Trump vs. Castro - Who upsets you more?

I first want to be up front where I'm coming from. I wasn't a Trump supporter. I lean liberal where it comes to social policy. And I understand people's concerns about a Trump Administration.

But after seeing some of the reactions to the death of Fidel Castro, from Obama's tepid equivocation, to Jimmy Carter's sentimental reminiscing, to Jill Stein's salute of honor, to Justin Trudeau's quasi-adulation, I thought it might be instructive for people to reflect on these neutral-to-warm statements about Castro, specifically in the light of their worries about Trump.

Consider for a moment some of the fears people have expressed about a Trump presidency: authoritarianism, silencing of dissent, curtailing free press, Hitler comparisons of rounding people up in camps, tearing apart families, use of torture, persecution of homosexuals and targeted religious groups, being anti-Semitic, a threat to democracy, etc. And now compare that with Fidel Castro - not anxiety about what he "might" do, but what he actually DID, what he perpetrated during his five decades of rule:

Forced labor concentration "UMAP" camps

  • 35,000 people, notably homosexuals, religious people, political dissidents, intellectuals
  • Slave labor, dawn to dusk, 7 days a week
  • Unsanitary conditions, spoiled food were common
  • Some suffered solitary confinement, rape, torture
  • Many committed suicide and died of hunger and disease
  • Electrified barbed wire fences, guards with machine guns and police dogs,2619793

Political executions

  • 3,615 documented deaths by firing squads since 1959
  • 1,253 extrajudicial killings
  • Total estimates vary from 15-17,000, possibly up to 30,000

Oppression of religious groups

  • Mass arrests of Christian clergy
  • Catholics and Evangelicals sent to forced labor camps
  • Workplace discrimination against religious people
  • Confiscation of private religious seminaries

Persecution of homosexuals

  • Forced into concentration labor camps
  • Fired, imprisoned, sent for "re-education"
  • Gay artists and writers shut down and publicly disgraced

Anti-Zionist/Anti-Semitic policies

  • Published anti-Israel propaganda, voted that "Zionism equals racism"
  • Books by Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel banned
  • 94% of Jews fled after the 1959 revolution
  • 400 secretly immigrated to Israel in the 1990s
  • Direct hosting/support of Palestinian military training camps

Nazi collaboration

  • Nazi death squad officers invited to train the Cuban army
  • Offered sanctuary and salaries in Havana

Silencing of dissidents

  • 20,000 dissidents held and tortured in 1959 revolution
  • Moderate professors and teachers purged
  • Prison penalties for anyone who "insults or offends" the government
  • No freedom to assemble and protest

Anti-democratic policies

  • Communist Party the only accepted party (despite lifting the ban on other parties in 1992)
  • No election of president or prime minister
  • Rule by nepotism - Fidel hands off to his brother Raul
  • The only regime in the Americas classified as "authoritarian" (2010 Democracy index)

Imprisonment and kangaroo courts

  • Human rights activists tried and imprisoned for decades
  • Thousands of arbitrary detentions per year (e.g. 7,188 in Jan-Aug 2014 alone)
  • People held for years without trial
  • Unsanitary conditions, prisoners deprived of food, light
  • Second largest prison state in the world for journalists as of 2008 (next to China)
  • Sham court proceedings and summary judgments against political activists

Use of torture

  • Prisoners stripped and beaten
  • Held in rodent-filled "drawers" with cement beds and no light
  • Electro-shock for political prisoners in psychiatric clinics
  • Threats of killing and maiming by prison authorities

Split families and refugee crisis

  • Repression causing a refugee crisis, people desperate to escape
  • Cuban exiles forced to leave family behind
  • Thousands of boats and rafts, with refugees dying along the way
  • Citizens under lock-down, travel heavily restricted until 2013

Press censorship

  • Nearly all media under control of the state and Communist Party
  • Must inform government in order to produce, distribute, store publications
  • Internet limited for the vast majority of Cubans
  • Foreign journalists must be selected by the government.
  • Pro-democracy bloggers under permanent surveillance

Even if only half the above charges/sources are accurate (and I don't pretend to be a Cuba expert), that is pretty damning. And I think that merits a moment of reflection.

Here we are post-election, many people frightened about what they see as an authoritarian President Trump, poised to commit civil and human-rights abuses. Yet here we have an example of someone who really did these things - executed, tortured, imprisoned, took away rights, persecuted people - for decades. And when he dies, you have some of the same people who've been out there vociferously warning against Trump now lavishing praise on Castro, or failing to speak out against him. What gives?

To be absolutely clear, I'm not saying that we shouldn't be vigilant to guard against authoritarianism, from Trump or anyone else. But if you really are worried and upset about the "possibility" of a regime that's anti-democracy and ready to strip people of their civil rights, then shouldn't you be completely outraged when you encounter an actual authoritarian regime, a true dictator who really did commit many of the atrocities and injustices you find so frightening, so horrific?

Is it a question of giving Castro a pass because he's on the "left" and has some progressive social policies? For those things, you're happy to turn a blind eye to the rest? Or does it have to do with defending countries who stand up to the U.S.? Are you so consumed with Western self-criticism that you can't critique real authoritarianism when you see it? Is it being enamored with the story of ragtag revolutionaries prevailing over corrupt, decadent strongmen? But are you really going to celebrate replacing one corrupt, blood-stained dictatorship with another? Or is it simply that a major international figurehead died, so let's be diplomatic? I'm all for diplomacy, but what about standing up for what you believe in? Or for all the Cubans who suffered terribly under Castro's rule?

Like I say, it's a moment to reflect. If you have an answer, I'd like to hear it.


  1. "Is it a question of giving Castro a pass because he's on the "left" and has some progressive social policies?"

    I am sort of on the Left and have NEVER given Castro a pass. From just a few months after he seized power he ran a brutal dictatorship. He gets credit for increasing literacy rates, and for not having the country be a total basket case the way some Communist nations did, but that is about it. He shouldn't even get credit for Cuba's good healthcare because Cuba had a really good healthcare system before he took power.

    Castro's death should not be mourned by anyone who values human rights and freedom.

    Hopefully none of the fears regarding Trump will come to pass, but we must be diligent. But it should be noted that Trump has often expressed admiration for dictators, especially Vladimir Putin. Some of his rhetoric seems to be a copy of Mussolini and he is known to have read Hitler's speeches.

    Finally, it should be noted that back in the 1990s Trump broke the Cuba embargo -- something that potentially carried a 20 year prison sentence -- in order to pursue business opportunities with Castro. Unfortunately, Trump was never prosecuted. We need to monitor Trump's activities closely.


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