This letter to the Guardian, below, is in response to a piece by Zoe Williams, Forget Fidel Castro’s policies. What matters is that he was a dictator.
Zoe Williams’ usually excellent judgment has let her down when she says of Fidel Castro that “What matters is that he was a dictator”, because she forgets the context of a Latin America in the 1950s dominated by rightwing despots, with every effort to replace them with progressive governments being ended by military force. This would continue well into the 1980s, and even in the last decade we have seen two elected, progressive leaders fall to rightwing coups.
How does she think a peaceful transformation from revolution to democracy should be secured? Here in Nicaragua, the 1979 revolution was followed by an election in 1984 which was not recognised by the US because it gave the “wrong” result. It was not until 1990, when the electorate correctly chose capitalism, that the US accepted the ballot as valid. It then took 16 years to restore a left-of-centre government, which is now again under threat of US sanctions.
Nowhere in Latin America has suffered the baleful influence of US intervention more than Cuba, for reasons of history and geography. The Batista regime was one of the most barbarous in the continent, with its corruption accentuated by the mafia’s control of Havana’s main businesses, yet it was unflinchingly supported by successive US governments. Castro had to defend the revolution’s achievements against the threats both of the US government itself and of the Miami-based terrorist groups who bombed Cuban planes and hotels with impunity, well into the 1990s. Nor has any other country so dependent on US commerce seen its economy strangled by a 50-year embargo, which applies not to just to US firms but to any firm that trades with the US.
What was Castro supposed to do, meekly hold elections on terms acceptable to the US, in which millions of dollars would have poured into the country to ensure the “right” result? And then see Cuba return to the oligarchs who still control countries like Honduras and Guatemala? He was well aware that even the mildest leftwing government wouldn’t have been acceptable to the US in a country only 100 miles from its borders. By not acknowledging that, Zoe, you ignore 60 years of US intervention in Central America and the Caribbean.