it though.

Good people do bad things and bad people do good things (just look at every world leader in human history for proof). Moral absolutism is meaningless in a world with no true absolutes and I’m not sure relativism is much better. I mean, relative to what, other flawed people with ambiguous legacies?

I salute efforts to make a full account of Castro’s life and take the good with the bad (or vice versa), but I hope we can avoid the fallacy of the ledger. You can’t just add up good deeds and bad deeds and compute a moral ratio of goodness/badness. In this world, even simple matters of cause and effect are nowhere close to clear. How much of Cuban policy came from the communist regime, how much from the will of the Cuban people or indefinable internal and external variables? It’s rather hard to say.

The most tangible critique I can levy is that, because the Castro regime held on for six decades (and really isn’t done yet), we’ve been afforded a vanishingly rare opportunity to see what happens when the same leaders and the same political agenda hold sway in a nation over several generations and a lot of it has been ugly. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that has enjoyed the same level of pseudo-stability amid the tumults of the late 20th century and so it is hard to find valid comparisons to Castro’s Cuba. Most comparable nations have gone through a dozen or more rulers in the same period and have done so in the context of economic and political globalization. Because Cuba is unlike any country in the capitalist West, it is a success, but because it is seemingly little better or worse than most of the nations in its class (medium-sized post-colonial nations with a history of dictatorship), it is a failure.

The only lesson I can really glean from the Cuban experience (at least as a somewhat ignorant onlooker) is that it discredits many of the political truisms of our age. It never fit cleanly into the first/second/third world categories or the left/right dichotomy. It defied its largest neighbor, broke with the emerging internationalist system, and charted a truly strange course through the world, and yet it is neither a backwards rogue state like North Korea nor any sort of idealistic utopia. In most respects, it’s just another country and in many ways that’s more interesting than the alternatives.

15

Finn 11.26.16 at 12:51 pm

Fidel was one of history’s great heroes. He will be fondly remembered by the Cuban people whom he served.

Brad DeLong has already made a post referring to your 2008 post, and critical of it. Lol.

16

novakant 11.26.16 at 1:19 pm

Hidari, I have no problem whatsoever with pointing out the fundamental and large-scale human rights violations of the US – and the UK as a partner in crime – and I would even add seemingly more benign countries like, say, Germany and Sweden for being among the top arms exporters in the world.

The thing is: you won’t see me praising their political leadership.

17

Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 11.26.16 at 1:22 pm

Castro is Paul Kagame plus 50 years. Same dictator deposition, same dictatorship, same rising living standards, same intervention in African civil wars on probably the right side.

18

Randy McDonald 11.26.16 at 1:31 pm

“Because Cuba is unlike any country in the capitalist West, it is a success”

Is it? At its highest point relative to the United States and the rest of the world, the living standards of Cuba were on par with Italy or even parts of the United States. Castro’s government has led to one of relative impoverishment for a Cuba that has fallen well behind its then-peers.

There were certainly many problems with Cuba before the revolution, but it seems pretty clear that Castro’s government provided no lasting, positive answers. In the end, after Castro all we have is an island nation that is now substantially worse off relative to its neighbours and rivals, and arguably less able to cope by virtue of having been a one-party dictatorship for so long.

19

TF79 11.26.16 at 1:56 pm

As we saw with the latest US election, apparently the bar for political leaders is set mighty low as long as they hate the right people.

20

Layman 11.26.16 at 2:06 pm

“Castro’s government has led to one of relative impoverishment for a Cuba that has fallen well behind its then-peers.”

Pay no attention to the effect of 50+ years of antipathy from the global hegemon. Cuba’s poverty is entirely Castro’s fault.

(Pfui!)

21

LFC 11.26.16 at 2:31 pm

Sam T-H
Castro is Paul Kagame plus 50 years. Same dictator [disposition], same dictatorship, same rising living standards, same intervention in African civil wars

But, among other things, different economic models, no?

22

Brett 11.26.16 at 2:46 pm

Pre-Communist Cuba already had some of the best literacy and health numbers in Latin America. It’s also not impressive that an otherwise stagnant Communist regime managed to get a handful of things right – the Soviets ran a good space program, after all.

Castro depended on the any-capitalists-aside-from-the-US to run a tourist industry that brought in needed foreign currency, even though it visibly heightened the contradictions between the outside world economy and what the average Cuban was experiencing. And that really is what undermines the “blame the blockade” story – it was a one-country blockade that everyone else didn’t hesitate to undermine, and which only exists because Cuban refugees just happened to land in a swing state.

As for Grenada, the US overthrew a military government that overthrew a Cuban-back regime that had banned elections and any political opposition after overthrowing the democratically elected government. And yet the US was the bad guy here, even though democracy was restored right after the US troops left.

Let’s hear it for more than half-a-century of defiance in the face of the US blockade.

And there’s the root of it. Of course, that also probably explains why the rest of Latin America has been nearly useless in dealing with creeping authoritarianism in certain countries I won’t name in South America – after all, it was never the tyrannical nature of such regimes that they really objected to, right?

23

engels 11.26.16 at 3:10 pm

Hasta siempre, comandante.

24

Zamfir 11.26.16 at 3:15 pm

Castro could have been a good man, if he had transferred power to the wider people at some point. But he didn’t, and the country has some nasty twists as result. I have no problem declaring his ledger in the red. The US stance towards Cuba was pure hypocrisy, the anger of a child that lost a toy. Doesn’t make Castro a better man.

25

Anarcissie 11.26.16 at 3:22 pm

The outcome of the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962, showed that the ruling class of the US could do pretty much as it pleased with Cuba. Given the violence which they have chosen to visit upon other countries, much larger and much further away, including millions of civilian deaths and other casualties, it seems that they could have removed Castro and company if they had wished to. The Soviet Union was even good enough to supply an irrefutable casus belli. So why didn’t they, if Castro stuck in their craw?

26

nick s 11.26.16 at 3:33 pm

Is it an achievement to have a universal healthcare system and universal literacy if the price is liberty?

Given that so many of Cuba’s neighbours had none of the above, maybe?

It’s remarkable the extent to which multiple generations of Americans have been taught a specific kind of ignorance about Cuba, and so willingly proclaim it to others. When Fidel took over, the US was still in the habit of removing Latin American governments on behalf of fruit companies.

Is someone going to make the counterfactual case that absent Castro, a Batista-led Cuba would have eventually evolved into something more like Puerto Rico or a Spanish-speaking Bahamas than the Dominican Republic or Haiti? I could do with a laugh.

27

Thomas Beale 11.26.16 at 4:11 pm

nick s @ 26

even if you want to make a ‘best of all possible worlds’ argument, one only needs to provide a counterfactual case with Castro, but running a state to provide much better opportunities and outcomes than he actually did.

And if you still think that the actual result was the best possible (via a ‘best of all possible dictators’ line of reasoning?), then I’d say you have provided the perfect argument against revolution and totalitarianism in general.

28

James Hanley 11.26.16 at 4:15 pm

I don’t see Americans fleeing their country, despite repeated threats to do so after each election. Contrast that with Cuba, and ask yourself why so many people would risk their lives to get away from free health care.

The US blockade cannot be used as an excuse. If communism requires economic connections with capitalism to succeed, then communism has failed on its own terms.

29

Omega Centauri 11.26.16 at 4:18 pm

Thanks Dave.
I too think trying to be judgmental and ledgerbound in our thinking is problematical. He was what he was, and the times were what they were. We should study history without the straightjacket of our current obsessions.

Now clearly the missile crisis exposed tri-partite recklessness, which nearly lead to a disaster orders of magnitude greater than the issue of the day. Since then Castro was able to use the hostility of the USA as legitimization of his regime. Now that he has passed -and not just retired, I hope that our opening up can continue, although I suspect Trump may try to undo it.

30

BBA 11.26.16 at 4:27 pm

I suspect that a hard condition for continuing the Cuban thaw will be for exclusive casino rights to the entire island to be granted to Trump Resorts – which will of course be in a blind trust over which the president has no control, how dare you suggest otherwise.

If these licenses are not granted, we reverse everything in the last few years and double down on Helms-Burton. Your call, Raul.

31

Layman 11.26.16 at 5:22 pm

“The US blockade cannot be used as an excuse.”

This is an arbitrary and too-convenient rule. The embargo is clearly a factor in the impoverishment of Cuba, and ruling it out as a factor for ideological reasons is just hand-waving. If you’re going to blame Castro for economic conditions in Cuba (and to some extent you should), you need to blame US policy as well. There is good reason to believe that the unique US hardline stance with Cuba is responsible for extending the period of suffering. Contrast the positive effects on the lives of Chinese and Vietnamese people since rapprochement with those countries, with the state of affairs which obtains in Cuba.

32

Nick 11.26.16 at 5:42 pm

One of the problems with this kind of analysis is that most of the most awful dictators will do some good, and some people somewhere will find it praiseworthy. To say “Well, he imprisoned gay people and political dissidents but developed a good health system,” is kind of pointless. James Hanley above makes a good point — there are a lot of countries with crummy educational systems and awful health care, but the people in them don’t risk their lives over 90 miles of open ocean to escape. That is a fact that’s hard to overlook.

It’s kind of like my neighbour — sure, he feeds his family and takes care of their health, he certainly seems to care for them, but should I overlook that his wife keeps trying to jump out of the third floor window and screams for me to help her?

33

Hidari 11.26.16 at 5:45 pm

‘I don’t see Americans fleeing their country’.

Could I just nail this one on the head: I meet Americans ‘fleeing their country’ all the time. If by ‘fleeing’ you mean: people who left their country for (amongst other reasons) political reasons. And they all say the same thing (don’t get me wrong: plenty of Americans simply can’t get a job in the US and have to leave, seeking work. But this isn’t an ‘either/or’).

They all say (more or less all, using this phrase) ‘ It’s the ‘culture”. I have heard that phrase so many times, always in the context of ‘why I couldn’t go back’ or ‘why I won’t have my kids raised in the United States’.

34

Hidari 11.26.16 at 5:51 pm

According to the Cubans (who are not, of course, a neutral source) the illegal embargo has cost the Cuban economy $753.69 billion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_embargo_against_Cuba

People producing alleged ‘controls’ (e.g. Puerto Rico, which, as some commentators have pointed out, has economic problems of its own), should point out similarly sized countries who have had similar embargoes against them from the dominant economic power on planet Earth. Then perhaps we can play ‘compare and contrast’.

35

Hidari 11.26.16 at 5:55 pm

You will all be amazed to hear that Donald Trump has something deeply stupid to say about today’s events.

‘Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.

While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.

Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.’

Hidari’s first rule of political discourse: anyone who uses the word ‘totalitarian’ is invariably an asshole.

36

Chris Bertram 11.26.16 at 5:56 pm

Hmm, lots of people have fled their countries over the past few decades. Some of them have fled from an island right next to Cuba, which has at times been ruled by the most vicious of dictatorships. Many of those fleeing have been intercepted at sea. Some were detained in Guantanamo. Others were returned in contravention of US obligations of non-refoulement under the Refugee Convention. Much of this happened under the Presidency of Bill Clinton.

37

Daragh 11.26.16 at 6:23 pm

“I’m reminded of the historian A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate. The same thing goes Cuba, for a much smaller area, and it hurt them particularly to be excluded from somewhere that plutocrats and mobsters had once enjoyed as their private playground. (Other countries, far more repressive, got a pass from successive US administrations.)”

Really? That would be big news to the Koch family, which got immensely rich selling oil cracking technology to Stalin, or the many foreign firms that got lucrative concessions under detente. Hell even Lenin claimed ‘the capitalists will sell us the rope we use to hang them’ when justifying foreign capital investment during the NEP. A more informed/intellectually honest historian than Taylor might regard that, in combination with the large-scale and pervasive violence needed to maintain literally every communist regime that has ever existed, as a sign that the political economy of communism was a fundamental malign and unworkable one. Personally, I’ve always found the Great Terror to be bad because it involved the murder of millions of people and the application of savagery and cruelty on an industrial scale, with particularly baneful effects for the USSR’s many minority communities. But then, AJP Taylor never did use his fantastic mind-reading powers on me, so maybe I’m an outlier.

More to the point – as several commentators here have already pointed out, universal literacy, healthcare and other progressive goals are very realisable under liberal democratic regimes. The boycott movement that grew in multiple Western states – that is, states that allowed independent civil society organisations to grow and thrive in contrast to Cuba and literally every other Communist regime that has ever existed – was just as important in ending apartheid than Angola, if not more so. And if you really want to hail Castro as a champion in the struggle for racial equality, you might start by looking at the deeply racist society he himself governed.And then, y’know, stop talking after realising how wrong you are.

Seriously though – the Castro-cult is not only entirely unwarranted by Cuba’s ‘achievements’ it makes it much, much, much easier for reactionaries to discredit the left as a whole. A stance of ‘Castro’s dictatorship, like all dictatorships was fundamentally inequitable and wrong, and led to obscenities such as his willingness to see his people incinerated in an unwinnable nuclear war, his support for the Prague spring, and the barbarous practice of punitive pyschotheraphy. There is no justification for that, whatever his ‘achievements’ in office’ has the benefits of being more strategically astute, as well as infinitely morally preferable, to repeating the ‘revolutionary’ slogans of a pretty unpleasant political regime and pretending its crimes were justified because reasons.

38

JW Mason 11.26.16 at 6:23 pm

Thank you. This is just right.

Especially appreciate the mention of Cuba’s role in defeating apartheid, which is too little remembered. Who knows how much longer the South African regime would have held on without Castro — maybe even to today.

39

Chris Bertram 11.26.16 at 6:27 pm

That’s your allowance spent for the week Daragh.

40

Asteele 11.26.16 at 6:50 pm

Americans accusing Castro of unjustly imprisoning people are hilarious.

41

stevenjohnson 11.26.16 at 7:06 pm

I wonder if Desmond Tutu will remember Cuito Cuanavale? But maybe the Nobel is all it takes to revise history to reserve credit to him and Mandela (Nelson only! Not Winnie!)

It seems to me to require little more than honesty to compare emigration rates for different islands. Not just Cuba and Haiti, but Cuba and Puerto Rico, or Cuba and Ireland. If it’s Communism driving people off the island in droves, when did Puerto Rico and Ireland turn Communist?

And anyone who pretends that death squads in Colombia; dirty war in Argentina; Ton Ton Macoutes/FRAPH in Haiti; gang warfare in Mexico; cops shooting street kids in Rio and Sao Paulo, Rios Montt’s genocidal assault on indios; the contras in Nicaragua, well, this is getting too depressing to keep up, even for completness’ sake. On average for Castro’s entire rule the average citizens, especially poor ones, have been much, much safer in their persons than in almost anywhere else in Central and South America. No doubt conservatives put zero value on poor people living better in Cuba than in favelas and barrios, but there you are: Some, perversely, do.

As for the economic effects of a single country blockading another, suppose the US had blockaded Canada, but England, France, Spain, Japan, etc. hadn’t? It is manifestly silly to pretend that meant the blockade was ineffective.

If you like to keep score, you can note which alleged thinkers shamelessly recite the most absurd allegations, putting all their confidence in the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the right thinking people who have surmounted obsolete Communism.

42

LFC 11.26.16 at 7:16 pm

Anarcissie @25

That’s a complete misreading of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sorry I can’t elaborate right now, but that is just bad history. It was the failure of the Bay of Pigs that suggested strongly to “the US ruling class,” to use your favorite phrase, that maybe they shd just let Castro stew under the blockade or whatever. No real upside to overthrowing him, plus his presence was useful as a domestic political rallying point for certain politicians, or to adopt your preferred language, certain fractions of the US ruling class.

43

Raven Onthill 11.26.16 at 7:18 pm

I went looking for the source of that A J P Taylor quote and didn’t find it. But I did find this: “In my opinion, most of the great men of the past were only there for the beer – the wealth, prestige and grandeur that went with the power.” Hey, he explained Donald Trump. How ’bout that?

44

LFC 11.26.16 at 7:25 pm

For an informed critique of the Castro regime from a leftist perspective, see the work of Samuel Farber.

45

Yankee 11.26.16 at 7:28 pm

I visited Cuba with my kid on a school trip jeez 20 years ago and one serious complaint that people had was you had to go to neighborhood meetings and listen to people argue about tedious stuff like trash collection and the upcoming regional assembly. So it goes.

… also saw a REAL green flash, like an emerald the size of the moon. Didn’t last long.

46

Dr. Hilarius 11.26.16 at 7:28 pm

Cuba has also managed to protect its forests and marine habitats to a much greater degree than much of Latin America. Compare Cuba to Haiti if you want stark contrast. I’m certain that the thaw will correct this problem in no time so the time to see Cuba’s natural environment is now.

47

Brett Dunbar 11.26.16 at 7:46 pm

Hidari, Trump was right. That’s not a sentence I thought I was ever likely to say. The Cuban regime is founded on denying the Cuban people any political rights.

Castro ran a totalitarian regime. Totalitarian is a technical term and Castro’s dictatorship was totalitarian. Putin runs an authoritarian regime. The difference is that a totalitarian regime basically rejects the idea of independent civil society while an authoritarian regime is fairly indifferent to apolitical civil bodies. Basically a totalitarian state wants to control the administration of the national bridge club while an authoritarian state doesn’t much care how the bridge club operates as long as it keeps out of politics and concentrates on organising bridge tournaments.

48

Suzanne 11.26.16 at 7:51 pm

I remember an old Doonesbury strip, I think it was, which consisted of one US president after another declaring that Castro must go. Remember the days of yore when the CIA was trying to put things in his soup to make his beard fall out, out of pure spite? He survived them all and lived to see the embargo eased.

“There is good reason to believe that the unique US hardline stance with Cuba is responsible for extending the period of suffering.”

This. It didn’t have to be as bad for the Cubans as it was and the US did its powerful best to make sure things didn’t get better for them.

Trivia from the early days: Castro declared the first ever National Chess Day. Pix of Castro at the board while Fischer and Petrosian kibitz:

http://www.kenilworthchessclub.org/kenilworthian/2006/08/fischer-castro-havana-1966-not.html

49

James Hanley 11.26.16 at 8:10 pm

Hidari,

Compare on a population basis. Nowhere near the population of the U.S. is fleeing.

Compare the reasons: no liberties and fearing for their lives vs. don’t like the culture.

Compare the government response: sure, we’ll send you your social security checks to another country vs. We’ll imprison you if we catch you leaving.

I don’t find those comparable at all.

50

James Hanley 11.26.16 at 8:17 pm

Layman,

My point is that anyone who thinks communism is a better economic system — like Castro — cannot claim that the inability to engage in trade with a capitalist country is the cause of the communist state’s impoverishment without implicitly admitting the failure of communism.

51

James Hanley 11.26.16 at 8:19 pm

Chris Bertram,

Your comment about refugees is a non-sequiter.

52

Val 11.26.16 at 8:27 pm

Perhaps I shouldn’t really engage with Daragh after he has had a warning, but I hope you will excuse it Chris, because this shouldn’t be let go:

More to the point – as several commentators here have already pointed out, universal literacy, healthcare and other progressive goals are very realisable under liberal democratic regimes

Really Daragh, have a little intellectual honesty. You must have heard of the struggles with universal healthcare in the USA – the rich country that has a higher infant mortality rate than Cuba? Even in Australia, where we have a fairly good system of universal healthcare, we are continually having to defend it from attacks by the right (aka the “Liberal Party”).

53

Chris Bertram 11.26.16 at 8:31 pm

James Hanley, a non sequitur is an argument that doesn’t follow from its premises.

54

Stephen 11.26.16 at 8:43 pm

Hidari@12:
“not only is the United States the most egregious violator of human rights on Earth”.
Query, if you’re looking for extent, what human rights the 1.3 billion Chinese enjoy? Sure, it’s much better there than under the mass murderer Mao, but does the past (in my lifetime, if not yours) not count?
If you’re looking for local intensity, the recent competition is too numerous to summarise.

55

William Berry 11.26.16 at 9:04 pm

Erik Loomis has an excellent take on Castro (and on Cuba from 1898) at LGM:

http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2016/11/castro-its-complicated

@Suzanne: With so many Russian engineers and military people spending a lot of time in Cuba, and with one of the finest players of all time, Jose Capablanca*, being a Cuban national, it was inevitable that chess would become very popular there.

*When I was a young player (chess-player, that is, the only kind of “player” I’ve ever been or am likely to ever be!) I loved to play over Capablanca’s most famous games. With Fischer, Alekhine, maybe one or two others, he has always been regarded as having been one of the most naturally-gifted players of all time.

56

Nick 11.26.16 at 9:11 pm

No one is fleeing from the United States — they’re leaving. If you are unable to identify the differences in the two countries that lead to one group of people applying for passports, finding jobs or homes abroad, and then purchasing tickets and leaving on one hand; and building a raft out of oil barrels and scavenged timbers and risking their lives crossing 90 miles of ocean with life-jackets made out of plastic milk bottles on the other; well, your analytical approach is probably too refined for me to understand.

Personally, I think this — I’ll be glad to let an expert settle this subject. I’m not an expert, and neither is a tenured American professor. Let anyone who lived under a Communist regime prior to 1991 weigh in, I’ll accept their verdict.

57

Layman 11.26.16 at 9:20 pm

James Hanley @ 50, your point as you express it here is irrelevant. You aren’t responding to Castro’s claim that the embargo played a big role in crushing Cuba’s economy, you’re responding to my claim to that effect; so what you think about what Castro thinks about communism is, well, beside the point.

As to yours @ 49, you’re making an implicit claim that the reason all people have fled Cuba is political repression rather than economic hardship. I’m guessing you can’t actually show that to be the case; especially when the US refugee-handling regime has for much of the past 5 decades privileged the former claim rather than the latter one.

58

Dipper 11.26.16 at 10:05 pm

lots of differing views today not just here but elsewhere.

I think it comes down to your reference point. Is Castro’s Cuba to be compared favourably to a Central American military dictatorship? Or unfavourably to a western democracy?

So I guess I’d like to see what is the most valid reference point for Cuba, why, and how does it compare. Beyond my capabilities I’m afraid.

59

Philippe 11.26.16 at 10:06 pm

If you spend some time on the island –as I have, for a photographic project– you soon realize that Castro is widely despised by Cubans , as much as he is feared. There are no romanticized fantasies about the Revolución here, and there haven’t been for decades (if there ever were). Frankly, no one should take Cuba seriously as a political project. Cubans themselves certainly don’t . They basically regard the whole affair as a sinister criminal enterprise , dressed up for greater deception. It takes a while for the truth to come out because the regime has set up an extremely pervasive network of internal spies. Everyone lives in fear of denunciation to the thought police. But the Cubans, I learned, basically view Castro as a common criminal. They tell stories of his goons canvassing the country in the early days of the revolution, confiscating all the gold they could get their hands on, for his personal enrichment. On each of my trips I have nightmares of being stuck on the island , unable to leave for some reason or another. Its easily the scariest place I’ve been to – not because economic conditions (which are terrible btw) but because of the complete lack of personal freedom and the lawless nature of the regime.

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Phil 11.26.16 at 10:15 pm

Thanks, Chris. I was starting to wonder about considering the possibility of doubting the wisdom of my initial reaction when I read Corbyn’s comments, every word of which I agree with. Likewise the OP. The Taylor quote referred to the absence of landlords in the USSR, incidentally; it might even have been ‘landlords and rentiers’.

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Layman 11.26.16 at 10:24 pm

“Let anyone who lived under a Communist regime prior to 1991 weigh in, I’ll accept their verdict.”

Similarly, we should only accept the medical advice of those who’ve had surgery. Or the legal advice of convicts. Or the nutritional advice of famine victims. Or the child-rearing opinions of children. Or the etc.

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Nick 11.26.16 at 11:05 pm

To Philippe (at #59), this is exactly how my Romanian roommate described living under Communism as — unbearable on every level, regardless of what you got out of it. At its heart, Chris Bertram is using a leftist equivalent of ‘at least he made the trains run on time’.

63

Tabasco 11.26.16 at 11:17 pm

It’s a funny thing. You often see the same people argue that

(1) the trade embargo by the United States imposed a huge economic cost on Cuba, and
(2) trade by the United States with developing countries is exploitative neoliberal neo-colonialism that imposes a huge economic cost on those countries.

They never see the contradiction, let alone try to rationalise it.

64

Gareth Wilson 11.26.16 at 11:48 pm

Corbyn’s comments are quite useful for me. I never understood exactly what “social justice” meant, but now I know.

65

Sebastian H 11.27.16 at 12:00 am

I’m happy to have avoided the gay concentration camps in Cuba. Fun times for more than a decade. I’m sure the capitalists made him do it.

66

stevenjohnson 11.27.16 at 12:13 am

Trade: Exchange of goods, in kind or in currency.
“Trade:” Permitting free movement of capital out of the country; free sale or purchase of land and industry; holding payments on loans to foreigners, private, governmental or international, as sacrosanct; accepting uncontested foreign law on intellectual property, etc.

There is nothing “funny” (odd) in the equivocation between trade and “trade.” The polemic convenience is obvious.

As to Romanian roommates who knew that life under Communism was unbearable on any level, unlike life under the Iron Guard? That alone should say something about their political judgment. But their disinterest in whether there’s any part of the non-Communist world that is “unbearable on every level,” not just in Uganda nor in Paraguay nor in Maori communities in New Zealand nor in a gang-ridden neighborhood in Mexico nor in a Siberian town…but being disinterested in the how “unbearable on every level” the lives of urban ghetto dwellers or so-called rednecks in dying rural mining districts? Nor in the lives of women in Saudi Arabia? Ascribing any moral sensitivity to their judgment is foolhardy indeed. I think there’s a reason people of this sort came to the US rather than India or Nigeria or Ecuador. It has nothing to do with love of freedom.

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Peter T 11.27.16 at 12:14 am

As someone married to a person who grew up under (Polish) communism, with a fair amount of acquaintance with similar others, let me say that “unbearable on every level, regardless of what you got out of it” is a major exaggeration. I meet a lot of regret (no doubt flavoured by nostalgia). On a less anecdotal level, some 30 per cent of the Russian population still votes for the communist party.

Economists admonish us to look at what people do more than they say. People fled Cuba. They also fled, as noted above, Haiti, El Salvador, Latvia and Ireland, and are currently fleeing Puerto Rica. But Cubans have also fought for the regime – at Bay of Pigs, in Angola and elsewhere, as they fought for communism in Russia and China (but not in Rumania or the GDR).

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kidneystones 11.27.16 at 12:18 am

Is there any irony that those proposing the apotheosis of an individual who denied any under his rule for 50 years the free right of movement are in some case the same people who are attacked the Leave campaign as racists and are now arguing that those who support strong borders in the US are fascists – simply on this metric?

Free movement and high-end cameras for me, but not for thee?

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christian_h 11.27.16 at 12:30 am

Nick is suggesting that life in all the states that are, or have in the past been, self identifying as communist is the same. Interchangeable. Life in Romania under Ceaucescu equals life in Cuba equals, I presume, life in Moscow during the Brezhnev years equals life in Kiev under Stalin. If you have one roommate from one of these places you know everything about all of them. That’s the lazy liberal approach to understanding history in a nutshell.

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Hal 11.27.16 at 12:47 am

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Anarcissie 11.27.16 at 12:51 am

LFC 11.26.16 at 7:16 pm @ 42 —
I don’t see how we disagree, regardless of my supposed misreading, whose error you decline to specify. The US r.c. could have eliminated Castro and company, and chose not to — possibly (as you indicate) because his existence was a convenience or even a pleasure of the sadistic sort. It’s an interesting deviation from their usual methods, anyway.

Philippe 11.26.16 at 10:06 pm @ 59 —
It’s true that in the United States we still elect people and only then decide that they’re common criminals; I guess in the Cuba you describe they just cut to the chase.

Tabasco 11.26.16 at 11:17 pm @ 63 —
I can’t recall observing an instance of the same person proposing the two different arguments at the same time. Maybe that’s your problem, they’re weaseling away from the contradiction. Although I think cognitive dissonance is overrated.

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J-D 11.27.16 at 12:58 am

Dave

Good people do bad things and bad people do good things (just look at every world leader in human history for proof). Moral absolutism is meaningless in a world with no true absolutes and I’m not sure relativism is much better. I mean, relative to what, other flawed people with ambiguous legacies?

I salute efforts to make a full account of Castro’s life and take the good with the bad (or vice versa), but I hope we can avoid the fallacy of the ledger. You can’t just add up good deeds and bad deeds and compute a moral ratio of goodness/badness.

Just so and Hear, Hear! It’s more important to know what is right than to know who is right; the evaluation of deeds is more crucial than the evaluation of individuals (or of nations).

And yet that fallacy of the ledger remains as tempting as ever; even in the rest of your own comment you slide over into it, and in later comments it rages unabated.

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Dave 11.27.16 at 1:26 am

@Tabasco 63

There’s definitely a contradiction there, but I don’t think it’s as stark as you say. You don’t have to be a neoliberal to believe in the value of trade. I’m not sure there really is such a thing as a “developing country.” The category is useful for many sorts of political economy, but obscures massive differences that exist within the class. I do believe it is possible to have significant trade with the US without being impoverished by neoliberal depredation, but the success or failure of such projects has a lot to do with the nuances of history and the whims of the major economies and it often seems as though success stories like South Korea are exceptions to the rule.

Cuba is relatively unique in the Americas for the lateness of its independence and the contingency of that independence on US intervention. It would be tempting to compare it to Puerto Rico or the Philippines, the other significant territories Spain lost in the war, except that the former is much smaller and still a dependency and the latter has had its history warped by both a bloody US occupation and the horrors of WW2 (and is in the wrong hemisphere in any case). I’ve been trying all day to think of a good comparison and coming up empty.

There really is no “control” for Cuba’s communist experiment because its circumstances were already fairly unique, but my best guess for what a Batistaist counterfactual would look like is some combination of Mexico and Colombia. All three countries have histories of repressive dictatorship and ~complex~ relations with the US. I expect you’d see capitalist Cuba doing the same sort of back and forth between corrupt democracy and criminal dictatorship we’ve seen in much of Latin America with the same extreme left/right and peasant/urban polarization (though perhaps more extreme, as it was the existing extremity of this situation that caused the revolution in the first place).

I’m picturing drug gangs, death squads, guerrillas, and an incestuous political elite that can just barely hold the country together (actually that might not be all that different from reality). That would indeed have left the island vulnerable to local kleptocrats and neocolonialist looters, but it would also have made Cuba a truly integrated part of the regional economy with much improved access to vital resources and consumer goods (like modern cars and computers) and more income with which to buy them, which would be an obvious net gain assuming the resources were distributed equitably (which, of course, is a big assumption).

Now, the other question is what would a Communist Cuba be like without the embargo and I simply cannot answer that because there are so few historical comparisons (China and Vietnam are a world away), but my best guess is that, these days, it wouldn’t look particularly communist.

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Hidari 11.27.16 at 3:04 am

Is anyone who whines on this thread about ‘freedom of movement’ from Cuba going to shed a tear from those people who were unable to leave Cuba (Guantanamo Bay) because the Americans tortured them to death?

Is anyone who makes shoot from the hip, ‘I don’t really know what I’m talking about but I read a book by Ayn Rand once’ criticisms of ‘Communism’ going to comment on whether ‘life’ in Guantanamo Bay is ‘unbearable on any level’?

Is anyone who claims that ‘Castro is widely despised by Cubans’ going to find out how whichever oligarch seizes the American Presidency is viewed in Guantanamo Bay? How despised do we think the de facto jailor of these prisoners will be?

The major human rights’ violator in Cuba is the United States and this has always been the case, and anyone who implicitly or explicitly states the contrary is a liar.

In the same way, anyone who criticises Castro but does not (and far more forcefully) criticise the United States for its far more egregious human rights violations on Cuban soil is complicit.

http://www.slate.com/articles/briefing/foreigners/2013/04/mohamedou_ould_slahi_s_guant_namo_memoirs_published_for_the_first_time.html

http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/security-and-human-rights/guantanamo

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engels 11.27.16 at 3:42 am

Tabasco have you ever heard of the saying ‘the only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited’? You are arguing with a ludicrous straw man (or perhaps two ludicrous straw men).

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nick s 11.27.16 at 4:37 am

I think it comes down to your reference point. Is Castro’s Cuba to be compared favourably to a Central American military dictatorship? Or unfavourably to a western democracy?

The reference point surely has to be “the region”, given that its 20th-century political development took place in the growing shadow of the US. Lots of small island colonies that decolonised late (if at all) and sold themselves to tax dodgers and tourists; slightly larger nations like Jamaica that have their own deep problems, and similar-sized basketcase states like Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Looking beyond islands, Costa Rica is the notable exception here, but I can’t fathom a path from Batista and Castro to there.

If you want to change contexts, then perhaps think about Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the ire of the white Rhodesians who threw themselves behind Ian Smith, and the many fuckups along that path.

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magari 11.27.16 at 4:43 am

How about a little comparison.

George W. Bush chose to start a war that has killed several hundred thousand people, not to mention made a power space filled by Daesh, who helped kill thousands more.

Like with the Iraq War and its aftereffects, it’s hard to get a precise number of people killed under the Castro regime, but it’s likely in the tens of thousands (between those executed and those who died in jail). There’s the question of whether one should count those who died at sea fleeing Cuba and the soldiers who died in Angola.

Hence, we have a very recent American president whose own death ledger is rather impressive, and so I find it hard to accept arguments about the inherent beneficence of liberal democracy or the moral uprightness of America (or, indeed, any other nation that helped perpetrate the Iraq War, such as the UK).

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Nick 11.27.16 at 4:47 am

“The major human rights’ violator in Cuba is the United States and this has always been the case, and anyone who implicitly or explicitly states the contrary is a liar.”

This is just silly — and the game of ‘you can only criticize X if you also criticize Y’ is an endless rhetorical trick. The OP and his supporters on this thread are doing the same thing that the far right did for Pinochet — “Sure, he did some nasty things, but he got Cuba back on track.” People on the left see a moral core to Castro and a moral vacuum to Pinochet, but I’m not sure that matters to the prisoners in the work camps, the exiles who drowned at see, the gay people.

Castro may have tried to do things many dictators don’t, but he was still a dictator. Wikipedia gives this as one example: Jorge Luis García Pérez was reported to have been released from prison in April 2007 after serving his full sentence of 17 years and 34 days after having, at the age of 25, shouted slogans against Fidel Castro. This was certainly done with Castro’s approval, possibly his knowledge, who knows? That’s 17 years of a man’s life, stolen for nothing — I don’t see why the man responsible gets the ‘yeah yeah, but on the balance, good job!’

79

Randy McDonald 11.27.16 at 4:54 am

“As to Romanian roommates who knew that life under Communism was unbearable on any level, unlike life under the Iron Guard?”

Steven Johnson, could it be that the roommates did not mention the Iron Guard because that was not an issue? Perhaps it was something they did not experience in their own lives. In any case, saying that the only alternative to the Iron Guard was Ceaucescu is, among other things, reductionist.

Cuba had major problems on the eve of the revolution. That revolution, alas, did not change any of these, and instead created new ones. Cubans deserve better than that. They also deserve better to be treated as ciphers, as useful bodies for a revolutionary stances.

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kidneystones 11.27.16 at 4:54 am

Population of Cuba 2013 denied freedom of movement: 11.27 million.

Torture under Castro: “Mr. Valladares and other prisoners who refused ”political rehabilitation” were forced to live in the greatest heat and the dampest cold without clothes. They were regularly beaten, shot at and sometimes killed; they were thrown into punishment cells, including the dreaded ”drawer cells,” specially constructed units that make South Vietnam’s infamous tiger cages seem like homey quarters…When Mr. Franqui raised the issue of the moral degradation torture implies, Mr. Castro told him that it ”annihilates the enemy,” and hence was necessary.”

http://www.nytimes.com/1986/06/08/books/surviving-castro-s-tortures.html?pagewanted=all

Population of Guantanamo Prison: 780.
Deaths whilst imprisoned in Guantanamo: 9

http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees

Fidel also boasted after the revolution that Cuba was finally ‘free’ of homosexuals (other than those imprisoned in his camps).

Without letting the comment drift too far away from Cuba, let’s not forget that those in Guantanamo represent a fraction of those on the receiving end of American justice still being dispensed in their respective nations of origin.

If the topic is Cuba, Fidel ruled a totalitarian state as dictator and then ceded power like other royalty to a family member. Fidel imprisoned and in some cases tortured his own citizens. Some see Fidel as a hero. Not me.

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kidneystones 11.27.16 at 5:04 am

Apologies for the second comment, but this from the Independent helps:

– Estimates of executions under Castro’s 50-year rule run into the thousands, with monitors warning of unfair trials, arbitrary imprisonment and extrajudicial executions.
Castro responded by insisting that “revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction”. As the one-party system came into force, independent newspapers were closed and homosexuals, priests and others viewed as a threat were herded into labour camps for “re-education”. Censorship and repression spread, with fans of American rock ‘n’ roll among those targeted.

Freedom of expression, religion, association, assembly, movement and the press were denied. HRW cited secret police, surveillance, short-term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions and politically motivated sackings as methods of “enforcing political conformity”, as well as restrictions embedded in legal and constitutional structures. All media is heavily censored and the spreading of “unauthorised news” a criminal offence, with internet access heavily limited by cost and restrictions.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/fidel-castro-dies-dead-cuba-dictator-communism-human-rights-abuses-executions-freedoms-censorship-a7440636.html

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magari 11.27.16 at 6:19 am

And? Bush’s war killed hundreds of thousands.

If we want to say that Castro did bad things, fine. If we want to use what Castro did to legitimate liberal democracy or the US, not fine.

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Chris Bertram 11.27.16 at 7:03 am

82 comments so far and quite a number of them by people incapable of reading. As a reminder, the OP agrees that Castro ran a repressive regime but argues that this cannot explain American hostility to that regime for the simple reason that the US tolerates (and sometimes sponsors) regimes with much worse human rights records. We therefore have to look for the explanation elsewhere.

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kidneystones 11.27.16 at 7:31 am

@ 83 Fair enough. One explanation might be that Cuba, China, and the former Soviet Union exported a totalitarian ideology as violent revolution, and argued for a world-wide war against all private property and individual freedoms until every single person on the face of the earth was under the boot of dictatorship for all time.

Other ‘much, more repressive regimes’ simply tortured and exploited their own people.

85

Placeholder 11.27.16 at 7:43 am

Did someone say Totalitarianism? The term is explicitly defined by the State Department’s Jeanne Kirkpatrick’ ‘Doctrine.’ You see, authoritarians do not disturb ‘habitual patterns of family and personal relations.’ So what is totalitarianism? Abortion and gay rights.

Some dictators are more equal than others. http://littleatoms.com/news-world/romanticisation-fidel-castros-cuba-must-die-him

Yeah, James Bloodworth still claims Cuban guerillas were fighting with the Syrian Arab Republic. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/10/16/cuba-is-intervening-in-syria-to-help-russia-it-s-not-the-first-time-havana-s-assisted-moscow.html

You try and defend Castro by saying ‘but he fought Apartheid in Angola’… and then it hits you. That’s why those woke, decent and liberal thinkfluencers hate him. Black Africans are to be pitied, not free!

I’m happy to have avoided the gay concentration camps in Cuba. Fun times for more than a decade. I’m sure the capitalists made him do it.

I guess Cuba is homophobic for legalizing homosexuality in 1979 when Britain did it a nicer, whiter way in…1983. But seriously, it’s true, when Cuba didn’t let gay people into it’s conscript army they had to labour in alternative service…. when did you let gay people serve in your country’s military again? I am of course liberal and gracious enough to assume I am talking to a firm opponent of peacetime conscription!

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Chris Bertram 11.27.16 at 8:32 am

@84 Right, so the Saudis don’t export a totalitarian ideology …..

@85 Decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK was in 1967.

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kidneystones 11.27.16 at 8:59 am

@86 The Saudis do. And from 700 AD to 1600, or so, Islamic states in various forms were rightly perceived as expansionist and totalitarian. The rise of communism occurred by historical accident (?) at the same time as Islamic states entered a period of historic weakness, a period that continued until WWII post-colonialism.

There are plenty in Europe and America who regard Islamic totalitarianism to be once again in the ascendancy.

Anyway, the critical issue would appear to be private property as far as Cuba is concerned.

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kidneystones 11.27.16 at 9:04 am

Sorry Chris, I’d like to amend @87 if I may. “Islamic states were…expansionist and a credible threat to European Christian states. (I’m not sure how useful the term totalitarian is pre-1900.)

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Hidari 11.27.16 at 10:00 am

Note for new readers: generally speaking (not always but usually):

‘Authoritarian regimes’ are those aligned with the United States.

‘Totalitarian states’ are those not aligned with the United States.

One of the key aims of ‘foreign policy experts’ at Washington based ‘thinktanks’ or at American elite Universities is to think of new reasons as to why totalitarian states are really bad, and authoritarian states are not so bad, really (this has been especially tricky since 1993, when the most assiduous supported of anti-democratic regimes on the planet has been the United States).

Incidentally: consider this. The only reason we are even having this discussion is because Castro stood up to the Americans. There are numerous American backed dictators (Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Idriss Déby of Chad, Karimov of Uzbekistan: there are many others) whose deaths will not provoke Twitterstorms because their deaths will not be marked in the Western media at all. Indeed most proponents of ‘human rights’ in the ‘West’ have never even heard of them, even though they are partly responsible for their tyranny.

If Castro was an American backed fascist, we simply would not even be having this discussion and the oh-so-moral soi-disant ‘iconooclasts’ on this thread who demonstrate their rebellious natures by expressing views that are identical to those of the semi-elected oligarch Donald Trump, would not be posting details that they just googled of said fascist’s human rights record.

Because it’s taken for granted in the Western media that American backed dictators are ‘normal’ or even ‘necessary’. It’s only those not under American control that get the publicity.

Castro’s crimes, which did happen even though American liberals say they did, are an easy target because the West are not responsible for them, and so are ideal for striking a pseudo moral pose about. After all since we are not responsible for them, we don’t have to do anything about them, so it’s an ideal way to make oneself feel morally superior, without having to, y’know, do anything.

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Hidari 11.27.16 at 10:09 am

‘Some see Fidel as a hero. Not me.’

Well obviously you are brave enough to post political points that are identical to those of the American state department anonymously on a comment thread, so are clearly an intellectual dissident of the stature of Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov. Indeed, had Fidel known of your existence perhaps he would have been quick to point out that you are the real hero, not him. And now your chance has gone!

‘Sad!’ as someone might tweet.

Perhaps in the real world ‘Hero’ is your middle name, or you are regularly complimented on your heroic nature by awestruck passers by. Perhaps we will never know.

When I think of this absurd virtual signalling I always think of this scene from Reservoir Dogs:

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Placeholder 11.27.16 at 10:24 am

“@85 Decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK was in 1967.”

A common misapprehension. It was legalized in England and Wales in 1967. It wasn’t legalized in Scotland and Northern Ireland until 1982 thanks to the ECHR ruling Dudgeon v. United Kingdom. It’s pretty telling how even gay-rights friendly Europhiles don’t know that.

But that’s the Kirkpatrick doctrine at work isn’t it? White homophobia is just homophobia. Add homophobia to full employment and they start comparing MUAP to the Holocaust. But the brave, victorious and ‘Decent’ Allies took the actual gay men imprisoned in the not-quite-so-metaphorical Konzentrationslager and immediately returned them to German prisons to serve out their sentences for the ‘unspeakable crime’ that wasn’t legalized in Germany until 1968. Never mind that ‘actual’ Holocaust, bourgie whiteboys! It might not make you feel quite so good about yourselves.

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Brett Dunbar 11.27.16 at 11:57 am

Communist dictatorships tend to actually be totalitarian while right wing dictatorships include both authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. The various forms of revolutionary communism are inherently totalitarian.

Authoritarian regimes are generally less pervasive than totalitarian regimes. An authoritarian regime may tolerate anything that doesn’t seriously threaten its hold on power. Russia or Iran are authoritarian, Syria, North Korea and China are totalitarian.

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stevenjohnson 11.27.16 at 12:08 pm

Randy MacDonald @79 “Steven Johnson, could it be that the roommates did not mention the Iron Guard because that was not an issue? Perhaps it was something they did not experience in their own lives.”

No. The point is you and the roommate actually think your personal experience is the only evidence worth thinking about. Other people’s experiences are entirely irrelevant, reduced to zero.

You might consider the very odd expedient of trying to evaluate how “unbearable” something is by comparative examination of a variety of more objective indicators than your roommate’s assertions. Drug addiction and alcoholism, suicide, domestic violence and crime rates are useful, but differentials in average life span and infant mortality are also relevant. The average age at which youth attain independence, the average number of people per household, average vacation time, average level of education, and yes, emigration rates, are common economic.

As to measures of the repressiveness of a state? Rates of imprisonment, rates of police supervision, rates of surveillance (which by the way does include credit reports,) rates of military spending and uses of military violence are all essential. A government that represses millions of people outside its borders is a viciously oppressive government.

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kidneystones 11.27.16 at 12:30 pm

@90 I’ve never visited the State Department website and I certainly have no idea what they have to say.

I do happen to have some limited experience with people outside ‘western humanist’ societies who actually regard our ‘monumental’ achievements with contempt and disdain, believe it, or not. I confess I was actually shocked the first time I met someone who argued sincerely that democracy was a highly-flawed political system and that a benevolent dictatorship was much more sensible for the ‘masses.’ As Chris notes, there are plenty of religious folk who see the rest of us as unforgivably imperfect and in dire need of corrective instruction. For them, their theocracy is the only possible way for all to live.

I’ve no idea whether you actually believe that communism is desirable, or a nicer way to live. You seem very unhappy to discover that I, like many, many millions of others, view the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and Cuba with horror. As a person of ‘faith’ (Yes, that too), I can assure I have no desire to correct or improve your world view in any way.

I’m teaching my students this week about ranters, levelers, and metaphysical poets such as Donne. In the perfect socialist state, of course, the masses have no need of such opiates and the only temples built celebrate the ‘freedom’ of the people.

Have a nice day!

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Louis Proyect 11.27.16 at 1:40 pm

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novakant 11.27.16 at 3:08 pm

I totally get the US context of the matter, what makes me despair is the thought that all the amazing literature written by people with first-hand experience of repressive regimes of all kinds seems to have been written in vain, if their testimony and insight is shrugged off so easily by pointing to ‘objective indicators’ or saying that capitalism can be cruel too.

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magari 11.27.16 at 4:05 pm

@kidneystones, you may wish to recall that the Levellers were the original modern democrats. Ergo, you might not want to rail against leveling in your anti-communism class tirades.

98

BBA 11.27.16 at 4:21 pm

Castro was vile, but he wasn’t the villain that the American right has made him out to be. His longevity may have prolonged the embargo as so much of the hatred was focused on him personally. Contrast Vietnam, where the US normalized relations in the ’90s without much of a struggle, because none of the leaders who fought the war were still around.

They’re celebrating on Calle Ocho, of course. Without an enemy to focus themselves against, the “exiles” may soon lose their focus and find their outsized influence on policy slipping away.

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Layman 11.27.16 at 4:41 pm

@ novakant, my wife is an emigrant from South Africa, and as a result of family ties I go there from time to time, and I have the opportunity to listen to first-hand testimony regarding the nature of repressive regimes. The repressive regime in question is, surprisingly, not the Apartheid-era regime, but the current one, and those offering the testimony are upper-middle-class and wealthy whites.

The nature of the repression is the diminishment of their standard of living – the roads they drive on are not as well maintained, the electricity that powers their homes not as consistently reliable, the crime rate is so much higher, and so on.

Occasionally I interject a comment to the effect that, while clearly the government has failed in their duty to expand the electrical supply so as to make reliable electricity available to all, they have in fact extended electricity to many, many people who never had it before; or I’ll note that while the road they’re complaining about could use a bit of resurfacing, they must be aware that many people who never had paved roads before have them now; or that the crime rate is the certain result of a society made up of a handful of relatively wealthy whites and blacks floating in a sea of desperately poor blacks; but such comments invariably fall on deaf ears.

My wife returned from a solo trip recently and reports that the reaction among her family and long-time white family acquaintances to the protests by black students against impossibly high university tuition was to complain that the protests prevented their own children – who were attending on scholarships despite the obvious relative wealth of their families – from completing their semester exams.

So yes, there is much wrong with the current, corrupt ANC regime, but when it comes to comparing it with their preferred alternatives, I’ll take the anecdotal testimony of my acquaintances with a grain of salt. They don’t in fact seem to be very objective about it.

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anymouse 11.27.16 at 5:05 pm

Chris Bertram,

’82 comments so far and quite a number of them by people incapable of reading. As a reminder, the OP agrees that Castro ran a repressive regime but argues that this cannot explain American hostility to that regime for the simple reason that the US tolerates (and sometimes sponsors) regimes with much worse human rights records. We therefore have to look for the explanation elsewhere.’

Um I don’t know man. I mean the US imposed the embargo. So your explanation that

‘’I am reminded of the historian A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate.’

is not very convincing.

Now I have no doubt that you do not support human rights violations by any regime and that the US can be hypocritical in regards to human right violations but your reasoning as to why is pretty weak. Simpler reasons, like he thumbed his nose at us in our back yard in the form nuclear missiles, seem better to me.

So minus that we are left with the last bit of your post. The last part of your post can be summed up as praise for Cuba and Hasta la victoria siempre! Combine that with strong Socialist tone, ‘ capitalists and their lackeys ‘, of your not very convincing explanation for the US attitudes towards Cuba and well…….

It really it seems like a very soft apology for a form of Socialism that was/is a miserable failure on a lot of different levels.

I am not saying that it was. I am explaining how some people might get that impression.

But maybe I am wrong. I am all the time.

101

Stephen D. 11.27.16 at 6:09 pm

“But Cubans have also fought for the regime – at Bay of Pigs, in Angola and elsewhere, as they fought for communism in Russia and China (but not in Rumania or the GDR).”

You know who else got people to fight for his regime. Hit… no I’ll let Ken Livingstone finish my sentence for me.

Seriously. Lots of people have gotten people to fight for their governments. It really doesn’t follow that the government in question was a good government.

Incidentally, whether or not Taylor used the quote cited in the post he was far from blind about the horrors of Stalinism. And, somewhat ironically, he favoured more trade with the USSR on the Cobdenite grounds that trade lessens the tension between rival powers. I suspect that if I could dial him up on a ouija board and get him to contribute to this discussion he would say something to the effect that the blockade had been counterproductive and the opening up was a good thing, he would probably point out that there was a certain amount of hypocrisy in the US opposition to the Cuban regime given its support for dictators in other parts of the region, but that he would be fairly emphatic that Cuba was a dictatorship and that a democracy would be vastly preferable.

102

Anarcissie 11.27.16 at 6:10 pm

If a regime were actually totalitarian, there could be no resistance to it. But in fact we have observed or received reports of internal resistance to regimes designated ‘totalitarian’. So, as so often, I wonder what people are talking about. Surely not the fantasy-ideals of Gentile and Mussolini.

103

Randy McDonald 11.27.16 at 7:05 pm

Steven Johnson, firstly I am not the person who raised the idea of Romanians wanting something better, and secondly my name is spelled “McDonald.” Accuracy is, I think, something to be strived for.

In any case, what evidence did you have that the Romanians in the anecdote shared wanted the Iron Guard in power? Do we any have reason to believe that Romanians, in the 1980s or whenever, were only capable of totalitarianism whether of the left or the right? Why not suspect that the Rpmanians in question might have wanted something like the social democracy enjoyed by non-Communist Europe, say?

Automatically presuming the worst is a mistake. How can you judge a situation accurately if that is all you expect?

104

Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 11.27.16 at 7:09 pm

LFC,

Kagame and Castro have more similarity in their economic models than one might think: donor-subsidization by political patrons who then tout them as representative of the donor’s economic model.

105

JRLRC 11.27.16 at 7:22 pm

You (all of you) should read Samuel Farber.
Wish you could read Spanish (perhaps some of you do)…, because there are books that you should read and don´t even know because of the language: “Las clases olvidadas en la Revolución cubana” [The Forgotten Classes in the Cuban Revolution], written by my late friend Marcos Winocur, an argentinian historian (exiled in Mexico), disciple of Fernand Braudel; or “Historia mínima de Cuba” [Very Brief History of Cuba], by the cuban historian Rafael Rojas (another exiled in Mexico).

106

hix 11.27.16 at 7:36 pm

“that wasn’t legalized in Germany until 1968”
Well, actually §175 was on the books until 1994 :-(.

107

Collin Street 11.27.16 at 8:26 pm

I totally get the US context of the matter, what makes me despair is the thought that all the amazing literature written by people with first-hand experience of repressive regimes of all kinds seems to have been written in vain, if their testimony and insight is shrugged off so easily by pointing to ‘objective indicators’ or saying that capitalism can be cruel too.

But non-repressive regimes simply was never an option open to cubans. It’s not so much “written in vain” as “of no real relevance”.

108

Anononymous 11.27.16 at 11:09 pm

The mood affiliation is strong with this one. How about, I don’t know….saying this:

Totalitarianism is morally inexcusable, and we should never give the slightest praise in any way for evil.

Pinochet was evil. Castro was evil. This should be the default position of anyone that can put aside their own biases. Torture is wrong, false imprisonment is wrong, internal passport laws are wrong, jailing homosexuals is wrong….

Here’s a good rule: if you would flip out over a Republican doing X, then X is (to you) morally untenable. If you wouldn’t say in a hypothetical future: Well, President Trump did jail homosexuals and restrict freedom of movement to his own county, but GDP growth was 3% and universal healthcare was achieved so….then don’t excuse a dictator.

Aside from that, Cuba is a monumental failure. A country that was on par with Italy is now poorer than the DR. Failure (turtles) all the way down. Doctors and engineers moonlight as waiters. One of the highest paying professions is prostitution, which is an effect of absurd exchange rates and Canadian and European tourists.

As to why the US responded so violently and aggressively to a communist Cuba, it is 90 miles away. Communism is/was a revolutionary totalitarian ideology which had/has a latent amount of support in western countries. It was a global conflict, in which realpolitik often was the rule of the day. The USSR was going to put nuclear weapons 90 miles away from the US. Pinochet never said he would nuke the United States if the USSR did first. See the difference? Saudi Arabia never said it would launch nukes at Washington DC if we ended up in a war with the USSR.

This post is overly long so I’ll shut up, but…Saudi Arabia? I agree with your assessment. But what do you think will inevitably take its place? A liberal democracy that institutes gay marriage? Or is the royal family engaged in a dance with the devil? Whatever replaces the family will be more like ISIS than a liberal utopia. I’d hate to make assumptions, but … I’d say you’ve never lived in the Middle East outside of a westernized compound.

Additionally, Cuba was actively intervening in other countries to support communist/Stalinist revolutions. Not exactly what we support.

Sorry for length and the tone.

109

J-D 11.28.16 at 1:33 am

‘Accuracy is, I think, something to be strived for.’

I think accuracy is something to be striven for, but maybe that’s just me.

110

anymouse 11.28.16 at 2:04 am

Cuban exports and the tourist industry total 5 billion per year. The US share of world GDP is 22%. Let’s for no good reason bump that up and say Cuban tourism and exports would increase by 40% without the embargo. Cubans would be 2 billion a year better off. Nothing to sneeze at. I say the US should end the embargo. Cuba’s GDP per capita would still be 1/2 of Chile’s from a similar starting point 45 years ago.

The embargo is not what has made Cuba so poor. See Venezuela.

http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/cub/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Cuba

111

Anarcissie 11.28.16 at 2:12 am

Anononymous 11.27.16 at 11:09 pm @ 108:
‘As to why the US responded so violently and aggressively to a communist Cuba…’

As I pointed out previously, the US (government, ruling class, etc.) was relatively tolerant of Cuba. Consider the methods used upon Vietnam or Iraq.

112

Sebastian H 11.28.16 at 4:04 am

Chris “We therefore have to look for the explanation elsewhere.”

Quite right, and the answer is communism.

Why does the left condemn Pinochet but try to contextualize Castro?

Communism.

Castro is the Pinochet of the other side. Why the two don’t get treated similarly (by both sides) is essentially tribalism.

113

engels 11.28.16 at 4:53 am

Castro is the Pinochet of the other side. Why the two don’t get treated similarly (by both sides) is essentially tribalism..

If you thought about the differences in detail for a few seconds you might realise how inane that is. (A couple to start you off: Pinochet oversaw a system of state-sanctioned torture which murdered thousands—Castro didn’t; Pinochet overturned a democracy, Castro a dictatorship; Pinochet privatised everything in sight, Castro improved health and education standards in a way that was acclaimed across the world, etc…)

114

Asteele 11.28.16 at 6:10 am

Chile had around twice the GDP of Cuba in 1970 and has much weather essentially the entire time.

115

Asteele 11.28.16 at 6:10 am

Twice the GDP per capita I mean

116

Sebastian_h 11.28.16 at 6:11 am

UMAP was the initial Cuban labor till you die camp–I’m not sure working political prisoners to death with special emphasis on homosexuals is so much better than throwing them out of helicopters. That program was replaced with sending political undesirables to be killed in Angola again dead is dead. Castro is defended or attacked because of his tribal alignment, not because his practices are inherently defensible or indefensible. He was deeply brutal to many of his people for decades. No one here would attempt a defense if he had the exact same record but was on the capitalist side of the debate. There are US aligned dictators with similar records who get context from the right and strong condemnation from the left. (Say Ferdinand Marcos for example, though in actual fact Reagan didn’t prop up his regime when it came down to it).

Using tribalism to excuse the failings of people who are your friends and magnify those of your enemies is normal, but can be damaging to the truth. It can be especially damaging when it lets people leverage their alleged alliance to get away with amassing their own power.

117

Chris Bertram 11.28.16 at 6:21 am

Hmm Sebastian well tribalism maybe but, actually, I think the answer isn’t capitalism/communism, as if Pinochet was merely an indigenous advocate of free markets, but US hegemony over the hemisphere and resistance to that. Bystanders react differently to the kid who stands up to the bully, unappealing though that kid might be in many other respects, to the kid who plays the role of the bully’s sidekick and accomplice. This may be more difficult to see for people who regret the bullying but still hope and believe in the bully’s progressive mission.

118

Hidari 11.28.16 at 7:06 am

Fascinating fact: on this thread, the word ‘totalitarian’ has been used 30 times (invariably by people making the wildly controversial and subversive point that it’s a bad thing).

Dictator or dictatorship has been used 37 times.

‘Imperialism’ has never been mentioned.

119

Brett Dunbar 11.28.16 at 12:02 pm

You don’t tend to find that many people who will represent totalitarianism as a good thing, fascists sometimes did as part of an explicitly anti-democratic ideology. The communists prefered to claim to be democratic while holding elections that were an utter sham intended to conceal the totalitarian dictatorship.

Imperialism has a better record on human rights and political freedom. Jamaica has been a democratic regime since universal suffrage in 1944 before independence in 1962 and has remained one since. A poll in 2011 showed about 60% of Jamaicans favoured reverting to being a British Territory. Like with Newfoundland in 1935 a history of economic mismanagement makes reverting seem attractive. Not that Britain is remotely interested.

120

casmilus 11.28.16 at 12:23 pm

My groundless counterfactual opinion: the communist system would have fallen apart by now if the US had ended the embargo around 1990 and normalised relations.

121

casmilus 11.28.16 at 12:24 pm

@118

“‘Imperialism’ has never been mentioned.”

Cuba was detached from the Spanish Empire some time before Castro was born.

122

casmilus 11.28.16 at 12:33 pm

@83

The answer is in Joan Didion’s “Miami” (amongst other places): the power of the Cuban-American lobby, and the way it can exert disproportionate influence thanks to the vagaries of the US political system.

Also, the last US President who tried to ignore them got killed.

123

casmilus 11.28.16 at 12:36 pm

@113

Another difference you don’t mention is that Pinochet stepped down, and elections resumed.

Yes, I think it’s a stupid game as well.

124

John Kane 11.28.16 at 12:53 pm

@100 anymouse

Simpler reasons, like he thumbed his nose at us in our back yard in the form nuclear missiles, seem better to me.

I think that explains the extreme animosity. I believe the USA had been discussing annexing Cuba (who knows how?) from the 1860’s and by the 1950’s the American elite thought that they owned the island.

It came as a stiff shock to their amour-propre when they were turfed and they have not gotten over it yet. This was a country that was used to invading Latin American countries at will and the shock was profound. I am not sure that American exceptional ism allows one to accept getting the boot as the Cuban Revolution did to them

However, I think the issue dates from the Revolution, itself, and the Missile Crisis was just the icing on the cake (well from the Cubans’ point of view), the last humiliation from the US point of view.

125

engels 11.28.16 at 1:18 pm

Sorry, but claiming that the two are at all comparable in terms of ‘individual moral ledger’ (as opposed to geopolitics) seems to require a kind of Anne-Applebaum-ish / alt-Centre triteness all of its own, and I can’t see how it’s remotely possible to back up with details (rather than, say, patronising insinuations about the rest of humanity’s group psychology.) Which is not to say Castro didn’t commit some serious crimes in his time of course.

126

Bettega 11.28.16 at 2:34 pm

Many remember Angola and the fight against apartheid, how many remember Ethiopia and the sending of Cuban troops to help the Derg regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, responsible for the deaths of 500.000 people and the starving of a million more?

If an American president had sent troops in support of such a regime, would that fact be forgotten, as it has been conveniently forgotten, even on the right, concerning Castro?

127

Sebastian H 11.28.16 at 4:09 pm

“Bystanders react differently to the kid who stands up to the bully, unappealing though that kid might be in many other respects, to the kid who plays the role of the bully’s sidekick and accomplice.”

That’s the genius of marketing in Castro’s case (see also Trump in different areas, [sad sigh]). If you market yourself as the kid standing up to the bully in the communist/capitalist world wide drama, you can get people to tribally buy into your vicious oppression of your own people. Again Pinochet is instructive. Why upthread “Pinochet overturned a democracy, Castro a dictatorship” without acknowledging the precisely reflexive “Pinochet turned over to democracy, Castro kept his dictatorship until death”? The answer isn’t anything about the overall merits of democracy. The answer is that on the Communist/Capitalist divide, people chose sides and will excuse people they think identify on their side while condemning those on the other side. It also hurts to admit when you’re wrong (in my youth, I was wrongly dismissive of Pinochet’s evils for exactly the same reason) so you tend not to revisit the question if you can avoid it.

The reason I tend to harp on the tribal stuff insight is because pretending that you’re above it leads to serious errors in judgment like “Bush II wouldn’t push so hard unless there was proof regarding WMD” (an error I made) or “Hillary Clinton is a great Presidential Candidate”(an error lots of my friends made) when someone who isn’t so deeply invested in excusing the faults of their own tribe can see much better.

128

Anarcissie 11.28.16 at 4:14 pm

I’m wondering what all the moralizing about Castro is actually about. After all, he is dead and embedded in history and we can no longer correct him. USians and other Westerners will probably never have the opportunity to improve on his example of fending off a power 30 times as populous and 100 times as strong militarily and economically, which was probably the dominant dimension of his psyche, rather than his ideology or other failings. Speaking of which — I have spoken at length with many people who lived in the Communist Soviet Union and Communist Cuba and Communist China, because I was curious about their experiences, and things were and are a lot more complicated than the comic-book stuff. Can’t we at least move up to the um-humming and tut-tutting of the New York Times?

129

Placeholder 11.28.16 at 4:41 pm

“You (all of you) should read Samuel Farber.”
No, I’ll stick to obscure leftists ‘zines instead. (Thanks Proyect. Didn’t know Trots defended Cuba)
http://www.workers.org/2007/world/lavender-red-92/

“Basically a totalitarian state wants to control the administration of the national bridge club while an authoritarian state doesn’t much care how the bridge club operates as long as it keeps out of politics and concentrates on organising bridge tournaments.”
I’d like to thank Kidneystones and Brett Dunbar for attempting to define Totalitarianism rather than just repeat the State Department’s word at the State Department’s hit list. But have you ever noticed that right wing regimes treat abortion as a threat to the social order and leftists countries usually do not?

“Here’s a good rule: if you would flip out over a Republican doing X, then X is (to you) morally untenable. If you wouldn’t say in a hypothetical future”
Democrats “support” Guantanamo -the only torture camp left on the island of Cuba. Leftists are rejecting objective lies about Cuba that literally support Imperialism.

“‘Imperialism’ has never been mentioned.”
Well said. Even I am in need of this correction….

“Imperialism has a better record on human rights and political freedom.”
Gough Whitlam murdered the Balibo Five so no-one would notice the liberal Decents could smoothly hand over East Timor from the Nazi colonial regime of NATO Portugal to the Indonesian one that murdered democracy – and hundreds and thousand of Communist – on LBJ’s orders. Kinda like how

“UMAP was the initial Cuban labor till you die camp–I’m not sure working political prisoners to death with special emphasis on homosexuals is so much better than throwing them out of helicopters. That program was replaced with sending political undesirables to be killed in Angola again dead is dead.”
Lies aren’t working? LIE HARDER! Yah, no, homosexuality wasn’t even illegal in Cuba (1965-1979) as long as an life sentence. The ‘Military Units to Assist Production’ was an alternative service. Finland has the same program – people who refuse to give three years to the army get a criminal conviction and spend it prison camps. (inb4 DIFFERENT BECAUSE PUTIN! Sweet perfect USA would NEVER invade a Latin American blah blah blah). And I’m sure the people of Mozambique are very grateful for these fantasies of yours.

“A country that was on par with Italy is now poorer than the DR.”
So did Argentina. Then something happened. I wonder what it was – must have been those filthy Communists. No one more than Latin America shows that GDP per capita at 1900 is not destiny – and America has made sure of that.

“Say Ferdinand Marcos for example, though in actual fact Reagan didn’t prop up his regime when it came down to it”
I found this in ten seconds. http://listverse.com/2014/08/18/10-fiendish-stories-about-asias-forgotten-dictator/

“Sorry, but claiming that the two are at all comparable in terms of ‘individual moral ledger’ (as opposed to geopolitics) seems to require a kind of Anne-Applebaum-ish / alt-Centre triteness all of its own”
Well then get ready for the alt-left – Cuba’s policy on homosexuality can be compared favorably to liberal West. MI5 let Ian Paisley’s cronies rape children in Kincora Boy’s home while running his terrorist colonial regime that killed 3,000 people so Irish Catholics people couldn’t vote. Oh, and ‘Saved Ulster from Sodomy’ until 1982. The Cuban people should be so grateful for a chance of such perfect liberal British DECENY. (In case your wondering, the farcical child abuse inquiry has explicitly refused to investigate Kincora)

“Doctors and engineers moonlight as waiters.”
It’s weird how a country with a shortage of doctors has one the highest number of doctors per capita in the world. I suppose that’s why Cuba sent all those doctors. Malcolm X, Colin Kaepernick, why do black Americans know more about Cuba than edumacated White liberals? Ah but they know to compare UMAP to Dachau – oh the things they ‘know’.

“Pinochet privatised everything in sight, Castro improved health and education standards in a way that was acclaimed across the world”
Indeed. People from Colin Kaepernick and Justin Trudeau look at Cuba and are all the more struck by the fact that Cuba is a country with stunning outcomes on health, poverty and education DESPITE being a formal one-party state. People who recoil at the withering effects of dictatorship look to Cuba and see a country that attracts millions of tourists from its neighboring hegemonic enemy for its vibrant culture – even Trots begin to wonder. This thread has been has inundated by Liberal trolls who know little about Latin America, less about gay rights and care nothing about the cruelty of war – and Castro has done more to shut Guantanmo, built of American seized colonial land – than their self-righteous self-regard ever will. Cuba imported homophobia, chess and ballet from Soviet Communism. Cuba has retained the graces of Russian culture – America only retains its colonialism.

130

Hidari 11.28.16 at 5:05 pm

‘If an American president had sent troops in support of such a regime…’

Sorry you lost me. I just can’t conceptualise such a thing happening.

131

stevenjohnson 11.28.16 at 5:36 pm

And Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front is responsible for how many deaths by now, with, like apartheid, US support? But they don’t count because that’s just business. The Somali dead from the US supported invasion count too. As for the famine count, that is one race the capitalists have always won. The presumption of course is that famines in capitalist countries are always acts of God, while famines in socialist countries, even new ones still scarred by war, are always acts of malice. Double standards are useful in political debates, aren’t they?

The mad dogs of anti-Communism will not listen, but, still…the bottom line is that a government that serves to provide equal material and moral benefits to the majority of people and exercises its sovereign rights of violence in the interest of the majority, which includes humanity at large has a better claim to be democratic than one which merely passes the same standards as the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

132

Randy McDonald 11.28.16 at 6:12 pm

Chris Bertram:

“Bystanders react differently to the kid who stands up to the bully, unappealing though that kid might be in many other respects, to the kid who plays the role of the bully’s sidekick and accomplice.”

Unreflexive bystanders, perhaps. I very much doubt that a schoolteacher who favoured one bully’s reign of terror over another would not risk much professionally.

133

Hidari 11.28.16 at 6:15 pm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_authoritarian_regimes_supported_by_the_United_States

As Wikipedia dryly notes about ‘Authoritarian regimes supported in the past’ (and ‘currently supported’): ‘This list is incomplete’.

134

Collin Street 11.28.16 at 7:28 pm

Cuba was detached from the Spanish Empire some time before Castro was born.

I mean… even as conversational judo the above is trite and unconvincing. It’s dismissive, silencing, rather than an attempt to persuade, but more than that it’s an ineffective way to dismiss or silence; the error — presuming that only the spanish empire could be described as “imperialism” — is transparently easy to identify and describe.

If a statement isn’t a good-faith effort to communicate and can’t be effective as a bad-faith effort to disrupt, the possible explanations for making it, really-genuinely-no-shit-for-real really do boil down to “some form of cognitive pathology”, don’t they.

135

Brett Dunbar 11.28.16 at 8:25 pm

Of the large states in the Caribbean the ones with the consistent history of democratic government and good human rights are Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Puerto Rico is still a U.S. territory while Jamaica was a British Territory until 1962. Cuba Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the have had several brutal dictatorships.

136

Placeholder 11.28.16 at 9:11 pm

Hidari@133
HA! By the way, there’s a whole wikiquote page for https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Friedrich_Hayek_and_dictatorship . Jack Straw literally bussed Pincohet pass Human Rights laws. The Liberals graciously and decently pass those laws and with equal perfection and soundness exempt their colonialist friends. Oh but Castro is ‘not your hero’. Thanks, the people of Mozambique are so grateful for your decency.

“presuming that only the spanish empire could be described as “imperialism””
Particularly since the Cuban–American Treaty of Relations (1934) grants: “the US the right to intervene in Cuba for the maintenance of (an adequate) government; approve all prior military actions by the United States”…how exactly do Liberals think the USA got Guantanamo bay? The Decent’s troll-sourcing extends to ‘but it wasn’t colored in on a map’.

137

Matt 11.28.16 at 9:55 pm

This thread depressingly parallels the structure of arguments about the Syrian Civil War. It’s a rule of the game that if you support a faction you mustn’t acknowledge its bad acts. Immediately try to switch the discussion to an opposing faction’s equivalent-or-worse wrongdoing. Or if Their Faction has yet to do wrong on the scale of Your Faction you’re supposed to imagine Their Faction’s atrocities in a counterfactual world where they have more strength.

What’s the most recent conflict that doesn’t inspire people to put on their team jerseys and deploy motivated reasoning? The Gothic War?

There is no exchange rate between acts that permits tallying them all for a goodness score in a standard unit of account. You can’t net out high economic inequality with high press freedom, or low-with-low. It’s like trying to reverse the bitterness of beer by adding honey. The flavors just keep accumulating. Nothing you can add will make beer taste like plain water again.

138

engels 11.28.16 at 11:32 pm

Yes folks the fact that in a four sentence comment I didn’t mention that Chile is now a liberal democracy (albeit one in which former torturers and their accomplices remain at large and in positions of wealth and power) means I’m incapable of coming to a reasoned opinion based on the historical record of the non-equivalence of a mass-torturing/raping/butchering neoliberal reign of terror and a moderately repressive (by historical standards) yet successful (in human development terms) authoritarian socialist dictatorship, and must be succumbing to the kind of uninformed party political cheerleading to which Sebastian was once drawn in his youth but has now completely transcended. Good to know.

139

JRLRC 11.28.16 at 11:38 pm

Stunning outcomes on poverty? Source?

140

engels 11.29.16 at 12:05 am

(Kudos to Placeholder and Louis for injecting some facts into the barrage of moralising, libsplaining and semi-digested US propaganda…)

141

The Temporary Name 11.29.16 at 12:56 am

I don’t see Americans fleeing their country, despite repeated threats to do so after each election.

This page crashed on election night: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/

Canadian services who deal with immigrants have indeed seen an uptick in US applicants. I don’t think it’ll end up to be substantial, personally, but there are indeed people who recognize other countries that might be nicer to live in. (NB: Canada may not be one of those countries, depending on your circumstances.)

142

Anononymous 11.29.16 at 1:59 am

Delusional. Massively delusional. Question for you Placeholder: Is the right of free movement within a country a human right or not? Is the right to leave the country a human right or not? Is the right to question the government a human right or not? I assume you’re 19 years old. Or an idiot. In a 1st world country.

A moral person doesn’t defend people like Pinochet or Castro. Never. This isn’t supposed to be a hard question in a philosophy exam at the community college you attend. It’s that you’ve defined your enemies based on nonsense, and you’re compelled to support evil men who defy them. This is also the tragicomedy of in group vs out group and internal divisions being more meaningful than outside divisions.

But Jesus Christ, these are some stupid comments.

You’d think on a liberal blog we could all agree on some basic concepts, like murder is wrong. Apparently not, since republicans hate Castro we must support him. 🙄🙄🙄

143

Placeholder 11.29.16 at 2:41 am

engels@140: Thank you, you but you’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have. Do warn me if I’m about to get banned.

It’s a shame this multi-faceted debate about the great intersection of imperialism, totalitarian social formation and third world developmental economics – that could be the only fair appraisal of Castro’s life and work – will never be able to have the complex debate it deserves in a comments section, but as I sense the occasion has passed these will be my last words:

Hasta siempre, comandante.

144

J-D 11.29.16 at 3:26 am

Matt

There is no exchange rate between acts that permits tallying them all for a goodness score in a standard unit of account.

Once again: Just so; and Hear, hear!

But the observation will pass unnoticed just as it did the first time.

145

engels 11.29.16 at 4:26 am


There is no exchange rate between acts that permits tallying them all for a goodness score in a standard unit of account.

Once again: Just so; and Hear, hear!

But the observation will pass unnoticed just as it did the first time

Perhaps because it appears to be (a) very obvious (b) undisputed hy anyone present…

146

Val 11.29.16 at 4:26 am

Just for a little historical context (from Wikipedia)

[for most of the 20thC] Tasmania had the highest rate of imprisonment for private consenting male sex anywhere in the world.[6] By the early 1990s the state had the harshest penalty for gay sex in the Western world at 21 years imprisonment.[4] In the late 1980s Premier Robin Gray stated that homosexuals were unwelcome in Tasmania and police recorded the vehicle registration plates of people attending gay community meetings.[5] Many LGBTI Tasmanians responded to the hostile sentiment by either relocating to the mainland Australian cities of Sydney or Melbourne, living in the closet or committing suicide.[4] A gay rights stall set up in Salamanca Market in 1988 was repeatedly shut down by Hobart City Council with organisers arrested by police.[3][4] During the 1980s and early 1990s six attempts at decriminalisation were emphatically rejected by the Tasmanian Legislative Council,[3] with politician Robert Archer calling for homosexuals to be “tracked down and wiped out” by police.[4] Social and political opinion remained sharply against LGBT rights until the late 1990s.[5]

Not trying to excuse Castro’s record on LBTIQ rights but just putting it in a bit of historical context.

147

engels 11.29.16 at 4:32 am

Interesting piece: Cuba’s Culture of Dussent

148

kidneystones 11.29.16 at 4:57 am

If a sub-topic of the discussion touches on whether US hegemony is ever a force for good:

http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/11/21/donald-trumps-new-world-order/

Apologies, if this has already been linked elsewhere.

149

Brett Dunbar 11.29.16 at 8:12 am

Neocolonialism tended to have all of the disadvantages of colonialism without any of the positive aspects.

Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic got pro-american dictators with the usual horrific human rights abuses and mass murder of political opponents. The government was independent under US hegemony but also tyrannical. The US government couldn’t simply dismiss the government for incompetence or corruption, it would require some extra-legal action.

While more traditionally colonial government the colonial power can dismiss a c0rrupt tyrannous or incompetent government by legal means. Puerto Rico and Jamaica have both remained democratic with good levels of personal and political freedom.

If you explicitly run a place you cannot disclaim responsibility for the political rights of the inhabitants, the way you can if there is a somewhat independent tyrant. America cannot remove a Cuban dictator at will, as Castro demonstrated. A neocolonial hegemon can disclaim most of the responsibility as it has less control than a colonial power.

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casmilus 11.29.16 at 11:59 am

@134

It’s fascinating to see your imagination at work. Doesn’t say anything about Cuba, but at least it’s a break from all the other posts telling us we can’t compare things, and then comparing them.

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Layman 11.29.16 at 12:33 pm

@ engels, thanks very much for that link!

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Hidari 11.29.16 at 8:08 pm

@146
Doubtless the indigenous inhabitants of Tasmania would have had something to say about human rights in Tasmania as well, had the British not exterminated them all.

Likewise the Taino people, the indigenous inhabitants of Cuba, would probably have had something to say about the benefits of colonialism, loudly sung by some on this thread, had the Spaniards not exterminated them too.

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