Fidel Castro: The Tyrant Exits but the Damage Remains / Jeovany Jimenez Vega
Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 29 November 2016 — The dictator Fidel Castro died
last Friday at the age of 90. The extensive news coverage was to be
expected. After all, he was both the object of the most romantic,
idealized love and the most scathing, caustic hatred. Gone was the man
who, over the last six decades, had left his imprint on Cuban history, a
man who was unquestionably one of the most controversial figures of the
There is little to say that has not already been said about this tyrant,
so there is little point in now rehashing extensive accounts of his
life. It seems more prudent to ask a basic question that might summarize
what imprint this man had on Cuban society.
What did Fidel Castro leave behind? What did Cubans inherit from his
more than half-century legacy? The answer is not always a simple one
because almost nothing is simple in Cuba, where the reality itself is
often tinged with varying shades of light and shadow.
From Fidel Castro’s point of view, he leaves behind a country with
virtually no illiteracy and an educational system accessible to everyone
everywhere within the country’s borders. It seems idyllic, especially in
light of the repeated positive assessments by UNICEF. But let’s not
forget an essential point: Not everything here is so rosy.
There is only one centralized, compulsory system of education, imposed
on everyone, which provides no alternative. Parents cannot choose what
kind of schooling their children will receive. Every day children must
swear an oath: “Pioneers for Communism; we will be like Che!” They are
taught by educators suffering from enormous personal frustration. In
exchange for their enormous efforts, teachers receive paltry salaries,
working under the most inadequate of conditions in schools that are in
near ruin. Additionally, every child is subjected to political
indoctrination, which is responsible in large part for the unfortunate
loss of civic culture paralyzing Cuban society today.
And what is there to say about public health? The country which boasts
of its achievements in biotechnology, universal childhood vaccination
and state-of-the-art clinics catering to foreigners — comparable only to
those reserved for exclusive use by elite government officials — is the
same country whose neighborhood medical clinics stand empty and whose
pharmacies suffer from a constant shortage of medications.
Its excellent doctors are paid poverty-level wages, must deal with
unimaginable scarcities and work under deplorable conditions in
hospitals which are structurally unsound and which, in many instances,
should be demolished.
The government of Fidel Castro has always relied on its medical missions
to more than sixty countries — “in search of the world’s poor” — as its
trump card. Under the heel of Raul Castro, those same missions greedily
skim 70% off the salaries of its overseas medical personnel.
This slave trade generates between 8 to 10 billion dollars a year.
Meanwhile, the government shamelessly rails, with characteristic
cynicism, against worldwide capitalist exploitation.
The very serious crisis in Cuban sport is so obvious that it is scarcely
worth discussing. The defections of more than two-hundred top-flight
baseball players to the “brutal north” in search of better opportunities
in recent years are a slap in the face of the deceased, who used sport
as a weapon of propaganda. But the humiliating and mediocre performances
of a wide range of athletes in international arenas suggest that things
could hardly get much worse.
And what has the “invincible” comandante left behind on the field of
economics? Anything one might say on such a potent and cruel topic risks
sounding redundant. The profound economic damage resulting from the
endless trail of Fidel Castro’s erratic policies continues to have
ongoing repercussions. So absurd and systemic was the damage that it has
become insoluble, at least under the current rules of the game imposed
by the military dictatorship, which subordinates everything to its
perverse predilection for control.
In spite of having enjoyed the world’s most generous subsidies —
courtesy of the former Soviet Union —for its first three decades, Cuba
has never experienced a period of real economic independence or credible
growth during the entire Castro era. It later suckled on the nipple
provided by Hugo Chavez, who always had to cradle the drooling mouth of
the silly child because it never learned to support itself.
It is an undeniable fact that the comandante’s government, like that of
its successor, never managed to overcome its prodigious parasitic
habits. Its survival always depended on an outside supplier. In short,
the dictator leaves behind a desolated country, perpetually in the red
and without a a credible development plan in sight.
Did the comandante opt for persuasion, for convincing argument, in order
to govern? Did he exercise his power through normal, healthy and
necessary confrontation — free of judgment — with a dissenting
legislature in which opposition was a daily reality, as in all free
societies? Certainly not. From the very beginning, he penalized
difference of opinion and buried the press under a blanket of hermetic
He monopolized national editorial policy and all mass media, maintaining
an iron-fisted stranglehold which he never eased. Under his totalitarian
dictatorship there was never anything that might be called a parliament.
Instead, a circus of marionettes met once a year to give consent —
always by unanimous vote — to orders previously approved by the Central
Committee of his Communist Party.
The shocking human rights situation has been a constant for the entirety
of the Castro regime. It represents a very long saga of systematic
abuse, a logical consequence of having no separation of powers. The
noteworthy indices of political repression have been the immutable
backdrop of Cuban society for more than five decades, though they have
become something of a scandal since the thaw in relations with the
United States was announced. The dearly departed leaves behind, as
testament to his despotism, about a hundred political prisoners in jail
cells, to say nothing of the thousands who preceded them.
The comandante also bequeathed to Cuban history four great waves of
emigration, confirming his scandalous failure as a ruler. Young people
fled in terror from their enslavement, an eloquent expression of an
entire people’s discontent. Well organized exoduses were augmented by an
endless string of drownings from sunken rafts in the Florida Straits, a
deeply painful saga for the Cuban people caused, once again, by Fidel
But let’s try to shed light on at least one small aspect of the genius
which frontmen and toadies attribute to him. Let’s look at the tactical
“solutions” the tyrant imposed as well as their practical and permanent
long-term consequences. For example, no sooner had revolutionaries won
than they found themselves with a housing problem. Did the comandante
promote a coherent national program of building new housing to meet the
demand? No. It was easier to steal long-held properties from their
rightful owners through to the Urban Reform Law. The consequences? Even
today, half a century later, housing remains one of the country’s most
serious problems and perhaps the hardest one to solve.
In 1959 the newly triumphant comandante also found himself facing the
problem of land distribution. But once the Agrarian Reform Law was
adopted, did it create the conditions necessary for small-scale farmers
to flourish? Did it vigorously stimulate agricultural and livestock
production throughout the country? No. Instead it imposed one absurd
regulation after another in order to impede, by any means necessary,
agricultural producers’ financial success. It created multiple
mechanisms to limit their profits and unleashed the Attorney General’s
watchdogs on any misguided soul who had acquired wealth by dint of his
own legitimate efforts.
The consequences? Even today, meager harvests rot in the fields thanks
to the well-documented irresponsibility of the Empresa Nacional de
Acopio (National Harvest Company) — an ineffective monopoly and the sole
entity in charge agricultural harvesting. Even today, as an indefensibly
large proportion of the country’s arable land remains plagued by maribu
weed, Cuba imports millions of dollars worth of food, including — of all
things — sugar. Fields lie untended due to, as always, the whims and
stubbornness of the country’s rulers. Meanwhile, shortages of basic
staples set new records week after week.
An uninterrupted mass exodus began in early 1959, most notably of
professionals, when a segment of the population felt disappointed by the
first populist measures. What did the newly-inaugurated prime minister,
Fidel Castro, do to halt or discourage it? Did he improve working
conditions or offer better salaries to those professionals? No. He
chose, as usual, to restrict the the right of all Cubans to travel
freely for decades and prohibited any overseas travel that did not have
official authorization. The consequences? The island literally became
one vast prison, serving as Fidel Castro’s private gulag for more than
fifty years. During that time the despot deprived us of the universal
right to freely come and go from our own country.
It is also worth remembering one fateful moment: When faced with the
challenge of a democratic election in 1960, did he fulfill the promise
he made in the Sierra Maestra to hold elections after eighteen months in
power? Never! Instead he coined that celebrated slogan “Elections for
what?” The unfortunate consequences of that failure translate into an
absence of political freedom today. The consequences? Since then, there
has been a complete disregard by Cuba’s military/political elite for our
natural right to free thought and for many of the most basic human
rights, an offensive contempt resulting from, above all, the twisted
personality of Fidel Castro.
Faced with the persistence of tens of thousands of private businesses
and family micro-enterprises throughout the country, did the comandante
develop a parallel national system of consumer services that would
compete on an equal footing with those of the extensive private sector?
Was their promise finally fulfilled, providing better services to the
people? Absolutely not. Instead, he launched the notorious Revolutionary
Offensive in March 1968, which in a few months swept away the legacy of
millions of entrepreneurs who had amassed their fortunes as a result of
generations of honest work.
This wave of brazen confiscation, followed by widespread institutional
laziness, led to a dramatic and irreversible decline in the food service
industry and every possible consumer service from Cabo San Antonio to
Punta Maisí. The consequences? Even today, this sector remains one of
the most eloquent testimonials to the inefficiency and corruption of a
system as centralized as that of Cuba.
In other words, this bearded reprobate always opted for the easiest,
most mediocre, most simplistic solution — coincidentally, usually the
one he had come up with — that in the long run would lead to the worst
Where is the supposed genius in leading the country into absurdist
economic ruin, trampling on people’s human rights, putting power in the
hands of an arrogant oligarchy with bourgeois tastes, creating a
disturbed, dysfunctional society and turning it into a quagmire of moral
ruin? What fanciful argument could purport that a life so aberrant and
demonstrably harmful to the Cuban people was virtuous?
Other than stores in several countries being closed, there was nothing
memorable about last Friday, November 25, except for the day’s top
story. Nothing of consequence will happen in Cuba after this date
because it marked an outcome for which the dictatorship has had
sufficient time to prepare. The military will, for now, keep everything
under control and business will continue as its usual.
The tyrant died but he left behind an intact dictatorship, with an
organized army of henchmen and repressors well-trained in all manner of
coercion, intimidation and blackmail. It acts like an eager, arrogant
hitman who has his finger on the trigger, always at the ready. In his
profound alienation, he would not hesitate to calmly pull it as soon as
the order was received.
The dictatorship’s capacity for repression remains intact; the people
remain totally defenselessness against the divine designs of the
dictator on duty. We carry with us the execrable consequences of massive
social indoctrination, which will require the passing of more than a
generation to overcome its imprint of immorality once freedom finally
arrives. Society still lacks the vital independent mechanisms to
seriously address the true aspirations of the Cuban people.
All this notwithstanding, there have been many messages of condolence
from a wide range of political and religious figures including Vladimir
Putin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Xi Jinping, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Frei
Betto and Pope Francis. Other diverse figures include soccer star Diego
Maradona, every leftist president from Latin America and King Felipe of
There will undoubtedly also be hundreds of condolences from all over the
globe, from people of varied ancestries who nevertheless all have one
thing in common: none have personally suffered the consequences of the
Stalinist madness of the deceased.
None of these grieving mourners were the father of a young man who was
shot. None were humiliated for a being believer or a homosexual and
sentenced to hard labor in the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP).
In fact, not one of them will even know what the UMAP was. None of them
were forced to support their families on twenty dollars a month or
experience the hell of a ration book.
None of these very disturbed friends of the dictator had family on the
’13 de Marzo’ tugboat; none was sentenced to more than 20 years in
prison during the Black Spring; none has seen their mother, their wife
or their daughter dragged by the fascists hordes during a march of the
Ladies in White; none is a dissident besieged or beaten with impunity by
the Cuban political police; none has been imprisoned for weeks or months
without even knowing what charges are imputed to them, and then released
without trial or further explanation; none has been expelled from their
job due to political differences nor had a child expelled from their
university career for the same reason.
None suffered a raid on their home without having engaged in punishable
offenses; none has witnessed the degrading repudiation rallies organized
by the political police and the Communist Party of its
Commander-in-Chief against peaceful opponents. In short, none of them is
surnamed Zapata, Payá, Boitel, Soto García, or Pollán.
But the inevitable finally occurred and dust returned to dust. Fidel
Castro exerted absolute power using brutal methods for half a
century. His achievement, such as it is, was that he always appealed on
the most mean-spirited, despicable and lowly aspects of human nature.
Camouflaged by his extraordinary capacity for simulation and guided by a
highly refined ability to discern a person’s basest instincts, he
manipulated people for his personal advantage in order to satisfy the
pathological impulses of his deeply narcissistic personality, his
insatiable egotism and an uncontrollable need for recognition of his
The despot has left to face God’s judgement but leaves behind a painful
legacy. The monster has died but the damage he caused remains. In spite
of all this, Cuba will one day find the true pathway toward democracy.
While we will try to never again hate, we are obliged not to forget. The
dictator leaves this world, as many of his kind often do, without
summary judgment, without having faced earthly justice. But the tyrant
will never escape to the moral judgment of a people who have, at least
so far, not definitively absolved him. History, however, has already
firmly condemned him.
Source: Fidel Castro: The Tyrant Exits but the Damage Remains / Jeovany
Jimenez Vega – Translating Cuba –