The death of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro has caused a kind of hysteria which is reminiscent of the Cold War. 10 years after stepping down from power, Castro is still described by most of the rich countries’ politicians and media as a bloody, “communist” dictator, who “threatened the world with a nuclear war” (as if the “Russian nuclear missile crisis” had been caused by Cuba instead of being an episode in the Cold War!) - in short, as the devil incarnate!
So much so that, contrary to all international customs and practices, the leaders of the world’s main powers are making a point of boycotting Castro’s funeral, next Sunday.
So Obama won’t be attending, despite having been the first US president to visit Cuba in over half-a-century when he went there earlier this year. French president Hollande won’t be there either, despite leading a party which calls itself “socialist”. Even Russian president Putin, whose regime is supposedly a close ally of Cuba, has chosen to absent himself.
As to Theresa May, she’s sending a junior minister, allegedly to distance herself from Castro’s human rights abuses - which is nothing short of hypocritical, when her government has just decided that the Saudi dictatorship was committing no human rights abuses by bombing the population of Yemen and that, therefore, it was fine for Britain to supply the Saudi air force with cluster bombs!
CASTRO’S “CRIMES” AGAINST CAPITAL
Of course, it’s not the issue of human rights which is motivating the rich countries’ leaders’ naked hostility towards Castro and the Cuban regime. After all, don’t the same leaders happily befriend countless dictators across the poor countries - when they don’t actually put them in power, in order to serve the interests of western multinationals!
Castro’s first sin from the point of view of the rich powers was to have taken the lead of a peasant guerilla movement, back in 1959, and to have overthrown a corrupt dictator, general Batista, who had turned the island into a gigantic brothel come casino, for rich Americans, while starving its poor population.
His second sin was to have retaliated against the US, after it suspended its vital oil supplies to the island, by turning to the Soviet Union for help. He then nationalised Cuba’s US-owned refineries when their owners refused to refine the Soviet oil.
His third sin was to have responded to the wholesale suspension of US exports to Cuba by the wholesale nationalisation of the industries owned by foreigners and by the Cuban capitalists who had fled the country - and what’s more, without compensation.
In short, Castro’s “crime” was to have infringed on the private property of the capitalists who had been plundering the island for so long and to have dared to stand up to its mighty US neighbour - to the extent of making the CIA look ridiculous when it tried to stage an invasion of Cuba, in 1960.
A RADICAL NATIONALIST, NOT A COMMUNIST
Ironically, however, if Castro eventually adopted the “communist” label for his regime, it was not due to choice, but due to necessity. He was a nationalist who wanted Cuba to build up its economy and democratic institutions and, to this end, it had to be freed from the parasitism of the US-backed mafia who were ruling it under Batista. But Castro did not want to break Cuba’s relationships with the US. He only wanted the US leaders and companies to respect Cuba’s national interests.
However, this possibility turned out to be illusionary. The US leaders’ reprisals forced Castro to turn to the Soviet Union and then to nationalise most of Cuba's industry in order to guarantee the island’s survival.
It was at this point, and at this point only, that Castro adopted the “communist” label, both in order to placate the Soviet government and to generate enough enthusiasm among the Cuban population to mobilise it, in order to develop the economy, in the worst possible conditions.
But in practice, Castro’s “communism” was just his old nationalism repainted with the rhetoric and methods of Stalinism. Communism aims at pooling together all the planet’s material and human resources, across today’s national borders, in order to cater for the needs of the whole of mankind.
However this was not Castro’s aim. His agenda never really went beyond the confines of Cuba and this was his - and the Cuban population’s - undoing. Cuba remained isolated and its population poor. This, in turn, generated the need to borrow Stalin’s dictatorial methods to contain the discontented.
Of course, the nationalisations carried out by Castro allowed the regime to develop infrastructure - in healthcare and education, in particular - which are unequalled in other poor countries. This was the prize for standing up to the rich powers and it was to Castro’s credit.