Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who died at the age of 90 on Saturday 26 November 2016, attracted divided views about him throughout his almost six decades in power in one form or another. Most saw him as a ruthless and murderous despot while others hailed him as a revolutionary hero. Of course the communists and former communists or their sympathisers or the left political sphere would hail Castro as a revolutionary hero, e.g. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, France’s Francois Hollande, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro etc. Today, though, we must see and acknowledge that no revolution that takes or took innocent lives or forced political compliance in people through threat of persecution and death can ever produce true heroes.
So far, the reaction from Croatia’s leadership – President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has utterly disappointed. All the Croatian public has been told so far is that the President will be sending a telegram of condolences to Fidel Castro’s brother Raul and there has not been even a peep from PM Andrej Plenkovic as far as I could ascertain. To me such silence or staying away from public statements can only mean that both the President and the Prime Minister of Croatia are protecting the legacy of communism as opposed condemning it at this very moment when the whole world watches out for reactions to Castro’s death. Watching Davis Cup tennis finals in Zagreb, Croatia’s foreign minister Davor Ivo Stier commented that Castro was the trademark of communism in Latin America and that now, it’s expected that the transition toward freedom, toward religious freedom and democracy will be accelerated.
Fidel Castro was indeed one of important personalities of the 20th Century but there is no avoiding it: he was a tyrant, he was a dictator, he was a criminal, and he was a thug – nothing more and nothing less. Just count the number of his own people murdered at his or his regime’s behest. Just count the number of people that fled Cuba in fear for their bare lives. Just count the number of Cuban’s who did not succeed in fleeing but ended up rotting away in Castro’s political prisons. And, just take a look at the abject poverty in Cuba that spread like wildfire during Fidel Castro’s regime decades. In all this and more – how can anyone praise that man as hero!
When Fidel died on Saturday life stopped on Cuba – mourning everywhere, shock on people’s faces, disbelief and confusion keeping their bewildered eyes wide open…masses shuffling along the streets like lost sheep … 9 days of national morning has been announced for Cuba…Across the waters in the US Fidel Castro’s death prompted joyous celebrations in the streets by Cuban exiles. All this reminded me of early May 1980 when communist Yugoslavia’s dictator and criminal leader Josip Broz Tito died – I was there in Zagreb, Croatia – exactly the same: everything stopped, life stopped, TV screens and movie screens went black, shops closed… At the time of the announcement of Tito’s death I happened to have been in a movie theater, watching a movie with friends – the movie stopped, screen was black, the announcement of death came, the movie-goers filed out of the theater, head down mostly, quietly and joined the shocked, lost hordes along the city streets and squares in disbelief. I was not one of those and noticed a few around me also wincing, not believing in what they were seeing. While communist Yugoslavia wept for Tito, the diaspora was overjoyed at his death. The diaspora knew what equality truly meant for it was living it in democracies across the world and knew that Tito had spoken of equality, brotherhood and unity, but really the only equality, brotherhood and unity was enjoyed by Tito and political operative – the communists – they lived that using other people’s money and other nations’ loans.
Josip Broz Tito and Fidel Castro had their similarities and seemingly some differences. The latter is especially evidenced in the confrontation between Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito and Cuba President Fidel Castro on the direction and leadership of the Third World on the Sixth Conference of Nonaligned Countries in September 1979 in Cuban capital, Havana. One finds that there was an identity crisis among the Third World countries as to whether to maintain their neutrality with the U.S. and the Soviet powers or to side with either superpower particularly with the Soviet camp. At the conference in Havana Tito indirectly accused Castro of moving the Movement closer to the Soviet Union but one can well conclude that such an accusation against Castro was Tito’s lip service in order to appear as not leaning toward communist Moscow, which stance helped him rake in quite a sum of foreign loans and monetary support from the West for some years during the cold war decades. Whether Nonaligned or not, whether publicly or not, both Castro and Tito remained true to the communist block and both were criminals and dictators eliminating hundreds of thousands of their own people just like Stalin and communist Moscow did.
Saturday, 26 November 2016, US President Barack Obama and US President-elect Donald Trump released very different statements on the death of 90-year-old Castro, both of which came under fire on social media. Reactions to these statements have been varied from being labelled as too soft (as in Obama’s statement) or too harsh (as in Trump’s statement).
This is what Barack Obama said from The White House Saturday 26 November 2016:
“Statement by the President on the Passing of Fidel Castro
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.
For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends – bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.
Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
President-Elect Donald J. Trump 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 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.”
At this time of US presidency transition one doesn’t expect the outgoing president Obama to make any big waves but he could have done better for victims of communism (of which there are multitudes living in the US) in his statement regarding Castro’s death. To my view Trump’s statement champions the plight of communist crimes victims. I am utterly disappointed with the lack so far of Croatia’s president’s statement regarding the significance of Fidel Castro’s life and death. Such lack of statement can only suggest lack of commitment to full condemnation of communist crimes. Fidel Castro’s death presents an opportunity for driving yet another nail into the coffin of communism, against which totalitarian and cruel regime Croatia lost many lives both during Tito’s communist regime and during the 1990’s Homeland War when it split from Yugoslavia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)