I have always had a sadness in my heart for Cuba. As a four year old boy I went to Havana with my parents only a couple of months before Castro came to power. I have always retained vivid memories of my early childhood and the trip to Havana is no exception. I still remember the beautiful beaches and boulevards, the hotel where we stayed and the restaurants where we ate—and, yes, the casinos (even though my parents didn't take me into the areas where the gambling occurred, I still remember seeing the roulette tables and other games through the open archways). Cuba before Communism was a playground for those who could afford to play.
It was Christmas 1958, but amid all the celebrating there was a tension in the air. It was as if wealthy Cubans and American tourists alike realized they were celebrating a last hurrah before a terrible fate befell their world. Cubans who could afford to were already fleeing the country, and American tourists were saying farewell to a country and a way of life they would not see again.
Tourism and the growing and selling of sugar had been making Cubans rich for decades, but not all Cubans. What most tourists didn't see, or didn't want to, was the underclass, people who lived in poverty like the macheteros—sugarcane cutters—who worked only during the four month growing season, and the rest of the year were unemployed and angry. The growing class disparity as well as accusations of corruption in the government of President Fulgencio Batista made the country ripe for a revolution. A band of guerrillas, led by Fidel Castro, had begun fomenting just such a revolution that would soon bring an end to Havana's high-life.
Born in Birán, Cuba, as the son of a wealthy Spanish farmer (his father owned a 23,000 acre estate), Fidel Castro adopted leftist politics while studying law at the University of Havana. After participating in rebellions against governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, he planned the overthrow of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, launching a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.
After a year's imprisonment, he traveled to Mexico where he formed a revolutionary group, the "26th of July Movement," with his brother Raúl Castro and revolutionary icon Che Guevara. Returning to Cuba, Castro took a key role in the Cuban Revolution by leading the Movement in a guerrilla war against Batista's forces. The Revolution was successful in overthrowing Batista's government in 1959, and Castro assumed military and political power as Cuba's Prime Minister.
A quote that has been variously attributed to Marx, Lenin, or Stalin is "When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use." I think Castro was surprised that, having taken over Cuba, the United States did not continue to sell (or give) Cuba the rope—or anything else they needed. The US government stood on principle, something a Communist would not expect a Capitalist to do.
The United States opposed the establishment of what was clearly a Communist dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere and unsuccessfully attempted to remove Castro by assassination, economic blockade, and inciting a counter-revolution, including the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961. Countering these threats, Castro formed an alliance with the Soviet Union and allowed the Soviets to place nuclear weapons in Cuba, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis—a defining incident of the Cold War—in 1962. Thus hardened in their respective positions, the US has maintained an embargo on commerce with and travel to Cuba for more than 50 years.
So how have the Cuban people fared during those 50 years? If George Orwell were still living, he could make a case study out of Cuba. A revolution supposedly begun to help poor people only made them poorer. A revolution to free them from oppression has only made them more oppressed. A revolution in the name of democracy resulted in a dictatorship and family dynasty by one man and his brother for over 50 years. And it really doesn't matter whether you call it socialism or communism.
Fidel Castro is, at last, dead. His brother and successor as supreme tyrant, Raúl Castro, announced his death on Friday night, “with a profound pain." The pain cannot compare with the pain felt by the Cuban people for the past half-century. The reality is that Fidel Castro presided over the cultural genocide of his own people, employing the firing squad liberally against “counter-revolutionaries;” sending Christians and other undesirables to concentration camps, and pushing still more undesirables out of the country in huge boat lifts, mostly to southern Florida.
President Obama and the "Mainstream" Media are mourning Castro's death—whitewashing his crimes against the Cuban people while having the gall to compare him to George Washington.
"We know that this moment fills Cubans -- in Cuba and in the United States -- with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him," President Obama said in a statement.
ABC's Jim Avila said Castro "was considered, even to this day, the George Washington of his country among those who remain in Cuba." MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell lavished the evil man with high praise mentioning he "will be revered for education and social services and medical care to all of his people."
President-elect Donald Trump, on the other hand, called out Castro for who he really was--a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people: "Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights," Trump said in a statement.
Senator Marco Rubio, himself of Cuban descent, took to Twitter with several Tweets: "History will remember Fidel Castro as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery & suffering on his own people." Rubio also urged Obama to avoid Castro's funeral.
Following is President-elect Trump's full statement:
"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.Numerous media outlets have taken note of the stark contrast between Obama and Trump's statements.
"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."
President-elect Trump is absolutely correct. Our sympathies and our prayers should be with the Cuban people who have suffered for decades under the oppressive regime of Fidel Castro and will continue to suffer until true freedom comes to Cuba.