The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.
World leaders react to Castro’s death
Fidel Castro is still dead. The nonagenarian communist who tyrannized Cuba beginning in 1959 “almost outlasted 11 US presidents . . . and passing in the waning days of Obama’s last term,” Greg Gandin, a New York University historian, eulogizes in the Nation:
Perhaps he just couldn’t bear the thought of President Donald Trump. Having been sanctimoniously lectured by all 11 US presidents on what constitutes proper democratic procedure, he might have thought Trump, about to take office with a minority of the [aggregate popular] vote and with significant voter suppression, a vindication.
He couldn’t bear the thought of vindication? OK, whatever. But you have to love the way the left delights in Castro’s having “outlasted” so many presidents. That’s what dictators do, at least those who are determined and able to hold onto power. Generalissimo Francisco Franco came to power in Spain in 1936; by the time he died in 1975, he had outlasted six American presidents. Did the Nation celebrate that?
Most of the public reactions to Castro’s death were true to form: Those on the right rightly mourned his life, not his death; while those on the left offered praise or at best neutrality, in either case playing down the horrors he inflicted on Cuba over more than half a century.
The most notable exception: Nancy Pelosi, beleaguered leader of the House Democrats. “After decades under Fidel’s doctrine of oppression and antagonism, there is hope that a new path for Cuba is opening,” she said in a statement Saturday. How much hope is an open question: Cuba is still a one-party communist state ruled by the Castro family; Fidel’s younger brother, Raul, has held the title of president since 2008.
After praising President Obama’s opening to Cuba, Pelosi concluded:
Still, we meet this day with clear eyes. Generations of Cuban political prisoners, democracy activists and families suffered under Fidel Castro’s rule. In their name, we will continue to press the Cuban regime to embrace the political, social, and economic dreams of the Cuban people.
Contrast that with Obama’s anodyne response, which makes no mention of Castro’s totalitarian rule and begins as follows:
At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.
In other contexts Obama likes to lecture Americans on who or what is on the right or wrong “side of history,” so it’s noteworthy that here he begs the question. Which raises the question: Why?
An answer comes from Dan Restrepo of the Center for American Progress (John Podesta’s shop), who tells NPR:
It has served the Castro regime for 50-plus years to have the enemy of the north . . . to blame [for] all its problems. They have a failed economic system not because of U.S. policy but because of their own economic policies. And they have used the U.S., quite successfully, as the bogeyman. . . . Obama has worked hard . . . not to fall into that trap.
So Obama won’t say an unkind word about a brutal dictator for fear of setting off a backlash, but when it comes to Donald Trump—wait, come to think of it, maybe Restrepo has a point that the president is better off when he keeps his views to himself.
President-elect Trump responded to the news with a pithy Saturday-morning tweet: “Fidel Castro is dead!” That was followed a few hours later by a strong statement:
Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.
While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.
Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.
In a tweet this morning, Obama’s successor announced his intention to change U.S. policy toward Havana: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”
“Donald Trump Seems Likely to Throw Cold Water on the Thaw in U.S.-Cuba Relations,” laments a headline at Reason.com. The author of the post, Anthony Fisher, must not spend much time in the kitchen. If he did, he would know that immersion in refrigerated water under vacuum is a quick and sanitary method of thawing frozen food.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement echoed the president’s:
We extend our condolences to the Cuban people today as they mourn the passing of Fidel Castro. Over more than half a century, he played an outsized role in their lives, and he influenced the direction of regional, even global affairs.
As our two countries continue to move forward on the process of normalization—restoring the economic, diplomatic and cultural ties severed by a troubled past—we do so in a spirit of friendship and with an earnest desire not to ignore history but to write a new and better future for our two peoples.
The United States reaffirms its support for deepening our engagement with the Cuban people now and in coming years.
Others on the left offered praise for the tyrant. Jesse Jackson, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, tweeted: “In many ways, after 1959, the oppressed the world over joined Castro’s cause of fighting for freedom & liberation-he changed the world. RIP.”
Jill Stein, the 2012 and 2016 presidential nominee of the Green Party, tweeted: “Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!” (As the website of the leftist School of the Americas Watch notes, the cry of “¡Presente!,” which means “here” or “present” in Spanish, is used ritually “to remember the martyrs.”) …
In a 2014 City Journal piece, Michael Totten described the reality:
As for the free health care, patients have to bring their own medicine, their own bedsheets, and even their own iodine to the hospital. Most of these items are available only on the illegal black market, moreover, and must be paid for in hard currency—and sometimes they’re not available at all. Cuba has sent so many doctors abroad—especially to Venezuela, in exchange for oil—that the island is now facing a personnel shortage. “I don’t want to say there are no doctors left,” says an American man who married a Cuban woman and has been back dozens of times, “but the island is now almost empty. I saw a banner once, hanging from somebody’s balcony, that said, DO I NEED TO GO TO VENEZUELA FOR MY HEADACHE?”
Housing is free, too, but so what? Americans can get houses in abandoned parts of Detroit for only $500—which makes them practically free—but no one wants to live in a crumbling house in a gone-to-the-weeds neighborhood. I saw adequate housing in the Cuban countryside, but almost everyone in Havana lives in a Detroit-style wreck, with caved-in roofs, peeling paint, and doors hanging on their hinges at odd angles.
Education is free, and the country is effectively 100 percent literate, thanks to Castro’s campaign to teach rural people to read shortly after he took power. But the regime has yet to make a persuasive argument that a totalitarian police state was required to get the literacy rate from 80 percent to 100 percent. After all, almost every other country in the Western Hemisphere managed the same feat at the same time, without the brutal repression.
Perhaps the most embarrassing reaction came from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose late father, Pierre, also served as prime minister (1968-79 and 1980-84):
It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.
Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante.”
I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.
On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.
The Canadian newsmagazine Maclean’s opines that the Castro eulogy marks Trudeau fils’s “turn from cool to laughing stock.” The National Post notes that the hashtag #TrudeauEulogies soon began trending on Twitter. Examples:
Andrew Coyne: “While a controversial figure, even detractors recognize Pol Pot encouraged renewed contact between city and countryside.”
Curtis (@FowlCanuck): “Today we mourn painter and animal rights activist, Adolf Hitler. His death also highlights the need for suicide awareness”
Peggy Noonan: “Booth was a fiery, forceful actor; he once left members of a Washington audience literally standing and screaming.”
Florida’s newly re-elected Cuban-American senator, Marco Rubio, took a more serious tack: “Is this a real statement or a parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful & embarrassing.” Rubio issued a forceful statement of his own:
The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not. And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro; it will remember him as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people.
The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.
In an article for National Review, another Cuban-American senator, Texas’ Ted Cruz, likewise faults the Obama administration’s approach:
Raul is not a “different” Castro. He is his brother’s chosen successor who has spent the last eight years implementing his dynastic plan. Unlike Cuba, however, the United States has an actual democracy, and our recent elections suggest there is significant resistance among the American people to the Obama administration’s policy of appeasement towards hostile dictators. We can—and should—send clear signals that that policy is at an end. . . .
A dictator is dead. But his dark, repressive legacy will not automatically follow him to the grave. Change can come to Cuba, but only if America learns from history and prevents Fidel’s successor from playing the same old tricks.
Rubio and Cruz, of course, were bitter rivals of Trump during this year’s nomination contest, but on this matter all three men are on the same page.
For brevity and wit, though, it’s hard to top the statement from Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Here it is, in its entirety: “Fidel Castro created hell on earth for the Cuban people. He will now become intimately familiar with what he wrought.”
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