Monday, November 28, 2016

On Why Many Mourn Castro's Death

Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Here in the U.S., it isn't necessary to list the real and alleged flaws of the Castro regime. They're known to all. But why are so many people mourning the loss of this "tyrant"? There are multiple reasons. One reason is the fact that Cubans have, in spite of our embargo against their country and repeated attempts to destabilize the Castro regime, enjoyed remarkable improvements in their living standards. Let's take two examples. Over time, the differences in infant mortality and life expectancy (two widely-used measures of health and well-being) between Cuba and the U.S. have been reversed; Cubans are living somewhat longer lives than Americans and fewer infants are dying in their first year.

Am I saying that these gains make up for the authoritarian and repressive manner in which the country is run (side note: according to the Political Terror Scale, Cuba isn't more repressive than the U.S.)? No. But there are many who are aware of and appreciate these gains, and credit Castro (reasonably or not) for them.

Another point: however authoritarian the Castro regime may have been, it is no more dictatorial or repressive than the Batista regime preceding it. Here's what JFK had to say of the latter:

"Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years - a greater proportion of the Cuban population than the proportion of Americans who died in both World Wars, and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state – destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror. Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista – hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend – at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections."

Past repression doesn't justify current repression. But it would be wrong to think that Castro toppled a peaceful, democratic government. Quite the opposite. Further, Cuba's greater independence from the U.S. (the world's most powerful country that nonetheless failed in its many efforts to assassinate Castro) is arguably a source of pride for many Cubans, which may have enabled them to overlook or excuse ongoing repression in their country.