December 17th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Much food for reflection in a single Christmas carol

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coalition limps through year of frustrations

FOREIGN AFFAIRS The left's whitewash of Fidel Castro

THE MEDIA Greed, ideology generate burst of fake news online

WA LEGISLATION Foetal homicide reform a very small step forward

SOCIETY A proposal to assist the victims of sexual abuse

AUSTRALIAN DEVELOPMENT The financial and social costs of cramming ourselves into just five coastal cities

MUSIC What Ellington heard: Allan Zavod, RIP


CINEMA Capra on the Common Man: Meet John Doe

BOOK APPRAISAL Religious incredulity: a most modern virtue

BOOK REVIEW A continuing analysis

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The left's whitewash of Fidel Castro

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, December 17, 2016

The death of the 90-year-old former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, was widely reported as the death of a dictator – but one who was loved by his people and who vastly improved the lot of ordinary Cubans.

The media also repeated that the United States Government, specifically the CIA, had tried to assassinate him, according to some reports, hundreds of times. It was as if America’s hostility, and its long-standing economic sanctions against Cuba, was the cause of Castro’s authoritarianism.

Occasionally mentioned was the fact that under Castro, Cuba became a communist state and ally of the Soviet Union. But since the Soviet Union no longer exists, and few know what communism is, this doesn’t sound like a bad thing …

(And as every teenage rebel knows, you can still buy T-shirts, caps and other paraphernalia emblazoned with the heroic face of one of Castro’s lieutenants, Che Guevara, a potent symbol of counter-culture and resistance to authority.)

Perhaps not unexpectedly, almost every “fact” mentioned above is false.


Untangling the facts from the myths is a time-consuming job, too hard for people like Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, or our ABC.

Trudeau mourned Castro’s death, describing him as “Cuba’s longest-standing president”, and said that Castro was a “remarkable leader”. When challenged, he said: “The fact is Fidel Castro had a deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people.”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) headlined its report in these terms: “Fidel Castro: Cuba’s bearded, cigar-smoking revolutionary, a figure of both fascination and fear.”

The ABC said: “It was as a young radical that Fidel Castro debuted on the international stage, inspiring his supporters and overthrowing the Cuban government.

“The year was 1959 and within weeks the bearded, cigar-smoking rebel had become Cuba’s leader, a title he held onto for the rest of his life.

“To some, Castro — who has died aged 90 — was a romantic revolutionary, a persuasive and moving speaker who had the affection of his people.

“To others, he was a ruthless communist dictator who denied his people basic freedoms, pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and clung to power by, in the words of Human Rights Watch, repressing ‘virtually all civil and political rights’.”

The ABC went on to laud his achievements in education and health, and noted: “Castro thumbed his nose at the U.S., surviving a reported 638 CIA-backed assassination attempts.” Where, you might wonder, did the figure of 638 assassination attempts come from?

In 2006, Britain’s Channel 4 produced a film called 638 Ways to Kill Castro. On the program, the person who gave this figure was one Fabian Escalante, the former head of Castro’s Intelligence Directorate and the man who had the job of protecting Castro when he was in power.

The much-admired improvements in Cuba’s health and education systems are also a product of left-wing hagiography.

Castro came to power in 1959 at the head of an armed popular movement that wanted an end to the despotism of the regime headed by ex-army general Fulgencio Batista. This was the image that Castro portrayed as a youthful soldier in combat fatigues, heading a popular revolt against an authoritarian dictator. He promised full and free elections in two years, and freedom of speech and expression.

The media loved it. True, there were some disconcerting early signs. After Castro seized power, hundreds of leaders of the former regime who had not escaped Cuba, like Batista, were summarily executed in a public spectacle in Havana, after a mob trial.

Moderates, including Havana Law Professor Jose Miro Cardona, who was appointed Cuba’s first post-Batista Prime Minister, lasted only six weeks before Castro forced him out.

As the months went by, more of the moderates resigned or were forced out of the government. Thousands of Cubans fled the country, many making their way to Miami, where a large Cuban émigré community became established.

As for the much-vaunted advances in health care and education, these were an illusion.

Independent evidence shows that before Castro, Cuba was one of the most advanced countries in Latin America in every area: health, family income, education and life expectancy.

Mark Milke, a Canadian commentator who visited Cuba, wrote recently: “Cuba in 1957 already had more doctors per 1,000 people than did Norway, Sweden and Great Britain.

“In 1958, according to even one recent regime-friendly academic paper, Cuba ‘ranked in the first, second or third place in Latin America with respect to its health-care indicators’. Circa the 1950s, that success included long life-expectancy rates, and the lowest infant-mortality rates in Latin America.”

Even before Castro, Milke pointed out, Cuba was spending more per capita on education than was the United States or the European Union.

The picture now is dismal, with Cuba languishing in these fields, and among the poorest countries in Latin America. That is Castro’s true legacy.

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