Brian Monteith: Putting the record straight on Castro

People gather to witness the ashes of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro being transported past in a farewell procession. Picture; Getty

People gather to witness the ashes of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro being transported past in a farewell procession. Picture; Getty

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The Who single ‘Wont’ get fooled again’ might as well have been written with Cuba in mind. There are so many lines in its lyrics that apply to Fidel Castro and his failed revolution.

Yes, I say failed, because after nearly 60 years what initially offered hope to Cubans turned into tragedy.

Now the leader of that revolution, Fidel Castro, has died and we are typically seeing all the usual moral relativism pouring out from people happy to excuse the murdering of innocents to achieve a political cause.

Castro came to power to get rid of a corrupt, brutal dictator and the US mafia backers, only to end up himself becoming a corrupt brutal dictator where his regime became the new gangsters.

The Castro myth as a romantic revolutionary begins right at the beginning but the truth bears no relationship to the reality. Fulgencio Batista, the dictator whom Castro deposed was the half-Indian son of a poor sugar plantation worker where he had worked, too.

Coming to power through a military coup, he started out as a radical liberal but the corruption and graft got to him and eventually he relied upon the mafia, thugs and crooks to stay in power.

By comparison Castro was a middle class gun-totting professional student. No peasant, but born into a relatively wealthy Cuban family, his father was a prosperous fruit farmer with 10,000 acres and 500 workers.

Castro was first involved in various revolutionary skirmishes in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, for attempting to take power by force required no justification. Later he would send his troops into Africa on behalf of his Soviet paymasters.

William Wieland at the US State Department famously said Batista “is considered by many as a sonofabitch. . . . but at least he’s our sonofabitch,” leading to the myth that the US backed him and opposed Castro, but again the truth is different.

Realising just how bad Batista had become the US dumped him and in 1957 told their new ambassador, Earl Smith, “You are assigned to Cuba to preside over the downfall of Batista. The decision has been taken Batista has to go.”

When Smith later realised Castro was also a threat the State Department simply cut him out of the loop and worked with the CIA to help Castro.

Oh yes, that’s another myth. The CIA initially helped Castro. It was later when he came out against the US and sided with the Soviet Union that it started plotting crazy assassination attempts.

A US embargo was placed on all arms supplies to Batista while guns and ammunition were allowed to be sold to Castro. It was only a matter of time until the cowardly regime of Batista lost its nerve and capitulated on New Year’s Day of 1959.

Then, like so many revolutions before and since, Castro grabbed power from the provisional ruling group – taking control of the police and declaring himself Commander in Chief.

A decree was passed that all laws would be made by the unelected Cabinet; the new liberal President was excluded and popular elections were postponed indefinitely.

By the end of 1959 the dictator Batista had been replaced by the dictator Castro, only the latter would become totalitarian rather than authoritarian.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, as The Who would sing 12 years later.

I’ve been to Cuba twice and it has huge potential – I suspect it will be a better place for Cubans within a generation.