The death of Fidel Castro has sparked a predictably politicized range of reactions, both within the large United States Cuban-exile community, as well as abroad. Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued a laudatory statement, earning scorn from American politicians, especially those of Cuban descent. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), three American politicians who have attempted to position themselves as the voice of all Cuban-Americans, have all issued statements lambasting the deceased elder Castro, with Cruz and Rubio taking time to criticize President Obama’s statement for a seemingly ambivalent take on the death of a dictator.
As the son of a Cuban immigrant with a family personally victimized by the Castro regime, the news of Castro’s death brought an ear-to-ear grin, but nothing more. Though we might relish in the death of a violent megalomaniac who split apart families with the kind of exacting evil only executed by the most depraved madmen, the Cuban people will continue suffer through the vast machinery he brought to operation during his half-century in power.
Though Castro was a cruel man, it would be ahistorical to place him in some special pantheon of evil doers. Sen. Ted Cruz, in response to Canadian PM Trudeau’s statement, tweeted: “Disgraceful. Why do young socialists idolize totalitarian tyrants? Castro, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot -- all evil, torturing murderers. #truth.”
To place the violence of Fidel Castro in a political realm, in which socialism is the root of all evil, absolves leaders of equal violence who are unassociated with socialist or communist ideology. Why separate depraved socialist-leaders from their counterparts on the political spectrum? The political and international expedience of this semantic, fantasy separation serves to create an image in American minds, hands cleansed of our own sins, with the convenient illusion that socialism is inherently evil, not the depraved, charismatic men who use their authority nefariously—and would, regardless of the political system. While Castro’s crimes far outweigh his achievements for the Cuban people, when we line the streets to cheer the death of a tyrant without reflecting on our own malevolence, sincerity is lost.
Moving forward, the freedom of the Cuban people must come largely from within. Democracy must be an organic occurrence. Thawing relations with the United States will encourage democratization; however, democratization cannot be confused with a direct injection of neo-colonialism, fattening international coffers while robbing the Cuban people blind.
Demonizing an entire system of economics and government has created a system of word association in the American political mind, in which anything objectively beneficial brought by socialism is deemed unconscionable. Improvements from the Castro regime, such as Cuba’s remarkable literacy rate and world-class medical system should not be lost on commentators as we reflect on the overwhelming terror of the Castro brothers.
Sen. Ted Cruz took time to criticize a tweet directed at his account which showed the senator’s praise of torture in Gitmo, seeming to show support for torture as incompatible with his criticisms of the Castro regime for torturing innocents and detractors. Cruz argued, correctly, that Castro tortured innocents. However, he implied that all in Gitmo were “vicious terrorists” and therefore torturing these individuals is morally and ethically defensible.
Here, Cruz epitomizes one of the fatal flaws of American exceptionalism: though our democracy is built on an assumption of innocence, with guilt only coming after having been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, Cruz suspends this belief for Gitmo detainees, as they have not been tried or proven guilty.
Believing innocence is flexible marks the beginning of the end of a fair democracy. Senators Cruz, Rubio and Menendez, as well as the international community are right in showing Castro for the evil man he was. However, in rejoicing at his death, we cannot lose sight of our own wayward sense of right and wrong.
Fidel Castro famously adopted “History will absolve me” as his personal credo during the Revolution of 1959 and afterward. It is clear, no matter the benefits provided by his regime, the dictatorial means used eliminate all hope of absolution. If we allow American exceptionalism to green-light the sort of doublethink spewed by Sen. Cruz, it is not clear history will absolve us either.