The stark contrast between certain political leaders in their respective reactions to the death of Fidel Castro recently came to represent the surprisingly contentious debate surrounding the legacy of the Cuban despot in Western societies. Justin Trudeau and his like on both sides of the Atlantic were curiously reluctant to in any way condemn Castro for the definitive policies of his rule, whilst the likes of Donald Trump were unrestrained in their condemnation of the dictator; or ‘revolutionary’, as the BBC insisted upon referring to him as in its coverage.
In the United Kingdom, the debate among the political class has been somewhat tilted one way. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has yet to comment on Castro’s passing, although it has been confirmed neither her nor any senior government official will be attending his funeral. Even the colourful character that is Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had only subdued condolences to offer Cuba and its people on behalf of the British government; remarkably low-key for a man who only this year heroically penned a poem suggesting President Erdogan of Turkey to have sexual inclinations towards goats.
However, perhaps the most remarkable, and even more so deplorable, reaction in the British arena of politics has been that of the left wing. Labour Party leader and staunch socialist Jeremy Corbyn had this to say of Fidel Castro in reaction to his death on Saturday: “From building a world-class health and education system, to Cuba’s record of international solidarity abroad, Castro’s achievements were many”. When questioned on the totalitarian elements of Castro’s regime, of which there were many, Corbyn said “there were problems and there are problems of excesses by all regimes” but that it was important to “look at the thing in its totality”. Listening to Corbyn, one would think he was under the impression that good education and health systems go hand-in-hand with heavy censorship of the internet and the keeping of political prisoners in the hundreds; a notion quite absurd for a politician of the UK to make, considering the country’s 71 year maintenance of single-payer healthcare and state education systems.
Currently-suspended Labour Party member and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, ‘Red Ken’, also came out swinging in defence of Castro on Saturday, as he insisted that “something like a traditional West European democracy” could have formed “a lot earlier” if it wasn’t for American hostility and blockades. Many, including myself, are inclined to believe that the diplomatic freeze exacerbated issues in Cuba, and that the reopening of diplomatic relations with the country will go down as one of the better aspects of Obama’s legacy, but considering the frostiness with which he treated Barack Obama’s rapprochement to Cuba in spring 2015, the idea that Cuba would have undergone some sort of miraculous democratic makeover is a dubious one, to say the least. The fact that, upon seizing power in Havana, Castro rounded up 500 officials of the undoubtedly dreadful Batista regime, had them tried and subsequently taken outside to be executed is testament to the contempt in which he held democracy and its processes.
As a friend put it to me, Fidel Castro may well have taught the Cuban people to read, but he did so only to tell them what it was they could read. The British Left’s swoon over his reforms in this respect and their ability to square that with the persecution, murder and imprisonment of countless Cubans gives a troubling glimpse into what their ideology is prepared to forgive. As it is said, even a broken clock is right twice a day and the broken clock in this instance is Jeremy Corbyn: “Fidel Castro’s death marks the passing of a huge figure of modern history, national independence and 20th century socialism”. Indeed, Castro typified what we came to expect from 20th century socialist tyrants: Murder, censorship and hunger. In his more guarded remarks, Boris Johnson said Fidel Castro’s death “marks the end of an era for Cuba and the start of a new one”. I, and those with an appreciation for liberty, will hope so.
* Nathan Kett is currently an undergraduate in the UK, studying politics; specifically British Government, and soon Parliament itself. He was introduced to libertarianism when Nigel Farage paid a visit to the US and met US Senator Rand Paul.