On February 20, 2008, because of his health, Fidel Castro resigned as President and Commander in Chief of Cuba and turned over the reigns to his brother Raul.
In recent years Hollywood celebrities and U.S. political figures have traveled to Cuba to visit Fidel Castro and treated him as though he is some heroic figure. Most had glowing words to say about their host. Fidel Castro is a very charismatic individual and his long tenure in office adds to his legend, but Castro is defiantly not a heroic figure, far from it. Now that he has stepped down, and as President Obama and the United States seek better relationships with Cuba, with which I agree, I thought it would be timely if we reviewed some of Castro's real record.
FACT: In an August 8, 1958 speech Castro said "our primary objective is to reestablish democracy." Five months later, on January 1, 1959, he lead the Cuban revolution to victory. Since then he has never relinquished power and has remained in office 49 years. Not a promised democracy but a communist dictatorship.
Castro is not a hero to many of the Cuban people who expected democracy.
FACT: By the end of 1959 virtually all major business was under state control and critical newspapers were silenced. All of the media was eventually controlled by the government, including the internet. Today in order to get on the internet you must get permission from the government.
Castro is not a hero to journalists or the citizens who lost their business.
FACT: In 1961 he declared himself a Marxist Leninist. He purged his military, replacing them with communist militants, and those who complained he jailed, executed, or forced to leave Cuba. They were friends who fought along side him in the revolution. Their crime: they wanted what they fought for, democracy not communism.
Castro is not a hero to many of his compatriots of the Revolution.
FACT: Commandant Huber Motos, who fought in the revolution alongside Castro and even rode into Havana as a hero on a tank, standing with Castro, complained about communism creeping into government and the military, and he resigned. Castro called him a traitor and he was imprisoned for 20 years, sixteen of these years in solitary confinement.
FACT: In July 1961, during the Cold War, the U.S. broke relations with Cuba.
In the early 60s Castro made a deal with the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the U.S. Castro then suggested, in a cable to Premier Khrushchev on October 27, 1962, that they launch from Cuba a first nuclear strike. In a letter to Castro, Soviet Premier Khrushchev rejected the idea: "You realize of course where that would have led, rather than a simple strike it would have been the start of a thermonuclear war."
Castro is not a hero to those who remember he wanted to nuke the U.S.
FACT: Castro is the man whose repressive government caused the U.N. Human Rights Commission, along with Amnesty International, from the 1960s into the 21st century to condemn Cuba for "the continuing violation of human rights." In April 1986, "The Tribunal on Cuba" met in Paris and, as reported on April 18 in Le Figaro, "testimony by former Cuban prisoners resembled those made 40 years ago by survivors of the Death Camps."
Castro is not a hero to those mistreated in Cuban prisons.
FACT: Just six years ago Castro arrested 75 human rights activists, journalists and opposition figures and sentenced them to terms ranging from six to 28 years. Last year a free press group, "Reporters without Borders," appealed to Raul Castro to release the 19 reporters in prison since 2003.
Castro is no hero to those unfairly jailed or their families.
FACT: Since Castro's triumph in the revolution, over two million Cubans, many at great risk of life, fled Cuba. Something must be wrong. Some were Cubans whose property had been confiscated, small businessmen whose stores and shops were closed, the very poor dwellers in Havana's squalid inner-city, as well as many poor throughout the country. They were fed up with economic hardship and virtual disappearance of political freedom. That exodus continues today.
Castro is no hero to the millions of loyal Cuban people who had to flee their homeland.
FACT: In the 1970s the U.S. and Cuba decided to try to get along. At a secret meeting in the Hotel Pierre, near LaGuardia Airport in New York, Cuban and American officials tried to work out a rapprochement. In 1975 Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced the U.S. was ready to "begin a new relationship." The two countries were on the brink of an agreement.
Then Fidel Castro made one of the worse decisions in his life. Just as the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S. seemed imminent, Castro decided to rekindle his international ambitions. He faced a choice, intervention with Cuban troops into Angola's civil war, or normalize relations with the United States. Unfortunately he made the wrong choice. With Cuban troops fighting in Angola, President Gerald Ford said Castro's intrusion into Angola precludes any improvement of relations with Cuba.
Castro is no hero to the Cubans who wanted to renew U.S. relations.
FACT: Like an ancient potentate, Castro has passed his power on to his younger brother Raul Castro. Raul was then elected president in a sham election as the only candidate on the ballot. According to CNN, Time and the Wall Street Journal, Raul has a "reputation for ruthlessness." If you think Cuba is going to have a meaningful change with Raul, don't bet on it. Raul has said socialism and communism will remain. Recently it is reported that Cuba was discussing a plan to bring the Russian military back into Cuba. Raul just allowed the Cuban people to own a cell phone. A start, but funny, as most Cubans really can't afford them.
SUMMARY: So, Castro is no hero. The real Fidel Castro lied when he promised democracy, he confiscated businesses large and small, he executed or jailed many of his fellow revolutionaries, he silenced a free press, he rebuked the U.S. when he had a chance at rapprochement, he caused millions of loyal Cubans to leave their homeland and in a secret deal with the Soviet Union, he had nuclear missiles placed in Cuba aimed at the U.S. Then he actually suggested to Khrushchev he wanted to fire them in a preemptive strike. That's right, nuke America. And so as he leaves the world stage and as the U.S. plans for better relations, let's remember what Castro actually did to his country. The more than two million that fled Cuba, they remember. Yes, I know Cuba has a lot of doctors, but the misery he brought to the Cuban people for the last 49 years is the real legacy of Fidel Castro.