Bernie Sanders has recently drawn a large backlash from the media over his praise of certain aspects of the Cuban Revolution. This is hardly surprising because the general rule in American politics is that one mustn’t say anything positive about Cuba at all, despite the things that Cuba has achieved — Colin Kaepernick also found himself in a controversy for similar reasons. For example, Cuba has one of the higher life expectancy rates and one of the best healthcare systems in the region, in spite of the decades long embargo and the financial problems that Cuba experienced in the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed. Cuba has a higher life expectancy rate than Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic to name a few countries in the region.
As someone who was born in Guyana, I myself benefited from Cuba’s program of exporting its doctors around the region. Cubans generally enjoy better healthcare services than Guyanese do. When Maurice Bishop took over power in Grenada, there was a significant improvement in Grenada’s healthcare system, which was largely due to support from Cuban doctors. Caribbean and Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, David Granger of Cuba, and Patrick Manning of Trinidad all went to Cuba to receive medical treatment or for surgery. Are those of us who are from the Caribbean and have benefited from Castro’s policies also supposed to pretend that there was nothing positive at all about the Cuban Revolution?
One of the aims of the Cuban Revolution was to improve the material conditions of the ordinary people in Cuba and this was done on a scale that was rarely matched by other Caribbean nations. I would strongly recommend Black in Latin America by Henry Louis Gates for its account of some of the ways in which the Cuban Revolution improved the lives of the Afro-Cuban population in particular. But given the one-sided manner in which the America media treats Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, one mustn’t mention any of the positive achievements of the revolution or examine the state of affairs in the rest of the Caribbean/Latin American region. Castro has become somewhat of an evil caricature in the American media.
Political unrest still continues in Haiti, but the media says little about it and there’s no real pressure being placed on the political leadership in Haiti to improve the human rights situation there. In fact, America has had a long history of supporting some very terrible political leaders in Haiti, including the infamous dictator Papa Doc. Supporting corruption and misrule in Haiti seems to be completely uncontroversial in American politics, but Cuba is treated as a problem.
Haiti capital's streets blocked as protests spread
The blockades came a day after police demanding better working conditions attacked the army headquarters in the city…
Something that the media likes to forget is that Castro’s revolution was an uprising against the government of Fulgencio Batista, who was a brutal and corrupt strongman dictator. When he was in power and oppressing the Cuban people, there was no embargo and no outrage from America. America supported his dictatorship, just as America was supporting other Latin American dictatorships during this period of time. This included dictators like Augusto Pinochet, whose government was infamous for torturing and raping its citizens.
There’s also the fact that Fidel Castro supported the liberation struggle in South Africa at a time when the United States was supporting the apartheid regime and had branded Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. Mandela was finally removed from America’s terrorist watch list in 2008. The video below demonstrates how Mandela felt about Castro based on Castro’s support for South Africa’s struggle.
Castro supported other liberation struggles in Africa as well, including Guinea-Bissau’s fight for liberation from Portugal, led by Amilcar Cabral. Castro also supported Thomas Sankara’s efforts in Burkina Faso. These are just some brief examples, but I could do an entire article on Cuba’s support for Africa, which was much more extensive than any American president could lay claim to, including President Obama.
I understand Castro’s support for Africa’s liberation struggles means very little to the American media or American politicians. It means so little than in the Democratic debate last night, former Vice President Joe Biden confidently asserted that Barack Obama never embraced an authoritarian regime. The problem is that it’s not true. African dictators such as Faure Gnassingbe and others have been welcomed at the White House during Obama’s presidency, but Africa matters so little to the American political mainstream that these visits didn’t spark much of an outrage from the very people who are pretending to be outraged about Bernie’s praise for certain aspects of the Cuban Revolution, so Biden is able to get away with making such a statement. And for those who are not aware, Faure has committed much worse human rights abuses than Castro has ever been accused of by even his worst critics.
Finally, where was this outrage when Bernie Sanders claimed that Winston Churchill was one of his influences?
Churchill’s policies resulted in the death of millions of people in India, which was a British colony at the time. Churchill was so indifferent to the suffering and dying that he blamed the famine on the Indians for “breeding like rabbits” and asked why Gandhi was still alive if the shortages were so bad. Bernie Sanders publicly claimed that Churchill was an influence of his and there was no massive media backlash because Churchill is actually a very celebrated figure in Western history, despite the fact that his policies killed millions.
Churchill's policies contributed to 1943 Bengal famine - study
The Bengal famine of 1943 was the only one in modern Indian history not to occur as a result of serious drought…
The media’s criticism of Castro has nothing to do with human rights or human development, and simply exposes the stunning hypocrisy on the part of the American media. The fact that the backlash has been bipartisan demonstrates that this hypocrisy is also bipartisan; both Democrats and Republicans engage in it. Certainly there are critiques that could be and perhaps should be made of Castro’s leadership in Cuba. I myself expressed some of those criticisms in some of of my own writings, such as in my book One Caribbean and Other Essays. Rarely does one find such honest and nuanced critiques of Castro in America’s mainstream political discourse, however.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.