Why are left-wing dictators always treated with more reverential respect when they die than right-wing ones, even on the Right? The deaths of dictators like Franco, Pinochet, Somoza are rightly noted with their history of human rights abuses front and centre, but the same treatment is not meted out to left-wing dictators who were just as monstrously cruel to people who opposed their regimes.
The death of Fidel Castro is a perfect case in point. BBC News described him as ‘one of the world’s longest-serving and most iconic leaders’ only mentioning in the fourth paragraph that ‘Critics saw him as a dictator’. Critics?! What other objective noun is there for a man who held no free nor fair elections for half a century, imprisoned his political opponents after trials presided over by crony judges, completely controlled all the national media and installed his brother as his successor?
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented more than 8,600 politically motivated detentions of government opponents and activists during the year. Despite that, the Guardian announced that ‘The revolutionary icon, one of the world’s best-known and most controversial leaders, survived countless US assassination attempts and premature obituaries, but in the end proved mortal.’ In its 11th paragraph it mentioned ‘concerns over human rights under the Castro regime,’ but only insofar as they were mentioned by Francois Hollande rather than the paper itself. Any reader would have been forgiven for thinking that Castro was ‘controversial’ not for his vicious dictatorship and use of torture but simply because the CIA didn’t like his Marxism-Leninism.
The Telegraph, disgracefully for a conservative newspaper, also headlined their obituary ‘Revolutionary hero’ and stated ‘At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. But he also created legions of enemies and critics, concentrated among Cuban exiles in Miami who fled his rule and saw him as a ruthless tyrant.’ That implies that the Cubans living in Cuba itself loved him for his healthcare and educational reforms rather than secretly hating him for keeping their island living in the 1960s.
When I visited Cuba last year, I saw how everywhere outside Havana was stuck in an earlier technological generation, with donkeys and carts carrying people to work rather than buses, and oxen being used agriculturally instead of tractors. Doctors earned more moonlighting as tourist guides in their much-vaunted health system.
Amnesty International – which the Guardian would take note of when describing a fascist dictatorship – stated in its 2015/16 Report on Cuba that despite all the efforts by President Obama to normalise relations with the Castro regimes, ‘Government critics continued to experience harassment, “acts of repudiation” (demonstrations led by government supporters with participation of state security officials), and politically motivated criminal prosecutions. Reports continued of government critics, including journalists and human rights activists, being routinely subjected to arbitrary arrests and short-term detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement.’
Fidel Castro was a foul tyrant and his brother Raul is no better. Free Western media outlets ought to have said so right at the top of their news reports, instead of admitting it towards the end like some uncomfortable detail.
Andrew Roberts is a visiting professor of the war studies department of King’s College, London