After learning the news Fidel Castro’s death, I felt glad. Glad for the people of Cuba, and glad for the world in general. A bad man had passed away: good. I didn’t plan on writing about it, thinking it would be better to let the best and brightest of journalists amongst us do the talking.
However, in light of recent comments by world leaders (particularly you, Justin Trudeau), I rethought that stance. If I hadn’t lived overseas and then in Miami myself, I can’t imagine I’d have much to share personally.
But I have, and because of that, I want to make sure the real story of Castro – who he was, and what he wrought – does not get lost in the eager desire to lionize him as some sort of hero.
He was no hero.
The first secondhand encounter with the Cuba of Castro came while living in Colombia. An Australian friend of mine traveled to the island for the same reason as millions of other internationals: curiosity. What was this place like, stuck in the 1950s? How did Communism really feel, since the U.S.S.R. no longer knew, and China now bent towards Capitalism?
She said it was the worst trip she’d ever been on. That the poverty was simply astounding. That their one-year-old had gotten a virus, and there were no medicines to be found anywhere, no baby food, nothing to give him. She said it was, in a word, awful, and she would never recommend it to anyone. (I now recall my uncle saying the same thing about the poverty, that he had walked around wanting to give money to everyone.)
The second time I ran into Castro’s Cuba was at a church dinner. We were getting ready to dedicate my son, and were at a meeting with other parents doing the same. This was in a southern neighborhood of Miami, and it happened that a father at our table was a Cuban refugee himself. My husband and I had been talking about our inability to find a good Cuban restaurant, and he told us he’d escaped as a child, but still had memories of the food from his native country.
This was during the presidential primary, before Trump looked like a viable candidate, let alone a potential president. So my husband asked, “Alright, so are you voting for Rubio or Clinton?” (He’s not averse to putting people on the political spot…)
The young man smiled and answered that Democrat or Republican, it was fine with him. They were both so much better than where he’d come from.
So much better than dictatorship, than imprisonment for the crime of disagreeing with Castro.
The final story I’ll share is riding with an Uber driver who had also escaped Cuba. He was dropping me off to meet my family for lunch, and we were also talking about politics. He said he was alright with Obama opening up relations with Cuba; maybe it would help.
I asked him if he missed it, or if he would ever move back.
He said never. Miami was his home.
Escape had been a good thing, had led to a good life. He had a wife and a family, and had been able to make something of himself and offer his kids the chance to chase their own dreams.
None of that was possible in Cuba.
Let me restate that: None of that is possible in Cuba.
Here’s my question for Trudeau: If Castro is so great, why have millions fled his rule? Why have they risked drowning to escape to Florida?
If Cuba is so wonderful, why were 10,000 people arrested in 2015 for political dissent? Who would dissent from a wonderful, working system, especially if imprisonment was the known consequence?
I don’t need to offer a historic treatise. Miami speaks for itself. After news of Castro’s death, the Cuban sector ignited in spontaneous celebration.
Take it from the people who lived under his rule: Castro is not a hero. He was a ruthless dictator who oppressed the Cuban people for over five decades. I don’t care whether or not he rests in peace, though I will pray mercy for him, because I have to.
What I do hope is that the Cuban people will now live in peace, and that this will be an opening for democracy to liberate its citizens to rule themselves and their own lives.