Castro is Dead. So What?

Celebration in Miami.  Photo by Carlos Miller

Celebration in Miami.
Photo by Carlos Miller

So Castro is finally dead. Some are dancing on his grave. Some are mourning him.

As usual, I agree with nobody.

Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator who preceded him was arguably worse. Knowing that matters.

Batista jailed and tortured his political opponents and was as brutal a dictator as Castro ever could have imagined. He plundered the Cuban economy for personal gain like any other petty little despot. After Castro overthrew him, his family lived a life of luxury on everything they stole. In fact, his family is still a prominent fixture in Florida politics.

Batista was awful and anyone who got rid of him deserves some credit. By tossing out Batista, Castro ended a period where American capitalists and criminals ran Cuba's economy. There was huge income inequality, and being an average Cuban simply sucked. There is a reason why millions of people cheered in the streets when Castro's revolution took power.

But, lets face it … that was like the jubilation you feel when someone screams "MORE SHOTS FOR EVERYBODY" at 3:30 AM. "WOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!"

This douchebag was no better than Castro

This douchebag was no better than Castro

After ousting Batista, Castro appeared to be the man to deliver a better life for Cubans. He restored the liberal 1940 constitution, which Batista had suspended. He nationalized land holdings larger than 1,000 acres, thus redistributing wealth. He immediately instituted programs to give Cubans greater access to healthcare, housing, and other basic needs.

His revolution received the adoring cheers of millions as it rolled into Havana on 8 January 1959.

But, then those shots hit. The puking began. What an astonishing hangover. Maybe having those shots wasn't such a great idea after all.

Castro did not take long to reveal his tyrannical soul.

By March of 1959, he was already in tyrant mode. A group of former Batista military personnel were prosecuted for war crimes against the revolutionary forces. The revolutionary tribunal acquitted them. Castro did not like the verdict, but the Constitution did not permit a second trial or a prosecutorial appeal. Castro simply decreed one. When challenged, he responded: "Revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction." (source) Forced labor camps, re-education, all the typical totalitarian what-have-yous, Castro had them all.

Castro had the best of intentions — just like most Communists. If Castro was magic, he probably would have created a Cuban utopia. But, he was not magic. A road to a better society passes many tollbooths. You can either pay the toll, go around the tollbooth, or you can pull the tollbooth operator out the window, torture him, rip out his guts, and then put his head on a stick as you approach the next tollbooth and see if that guy wants to risk the same fate, or just let you through. Unfortunately, the last option is often the most expedient — and that is the option that Castro chose. He became Batista without the thieving nature.

Brutal dictator who oppressed his own people? Yes. At the same time, we can't discount that he was way ahead of the curve in opposing apartheid and supporting anti-colonial revolutions. Say what you will about the tenets of Castroism, dude, it had some positive elements. Nevertheless, for every bit of support he gave to movements ostensibly organized for national liberation, his own people still found themselves in Pyongyang with palm trees. Of course, all of his socialist "accomplishments" are subject to serious criticism. (See The Myth of Cuban Health Care)

Anyone mourning his death might be confused. His tyrannical suppression of human rights didn't lead to utopia. It led, instead, to a country that was barely able to meet its own needs. It led not quite to North Korea, but only somewhat better. If I were forced into exile, Cuba would not be the absolute last place on my list, but it wouldn't be far from the bottom.

We can never accurately write alternative-history — but what if Batista had prevailed in 1959? What would Cuba be like today? Puerto Rico is a barely functioning shithole, and it has the advantage of being part of the United States. Haiti? I'd rather live in Castro's Cuba than Haiti. I would imagine that without the 1959 Revolution, Cuba would still be a disaster – albeit a different kind of disaster, with a few really rich families running the place. Perhaps a narco-state, or a Philippines-under-Marcos style kleptocracy.

Castro won... unless you believe in this stuff.  Photo by Carlos Miller

Castro won… unless you believe in this stuff.
Photo by Carlos Miller

While I can't see anyone outside of South Africa, Namibia, and his immediate family rationally mourning him, dancing in the streets to celebrate his death seems to be a bit stupid.

Right now, Miami is overwhelmed with joy.

And if we really dug through those crowds of celebrants, what would we find? Some are in Miami because they fled early on — members of the Batista regime and the small 1% of pre 1959 Cubans that benefitted from that regime. Others? Lets remember that during the Mariel boatlift, Castro not only set people free who wanted to leave, but he opened his jails and mental hospitals.

Of course, I'd presume that statistically speaking, the vast majority of those celebrating are what we would hope they are — descendants of those who fled Cuba simply because they were persecuted and yearning to be free. But more than anyone else, I have to ask them what in the hell they're celebrating.

Castro seized power in 1959. He saw 11 U.S. presidents come and go. He retired, and put his brother in power. He died at the age of 90, peacefully, in his bed, surrounded by loved ones. Sure beats the hell out of how any of his victims died.

If they were Vikings, I guess there would be something to celebrate. Instead of dying in battle, he died of old age. But, there are no Cuban Vikings. So, scratch that.

For better or worse, Castro won. I don't say that to honor him. Sometimes the bad guy wins. He did this time.

Last 5 posts by Randazza


  1. En Passant says

    I recall that when Castro's revolution was beginning to prevail in 1959, there was initially considerable support for him in the USA, because there was recognition that Batista was evil as well as corrupt. It wasn't until Castro switched from his "popular democratic revolutionary" bait for the USA, and announced full tilt Russian style communism that his popular but minority support in the USA crumbled.

    The Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 stirred and chipped further the remaining rubble of his support, and the Cuban missile crisis in late 1962 made that rubble bounce.

  2. says

    He saw 11 U.S. presidents come and go.

    No he didn't. Unless I've forgotten one, he saw ten go (Eisenhower through Bush II) and ten come (Kennedy through Obama).

  3. Ryan Voots says

    He saw 11 U.S. presidents come and go.

    No he didn't. Unless I've forgotten one, he saw ten go (Eisenhower through Bush II) and ten come (Kennedy through Obama).

    Actually that's two sets that don't fully overlap. Coming and going, he saw 11 total. Eisenhower to Obama.

  4. JorgXMcKie says

    Various accounts of the Castro family wealth [or some claim the equivalent given his absolute control of state monopolies] at better than $1B, so see little difference from the Batista family there.
    Then, there's Che, who preferred executing various "enemies of the state" personally with a bullet to the back of the head.
    Then there are the numerous political prisoners held for decades, and the persecution of the religious, especially the "Sisters in White."
    And there's the starvation rations provided to the populace and the terrible health care 'provided' to ordinary citizens.
    No, there's no way to excuse him. I'm not religious at all, but right now the concept of Hell is appealing.

  5. TimH says

    Remember also that the Cuba of today is a result of being ecoomically shunned by USA.

    It would be an interesting alternative reality if USA hadn't done that…

  6. John Thacker says

    On average, empirical evidence and research suggests that Castro made ordinary Cuban people worse off than under nearly any other possible government, including the poor governance of many other countries of the region. I think that it is far from proven that even the Bautista clan would have been worse. Cuba was and always would be much richer than Haiti; Castro squandered their wealth and made the poor and middle class worse off.

    Even granting all your premises, to me you are left at best with Pinochet, and a Pinochet whose regime didn't hold a plebiscite and then have internal or external pressures forcing him to abide by it.

  7. asd says

    like clockwork, moderate rebels always manage to put tyrants in power everytime they overthrow a tyrant

  8. MrBill says

    ST. PETER: Fidel, I have good news and bad news.
    CASTRO: What's the good news?
    ST. PETER: The good news is, where you're going there's plenty of fire for you to light your cigar.
    CASTRO: OK, what's the bad news?
    ST. PETER: The bad news is that all of the cigars are from Finland.

  9. Alan says

    When talking about Cuba it pays to pay attention to context. Let's look at other Caribbean/Central American countries; Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama. Are they better off than Cuba? Cuba has better infant mortality rates, literacy, even hunger. In fact, it has better rates than countries orders of magnitude richer (such as Brazil), where the elites take and take and take and give back very little.

    Now, does this make up for him violating people's rights? I have no idea; I don't live in fear of the government arresting me of something I may have said, but I also don't have to live wondering whether I'll be able to eat next week. That said, I suspect most people with strong opinions on Cuba have no idea about these things either.

  10. says

    However, while it is a worthwhile thought … I can't imagine it doing better than Puerto Rico. Of course, Cuba would trade places with Puerto Rico in a heartbeat.

  11. Adrian says

    Puerto Rico has many problems. Our economy is badly screwed (thanks in part to predatory foreign investors), and our crime rate is high (thanks in large part to the drug trade), but I don't think "shithole" is a fair characterization. I have American friends who actually prefer it here. It's not so bad.

  12. says

    I guess these numbers aren't exactly "shit-hole" numbers. There are certainly a hell of a lot of places in the world where literally everyone would jump at the opportunity to emigrate to Puerto Rico — and some of those places are probably even in the mainland United States.

  13. Durandal says

    Man, that woman has a great pair of boobs. But back to the main point –

    Castro's dead. Hell stinks more now. That's what, you insufferable morally relativist toadie.

    Yeah, sure, Batista was bad. Guess what? Who fucking cares, he died in 1959 you idiot! We're talking about the here and now, we're talking about everything that happened since then. That's why Senorita Titbounce is out there partying tonight. That's why you're pissing your pants in an act of moral cowardice I thought only such newspapers of record as the New York Times was capable of.

    I guess #slatepitches has finally gotten overthrown by #popehatpitches.

  14. edked says

    Celebrate the passing of someone you hate & consider evil all you like, but if any Miami Cubans are celebrating the impending restoration of lost property, they're delusional.
    Even if the Castro communists fell immediately, and there were free elections resulting in a democratic capitalist New Cuba, they are never, ever getting their shit back.

  15. John Dougan says

    >TimH says
    >NOVEMBER 26, 2016 AT 4:32 PM
    >Remember also that the Cuba of today is a result of being >ecoomically shunned by USA.

    This always confuses me. Much of the rest of the world trades with Cuba. How does not having the USA participate matter at all? This just the red-white-and-blue coloured glasses of USA exceptionalism?

  16. ben says

    Brutal dictator who killed Jews? Yes. At the same time, we can't discount that he was way ahead of the curve in building the Autobahn and socialized healthcare and fighting Stalin. Say what you will about the tenets of Hitlerism, dude, it had some positive elements.


  17. Peter B says

    "Castro had the best of intentions — just like most Communists."

    If by "the best of intentions" you mean "working for the Soviet Union since 1943 to bring down the United States of America" you're right.

    In 1943 while the battle for Stalingrad was raging and North Africa was being invaded by British and American troops, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR convened in Moscow to consider and try to stifle U.S. prestige which had been on the rise because of its heroic deeds in World War II. That entity discussed the need for Soviet Russia to extinguish that popularity and to help to continue the internal struggle against the United States. Several resolutions were adopted in that meeting. Aside from Communist Parties was the creation of youth groups, intellectuals, and artists in every country of the Western Hemisphere to act within a new political strategy.

  18. RDK says

    I think that were it not for Castro, Cuba would be one of the wealthiest and most prosperous countries in Latin America today, something like Chile. Chile is at the top, or near the top, of Latin America by almost any standard: by quality of life (as measured by the Human Development Index), by democracy (as measured by the Democracy Index), by freedom (as measured by Freedom House), by wealth (as measured by PPP* GDP per capita), and by equality (as measured by the Gini Coefficient); and is one of only two Latin American countries in the OECD (Mexico is the other). Yes, that's the same Chile that was ruled by the asshat Pinochet. I think something similar would happen in Cuba – there would be dictators for sure, but without the embargo, economic pressures resulting from its extreme proximity to the US, coupled with a relatively small size (allowing US investments to have a greater impact than in Mexico), would lead to the type of democratization that occured in the rest of Latin America.

    As some have pointed out, Cuba had a good rates (relative to rest of Latin America) of infant mortality and education (two major components of HDI) before Castro, and continues to do so today. I think its safe to say that this is despite Castro. Could you imagine what it could be without communism?

    *When using nominal GDP it fares worse, but I think PPP GDP is more accurate.

  19. MF says

    The evidence has mounted in recent years that Castro repeatedly begged the Soviets to deploy nuclear attacks on the United States despite the consequences to himself and the Cuban people. If you need Cold War Soviets to explain to you why nuclear war is a disastrously bad idea…might be pertinent to your legacy as a dictator.

  20. Noah Callaway says

    @Anton Sherwood

    That moment when you realize "and" in casual english can mean "or" in logical constructs.

  21. OrderoftheQuaff says

    I've never been to Cuba, never met Castro, but I've been hearing about him almost all my life (61 y.o. now). One thing I have become aware of over the years is that my American media lies to me all the time. What I know for sure…

    1959: He overthrew Batista. All the dispossessed Batistista aristocrats fled to Florida and got themselves elected as Republicans to Congress, where their private grudge tail was allowed to wag the American foreign policy dog, in the context of our virulently anti-Communist media of the time, raising up the most remarkable, reflexive hate boner against a contemporary foreign leader that I've ever seen, which still lives today in the Popehat comments section.

    From the moral perspective, I am informed by my inclination to root for the underdog in a contest. Is this a fair fight? Castro made the most powerful, dangerous enemy you can make in this world, and he stood off against it, only 90 miles away, for 57 years until the Reaper finally got him. JFK's spooks recruited the Batististas to take him out, and they died in the Bay of Pigs surf. The monstrous Operation North Woods was proposed, but thankfully never executed, and there are tales of poisoned cigars, cigars rigged to explode, and other CIA hijinks. We had no trouble capping people in Asia, Africa and South America, but this guy had some kind of mojo to survive.

    At long last, Barack Obama normalized relations. The usual suspects threw tantrums. Nobody knows what a President Trump will do about this, or anything else, but it will probably involve putting a Trump casino in Havana and selling American products to them as a condition. I would like to see Havana get the next Major League Baseball franchise. I am smoking a small Hoyo de Monterrey cigarillo as I type this, and I say to all the haters…


  22. piperTom says

    TimH says "the Cuba of today is a result of being ecoomically shunned by USA." Yes, when socialism fails, it is always the fault of someone else. Always.

  23. piperTom says

    Randazza: "Castro ended a period where American capitalists [and others] ran Cuba's economy."

    The guy who operates a laundromat is a capitalist. The family who run an ethnic restaurant are capitalists. The couple who own your local auto-body shop are capitalists.

    The giant corporation that gets its income from favors bought from politicians are cronyist. It's got nothing to do with owning the means of production; they own government. You'll never separate the grain from the chaff by lumping it all together.

  24. tmitsss says

    I once had a conversation with an old timer (a designation that now applies to me) about attending a law convention in Havana shortly after the takeover. I think it was the South Carolina Bar in 1959 or 1960. It was quite surreal with armed revolutionaries in the streets. I wish I had gotten more details

  25. Cloudbuster says

    He nationalized land holdings larger than 1,000 acres, thus redistributing wealth.

    Anyone who thinks this was a good move is living in a fantasy land.

  26. Rich Rostrom says

    "I'd rather live in Castro's Cuba than Haiti."

    A lot of Cubans disagree. Some risked their lives to escape from Cuba to Haiti.

    Caracas Chronicles offered this evaluation of Castro: The Worst Latin American. By which is meant the worst person of Latin American origin, ever.

  27. Danny Sichel says

    Durandal – actually, Batista lived until 19*73*.

    liberpolly – re: Batista being "not even 10% as bad" as Castro – well, how long was Batista in power, compared to Castro? From an absolute standpoint, obviously Castro was worse. But proportionately?

    (note: not only do I lack the data to calculate this myself, 'badness' is poorly defined. And Batista was in power a lot longer than just 1952-59. He toppled Machado in 1933, ran the country through puppets until 1940 when he decided to make himself president, served 4 years, retired, then in 1952 decided to take over again.)

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