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Castro is dead — long live the King?

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Castro amid cheering crowds in 2005 (image via en.wikipedia.org).

Fidel Castro's death has inspired both grief and celebration but it is the death of his revolutionary spirit we should mourn, writes Ben Jackson.

THE NEWS of Fidel Castro’s death has been met with an outpouring of grief and retrospective reverence.

This has come not only from Cuba and its historic ally, Russia, but also from leaders of Western nations who have spent the better part of five decades fighting against everything that Castro's dictatorship stood for.

Should we be surprised?

Well, no. We in the West have a long history of remembering tyrants for everything they weren’t and forgetting the atrocities they inflicted upon the very people they were elected to represent.

We recall Caesar as the great conqueror and politician, while forgetting that he created an imperial dynasty that saw the end of the Roman Republic — not to mention the countless Romans he slaughtered on his path to sole rulership of his nation.

As Castro himself put it:

“Within the revolution ... everything goes ...”

Australia has been fond of championing the underdog and Fidel was, without doubt, an underdog when he faced that mad man of a U.S. president, John F Kennedy, in a nihilistic showdown that nearly brought about nuclear devastation. We didn’t back the underdog on that occasion, however. Australia was fully resolved to support the United States and to back the West in this new front of the Cold War.

However, Australia’s position in the international theatre was something more akin to Cuba than we may like to admit. Cuba was a small Communist country with a powerful capitalist nation looming above it. Australia was a relatively unimportant capitalist nation with all of Asia looming above it. At the time, it was widely believed that Communism could engulf much of South-East Asia and put Australia in a serious dilemma. Cuba wanted some severe firepower from its Soviet comrades in order to protect itself from the United States. In 1969, Australia was keen to host U.S. nuclear weapons to stave off the threat of Asian Communism.

It all fizzled out. But Fidel remained in power and led his people into a new age of revolution that revolved entirely around himself.

Fidel once said:

... the revolution defends freedom; that the revolution has brought a very large number of freedoms to the country."

Freedom did not include the right to oppose the regime, to publish materials that criticised the regime, to be politically adverse to the regime, or to ask for the freedom to elect a representative government. In short, Fidel’s regime was a dictatorship that denied freedom in the true sense of the word. He was a leader who ordered hundreds of his political opponents to be executed and a man who believed that concentration-style labour camps could cure people of homosexuality, religiosity or other perceived perversions.

When the Cold War effectively ended in 1991, Cuba lost the economic support of its Russian allies and began to fall into a fast economic depression. While the rest of the country suffered, Fidel apparently lived a life of luxury, if we are to believe the story from an ex-bodyguard who wrote a book about the lavish life of the dictator. Regardless of those claims, what is clear is that Fidel was no revolutionary who was ushering in a new era for his people. He was a dictator, who clung to power for more than 40 years before retiring and handing the reins over to his brother Raul in 2011. Raul Castro is 85.

Fidel’s last act as the leader of the Cuban people was to abandon them to a man nearly as old as himself. Fidel knew that his country was changing and that his revolution was redundant. Rather than accept this fact, he left his brother to be the man who would be the last leader of Communist Cuba and, therefore, be historically responsible for the country’s unravelling.

Fidel wanted his legacy to remain intact. He wanted to be remembered as the revolutionary who restored Cuba, who saved her from U.S. oppression and who guided the country towards its own destiny. He didn’t want to be remembered as the old man who wouldn’t let Cuba out of his withered fist.

Western leaders mourn the death of this tyrant in the full knowledge that the age of the iron-fisted strong person and revolution has begun once again. The United States is about to be controlled by a man who seemingly has no self-control; the French have all but accepted that their next president is likely to come from the extremes of the right wing; and England is in the grips of a nationalist movement that might see it isolate itself from the rest of Britain. Australia may ride out this tide, but only because we have a few years to squash the moronic calls to "drain the swamp".

If anything, we should mourn the death of the true revolutionary spirit of Fidel Castro, which died long ago when he began oppressing his people. If we are returning to an age of revolution, where politicians are fuelling the fires of dissent and feeding off the fears of the people, then we should remember that, once upon a time, Fidel Castro actually stood against repression and oppression of people and was opposed to the kinds of rightwing politics that are festering in many countries today. The death of those values will be worth mourning for.

In the meantime, Fidel’s legacy will live on, but probably only for as long as his heir lives on. What may arise from the ashes of the Castro dynasty may even shock the world. We might see a nation of people who, because they have been starved of democracy, actually appreciate it.

You can follow Ben Jackson on Twitter @rationlprogress.

Castro allegedly survived over 600 attempts on his life. (Source: rt.com)

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