Fidel Castro’s Legacy: An Impoverished Cuba And Inescapable Memories Of Torture 

Fidel Castro’s Legacy: An Impoverished Cuba And Inescapable Memories Of Torture Fidel Castro (/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • For all the Left liberal adulation that Castro received for standing up to the “mighty USA”, the reality unfolded in a supreme irony, when in waves after waves, millions of Cubans migrated to USA and other countries in Latin America.

Common decencies dictate that one shall not speak ill of the dead. But when it comes to appraising Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro's tyranny, we may not get another chance. Reactions to Castro’s death, depending on the political affiliations, range from glowing tributes to harsh criticism. Others, mandated by a customary need to react to the death of a famous, even if controversial figure, have been content with political correctness.

While Leftist politicians and intellectuals have been singing paeans to Cuban social indicators (disputed by many), there is another side to the story. It is not uncommon to sight people being ferried on donkeys and carts even to this day in Cuba. The wages of doctors are similar to barbers, and ballerinas earn more than both of them. It is mandatory for government vehicles to pick up hitch hikers because the country doesn't have enough private cars. The only ones in private possession are the ones bought before 1960. You cannot play monopoly, even as a game. Average take-home salaries are around $25 per month. Even after all expense paid, necessities and huge subsidies, it is a life difficult to imagine with that take-home amount. Only about 5 per cent of the total population is authorised to use Internet. For those violating the rules, a five-year imprisonment awaits.

It is therefore shocking to see champions of free speech and liberty in their own societies hail the dictator as a hero. Here was a man who did not hold elections; who did not recognise Cuban human rights organisation and independent labour unions; who did not allow free press and anointed his brother when it came to succession. He arrested thousands of political opponents, homosexuals, Jews and devout Christians. Some survived the jails while others died. People were arrested on the flimsiest of grounds such as hanging the Cuban flag in balcony or refusing fumigation.

According to Miguel Faria, author of Cuba in Revolution: Escape From A Lost Paradise, 20,000 people were killed and 5 lakh people arrested by the Castro regime. The number of jails increased from 11 under Batista, whom Castro dislodged in armed revolt, to 300. In his memoir Faria writes, "Child abuse, political incarcerations, torture and murder are rampant. Psychiatric rehabilitation is the same as torture. The Cuban version of Big Brother, the thought police (or DGI), commits unspeakable torture both in the Havana Psychiatric Hospital and in Cuba's prisons".

The oppression was not limited to post revolution period but continues to this day in President Raul Castro’s reign. According to a Washington Post report, in the aftermath of Obama's visit to Cuba, the arrests of political prisoners surged to an all time high of 8,616 in the year 2015. The horror of Castro's torture chambers is best described by Armando Valladares in his book Against All Hope.

In Valladare's own words, "I left Castro’s gulags 22 years later, in a wheelchair. The decades of starvation, torture, labour camps, and physical abuse at the hands of Castro’s thugs left me hardly able to walk. And yet I was one of the lucky ones, because I lived to tell about it. Each night the sound of gunfire at the execution wall and the muffled noises of my friends, gagged and struggling to make their final cries for freedom, was an all-too-familiar refrain. The executioners eventually had to gag the dissidents, because their shouts of ‘Viva Cristo Rey’ moments before death only stirred others to greater passion for freedom. But Castro’s jails were not just stacked with Christians. I suffered and starved alongside Cubans of all stripes, be they homosexuals or Jews, who for one reason or another, did not conform to the regime’s acceptable mold "

For all the Left liberal adulation that Castro received for standing up to the "mighty USA", the reality unfolded in a supreme irony. In waves after waves, about one million Cubans have migrated to USA after the 1959 revolution. Another one million moved to other Latin American countries. The total migration meant around one sixth of the Cuban population had migrated out of the country. As per Faria, some 36,000 people died while attempting to migrate. These included those put in front of firing squads or ones who died at the hands of jailers.

While the first wave of migrants consisted of the upper middle class and devout Catholics, the later wave consisted exclusively of economic migrants. Reacting to these migrations Castro termed those leaving the country as "escoria" or the scum.

Of the many waves of migration, the most poignant was the migration of 14,000 children. Between 1960 and 1962 these children, as young as 12 year old, travelled to the US from Cuba without their parents. Hoping that Castro’s reign would be a short one and fearing their communist indoctrination, they were sent off to US in a discreet affair named Operaćion Pedro Pan or Operation Peter Pan. Some of these children joined their relatives in the US while others were taken care of by a Christian charity Catholic Welfare Bureau. Though most were reunited with their parents when Freedom flights began in 1965, some are still waiting for a reunion. These Pedro Pan children are one of the many devastating legacies of Castro’s revolution.

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