Dateline: 09 August 2006
By the time you read this, Fidel Castro may be dead. In fact at the time of writing he may be dead. With totalitarian dictators it is often difficult to tell. General Francisco Franco, Josip Broz Tito, and an endless succession of Soviet leaders all hung around with what were officially described as minor ailments while subordinates jockeyed for their positions.
We may not be able to establish easily or reliably whether Castro is dead or alive, but we can be pretty firm on one thing: he is or was a monstrously evil man.
Not that you would get that impression from some parts of the mainstream media. Taking Friday’s NYTimes.com as an example, the only news story about Cuba is a heart-warming tale of how the economy is picking up on the basis of trade with Venezuela. The only hint of any human rights violations on the island is a note saying that the New York Times correspondent who contributed to the piece could not be named for security reasons. A feature story compares the personalities of Fidel and Raul Castro, but does not mention the vicious oppression of human rights that they have inflicted on their country.
The Washington Post, by contrast, has a report about how dissidents nervously await news of Castro’s health, still fearing imprisonment for their views.
CNN is full of speculation about Castro’s health and the relationship between the brothers. It also reports that their sister Juanita, now resident in the US, is concerned about Fidel’s health, and mentions her 1968 condemnation of her brother’s ‘absolutist tyranny’.
Contrast this with the way the media reports Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, or the former apartheid regime of South Africa. The barest mention of such regimes requires a heavy focus on their undoubted human rights violations. For example, a search on nytimes.com reveals that Pinochet’s name is associated with the word ‘torture’ 384 times in the years since 1981, though he has been out of power for the past 16 years. Castro’s name is linked with ‘torture’ just 152 times in the same period, though he has been continuing to torture people during every one of those years.
Even current news sources, like Google News, link ‘torture’ with ‘Pinochet’ as often as with ‘Castro’, despite the fact that Castro’s regime is currently in the news whereas Pinochet’s has been out of power for a decade and a half.
And yet a comparison of the human rights records of these regimes is favorable to Pinochet. Checking my three editions of the World Human Rights Guide (1983, 1987, and 1992, an update is long overdue) I learn that Cuba consistently warrants abysmal scores: 30%, 26% and 30%. In each case Cuba was around the level of Saudi Arabia, but ahead of China. Chile was very bad too, though not as bad as Cuba: 37% and 35% in the ‘80s, and rising to a respectable 80% after Pinochet’s resignation. South Africa under apartheid scored 30% and 22%, rising to 50% in 1992, as apartheid was being dismantled.
So let us not mourn for Castro. Let us mourn instead for his countless victims. And let us hope that Raul will prove as capable a successor as Richard Cromwell, heir of British dictator Oliver Cromwell, whose regime collapsed in just eight months.
Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.