New Internationalist

Goodbye Castro: who are the good guys?

06-12-590-fidel3.JPG [Related Image]
Fidel Castro addresses the crowd after the 10 million tons sugar harvest began in Cuba in 1970. © REUTERS/Prensa Latina

The world holds very polarized opinions about the former Cuban dictator, and Mari Marcel Thekaekara tries to put some order. 

So Fidel Castro has gone too.

‘Presume you’ll be writing your blog about him,’ my husband Stan remarked. ‘I’m not sure’, I replied. ‘Although I always believe Marxism was written for the poor, but like Christianity, few people, especially those who pontificate prolifically, seriously ever practise it.’

I grew up in Calcutta, where an elected Marxist government ruled. We had the world’s longest elected leader, a veteran Marxist Chief Minister, venerated by voters filled with hope, and eager to see change. Yet forty years down the line Calcutta, now Kolkata, remains one of India’s most impoverished cities.

I cannot ignore the fact that journalists can’t ask probing questions about human rights abuses in most Marxist havens. And so I said ‘What’s to write about?’ He replied, ‘Who are the Cubans celebrating his death and who are the Cubans weeping profusely for him? That’s the question the mainstream media never asks.’

A man stands next to a mural depicting the late former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (L) at the 23 Enero neighbourhood in Caracas, Venezuela. REUTERS/Marco Bello

‘Hmmm, if you put it that way…’

I am further encouraged by a Guardian article about Fidelistas, pro-Castro Cubans, lifelong supporters of the socialist dictator. How Cubans react to Castro’s death depends hugely on the social strata from which they emerged when the revolution happened. The rage and resentment came from the elites and middle classes. An 86-year-old grandmother who celebrated Castro’s triumph recalls the brutality of the Batista regime. After Castro, there was relief. Hard times undoubtedly, but for the first time she and her family enjoyed free education and decent healthcare, only after Castro. Her children and grandchildren are educated. They still live a really frugal existence. But she recalls that black people were treated like dirt before Castro’s regime came to power. Under the Batista regime they could never have escaped doing the lowest paid jobs, condemned to drudgery all their lives. She is happy with her decent brick house which has running water and electricity. It has brought dignity to her existence. Her granddaughter is a paediatrician, although earning a pittance. Another grandchild is a lawyer. For her, and three generations of her family, life changed radically for the better because of Castro. Cuba is one of those rare, underdeveloped countries which offer world class healthcare and education for even the poorest citizen.

Che Guevara’s daughter confesses she abhors violence, but the nature of a revolution means you have to defeat the enemy by force.

Mao’s murderous, mindless annihilation of the middle classes, the Chinese famine under his regime which killed millions leave us horrified. So did Stalin’s purges. Personally, I feel revulsion when I read the accounts of brutality committed in the name of the revolutions. I’m always curious about the fact, that the only revolution that was romanticised and feted was the French Revolution. The removal of the nobility was dismissed with its ‘excesses’. Liberté, égalité, fraternité won the day.

Or perhaps, in those days before television, the propaganda machines were not so efficient.

The excesses of the Castro regime are systematically, regularly, denounced by many politicians and propaganda spinners. Billions of dollars have been spent on this campaign since the Bay of Pigs catastrophe. We buy the message that Iraq can be pulverized by Shock and Awe. That’s just Collateral Damage. Millions of Iraqis have lost their lives though their country had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. Afghanistan has been punished too. Yet Pakistan has been rewarded by a string of US administrations, both Democratic and Republican, despite Pakistan sheltered Osama Bin Laden.

RELATED: The new Cuba, New Internationalist magazine, October 2014, Issue 476

In the end, the injustice and unfairness of it all is just overwhelming. I have no idea what the history books will tell us a hundred years from now. Will we be judged as decent civilised people? Or will we pat ourselves on our backs and continue to proclaim that we are the good guys. With God on our side. It’s a question beyond you and I. Presumably, history will have to decide.

Never miss another story! Get our FREE fortnightly eNews

Comments on Goodbye Castro: who are the good guys?

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 Maggie 06 Dec 16

    I think you would find if you read the correspondence of those around in the 50 years after the French Revolution that their horror at liberte fraternite egalite rang on every page. The word 'democrat' was, for decades, equated with a call for the tocsin to sound, and some scion of government to be beheaded. No total overturn of an existing order can be smooth, unpainful, even 'fair'. Something to think of in these difficult days of ours.

  2. #2 Josette 07 Dec 16

    I think you are right, Mari, Castro and his regime will have been a blessing for some and a curse for others. More prononounced than in other places maybe because it was a dictatorial regime, oppressing the dissidents. But are not all regimes finally 'good' for some part of the country and 'bad' for another? They remain more ’decent’ and acceptable because they are not brutal nor cruel (apparently?).
    It is difficult to please everyone. A democratic regime can maybe have more ’balance’. I was only thinking aloud....!
    Love. Josette

  3. #3 ST 07 Dec 16

    With the collapse of the Soviet Union, western capitalism triumphantly hoisted its victory flag and declared with certainty - Communism is dead. To the lay person this was clearly a victory in a war of ideologies. And today we have an entire generation, breast fed in the lap of capitalism for whom communism is a dirty word. And a thing of the past. I wonder if they will pause to ask who is Fidel Castro and what's the noise all about? I doubt it. They perhaps are not aware that here was a man who for decades ensured that his people's basic needs were met. A man who stood up to inhuman bullying by successive US presidents - a man perhaps hated by the rich in his own country but beloved of the poor, the ostracised, the oppressed.

    I wonder if this will ring any bells for them - another man, who we were told, did similar things a little over two millenia ago. A man they must surely know about.

  4. #4 Stan 07 Dec 16

    I wonder what Pope Francis had to say about the passing of Castro. After all the Pope called Capitalism the dung of the Devil, and Castro was a man who fought this devil his entire life.

    Canonisation for Castro, Francis?

  5. #5 ludwig pesch 09 Dec 16

    So many perspectives and rare to hear a personalised one as this from India - refreshing reading, thanks for that!
    With childhood memories of cold war in Germany, and Hitler's so-called ’1000 Year Reich’ still confronting me with traumatised people (some 15 years after its collapse), walking to kindergarten and primary school amidst ruined lives and towns (just about to be rebuilt only then, the people partially so), my perspectives are tinged by quite different ’tones’.
    Though I never have been to Cuba myself (nor being drawn to it), I am weary of any ’strong men’ and by extension, their female peers like countless others of my generation. This by default, no matter which ideology they adhere to, and however sincerely: past, present and future, it all makes little difference when reading about, or listening to, aspiring ’leaders’ promising to be strong and immune to criticism of any kind, thereby challenging the very notion of Democracy. As the Castro clan did during Fidel's life and presumably still does.

  6. #6 Rob Currie Nicaragua 15 Dec 16

    Thanks for your--always insightful--reflections on Fidel, Mari.. Fidel showed us that it`s possible to resist, even against the worst odds . . . he was always open to others´ ideas . . . he made it possible that the Cuban people have a DEEP SENSE OF BEING CUBAN (if they are going to change, they themselves will make the changes; they won´t allow others to impose them . . . and no one can honestly speak of solidarity in today´s world without referring to Fidel and the Cuban people . . . he widened the parameters of what an organized and highly motivated community/people/nation can do in the face of imperial power. He´ll always be a beacon of hope for us in Arenal . . .

  7. #7 Rishi 15 Jan 17

    Cuban rulers supported Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka who has murdered thousands of Tamil civilians, killed Tamil and Sinhala journalists, and robbed millions of tax payers' money. This happened not long ago but only in last year. Castro was not with the oppressed people but with oppressive rulers.Whoever supports him should know this fact.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Popular tags

All tags

New Internationalist Blogs

New Internationalist hosts several different blogs, from the Editor's Blog to the Majority World Blog, the Gaza Blog to the Books Blog

New Internationalist Blogs