Fidel Castro Was Anything But Courageous / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer
14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer, 28 November 2016 – It is not elegant to
criticize someone who has just died, but seeing the messages from the
heads of state around the world exalting the supposed courage of the
recently deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the truth must be told:
Castro was anything but courageous. On the contrary, he was a coward.
In the first place, he was a coward for not allowing a free election in
57 years, from the time he took power in 1959. Only someone who is
afraid of losing doesn’t desire to measure himself against others in a
In the second place, Castro was a coward because he never allowed a
single independent newspaper or non-government radio station or
television channel. His critics didn’t even have access to the official
channels. It was as if they did not exist.
Castro gave the vast majority of his interviews to journalists, models
or sports figures who revered and honored him. And the few interviews he
gave to serious journalists were monologues, in which he did all the
I remember in the late 1980s, when I asked the Colombian Nobel Prize
winner Gabriel García Márquez to intercede for me to ask for an
interview with Castro. He laughed and said: “Why do you want an
interview with Fidel? He never says anything in an interview that he
hasn’t said in one of his five hour speeches.”
Castro’s fear of losing his omnipresent image as Maximum Leader was such
that he forbade the media to talk about his private life. He had to be
portrayed as a demigod who had sacrificed his life for the public
good. For decades, the names of his wife and children were a state secret.
When I traveled to Cuba in the early 1990s, a journalist from the
newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) the communist youth paper, told
me he had been reprimanded by his boss for trying to publish a photo of
Castro eating dinner. The commander could never be shown eating, said
Even the circumstances of the death of Castro may have been a government
montage: Cuban official media say he died on November 25, which is the
same day that Castro and his guerrillas left the Mexican port of
Veracruz on the yacht Granma in 1955 to start their armed insurrection
Did they tamper with the date of his death to show it as a heroic
journey to the afterlife, which coincides with the date of the beginning
of his revolutionary epic six decades ago?
Third, Castro was a coward because he did not allow any independent
political party. According to the Cuban Constitution drafted by Castro,
only the Communist Party, which he presided over for decades, is allowed
on the island.
Castro used the United States trade embargo as an excuse to prohibit
independent political parties and freedom of assembly. Even after he
handed the presidency to his brother Raul, although he remained a
powerful figure behind the scenes, the Cuban regime intensified
repression of the peaceful opposition despite the normalization of
relations between the United States and Cuba that began under President
Obama in 2014.
According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National
Reconciliation, an unofficial group, documented political arrests have
soared from 6,424 in 2013 to 9,125 so far this year.
Fourth, Castro was a coward because he never allowed international
financial institutions to monitor or verify the positive economic
statistics of his government.
Castro boasted that Cuba reduced poverty and improved health and
education, and much of the international press believed it,
unquestioningly. But unlike most countries, Castro never allowed the
World Bank or other credible international institutions to undertake
independent studies on the island.
He boasted of the educational progress of Cuba, but never allowed Cuba
to participate in the International Student Assessment (PISA) testing
program. In fact, many studies show that other countries such as Costa
Rica made more social progress than Cuba, without paying the price of
mass executions, imprisonments and exiles.
Fifth, Castro never allowed international human rights organizations to
conduct on-site investigations into human rights abuses. According
to the research group Cuba Archive Castro was responsible for 3,117
documented cases of executions and 1,162 cases of extrajudicial
executions. In any other country, he would have been declared a war
I am sorry, but the conventional narrative that Castro was a courageous
revolutionary who defied ten US presidents and survived numerous
assassination attempts does not impress me at all.
Courageous leaders are those who have the courage to compete with others
in free elections. Castro was a coward who never dared to allow the
Cuban people to exercise their basic rights, and who condemned
his island to misery.
His death should be a reminder that there is no such thing as a good
dictator. Whether a right-wing autocrat as Augusto Pinochet or a leftist
like Castro, all dictators are bad and, deep down, cowards.
Editor’s Note: This article was previously published in Spanish in the
newspaper El Nuevo Herald. It is reproduced with the permission of the
Source: Fidel Castro Was Anything But Courageous / 14ymedio, Andres
Oppenheimer – Translating Cuba –