Last December, when the United States announced that it would be re-establishing diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba after more than fifty years of separation, the news was welcomed by many while leaving others in near despair.
Writing in the Washington Post, Yale historian Carlos Eire commented:
I am furious, in pain, and deeply offended by those who laud this betrayal of the Cuban people as a great moment in history. My family and native land were destroyed by the brutal Castro regime. In 1959, as an 8-year old, I listened to mobs shout ‘paredon!’ (to the firing squad!) I watched televised executions, and was terrified by the incessant pressure to agree with a bearded dictator’s ideals.
As the months passed, relatives, friends and neighbors began to disappear. Some of them emerged from prison with detailed accounts of the tortures they endured, but many never reappeared, their lives cut short by firing squads.
I also witnessed the government’s seizure of all private property—down to the ring on one’s finger—and the collapse of my country’s economy. I began to feel as if some monstrous force was trying to steal my mind and soul through incessant indoctrination.
Eire escaped the regime when he was eleven, one of the lucky 14,000 children able to get out through Operation Pedro Pan. Some were joined by their parents later, but many were not. “Although my mother did manage to escape three years later,” writes Eire, “my father remained stuck for the rest of his life. When he died, fourteen years after my departure, the Castro regime prevented me from attending his funeral.”
To those still celebrating the US-Cuban deal, Eire’s testimony is a stark, and, no doubt, inconvenient, reminder of the inhuman crimes Castro and his henchmen have committed since seizing power in 1959.
In this new era of good relations with Cuba, mentioning such stories is considered impolite. And yet, if we are ever to witness freedom, justice and true reconciliation in Cuba, Castro’s apologists, and those supporting this diplomatic agreement, need to acknowledge Castro’s horrific crimes.
The basic facts of Fidel Castro’s fifty year reign-of-terror, now passed on to his equally brutal brother, Raul, are these.
As soon as Fidel emerged from the Sierra Maestra Mountains with his band of revolutionaries, having overthrown the corrupt and widely detested General Fulgencio Batista, Castro was treated as a conquering hero. His romantic image as a liberator of the oppressed convinced many reporters, academics, celebrities and even religious to believe he was a genuine social reformer, when he was anything but that.
As Georgie Anne Geyer reveals in her biography, Guerilla Prince: The Untold Storey of Fidel Castro, Fidel has always been a deceiver, an egoist and a thug. From his earliest days as a radical university student, Castro had an attraction to violence and totalitarianism (modeling himself after Mussolini), and once his ambitions to take over Cuba came true, he put his beliefs into practice.
The first to fall victim to his violent impulses were his political opponents, who were executed en masse, after show trials, by Nazi-like firing squads. But Castro’s long-time allies also became targets. Huber Matos, Manuel Urrutia and Carlos Franqui—who all worked with Castro to overthrow Batista—were soon demonized, jailed or exiled because they opposed Communism and envisioned an independent Cuba. Castro, who had assured the world in 1959 that he was not a Communist, immediately proved he was exactly that, suddenly announcing he was a Marxist-Leninist and would be till his dying day.
The consequences for Cuba and the world have been profound. Once in power, Castro banned the democratic elections he once promised, expropriated private property, created a one-party Communist state, and ruthlessly suppressed all forms of dissent and opposition. He dismantled the once thriving Catholic Church, crushing its educational system, expelling hundreds of priests, and forcibly indoctrinating baptized believers with atheism and Marxism. It is this fractured and persecuted Church that Pope Francis is now trying to revive, against huge obstacles in a police state.
Having willfully turned the island into a Soviet satellite (and well before America’s ill-advised Bay of Pigs invasion), Castro welcomed the shipment of Soviet nuclear missiles there, provoking a crisis that nearly incinerated the world. He sent his troops to fight—and needlessly to die—for tyrannies abroad, and supported anti-American terrorist and revolutionary movements across the globe. He allowed desperate Cubans to drown at sea, rather than allow them to properly emigrate. And all the while, he lived a life of luxury, even as he bragged about being a champion of Cuba’s poor.
The number of deaths attributable to Castro’s regime is thought to be in the tens of thousands, though some say that is a conservative estimate.
The attempt to erase these memories is a crime, and no one who cares about the Cuban people, past or present, should allow a diplomatic accord to succeed in doing so.
William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine, among many other publications, and writes often about religion, history and politics. He contributed an extensive bibliography of works on Pius XII to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII. His previous articles can be found here.