Western intellectuals, especially in Europe, have long retained a soft spot for Fidel Castro. I was therefore intrigued to read how the obituary in the Guardian, the house journal of the British ecologico-thirdworldist-transexualist-quinoa Left, would deal with the Cuban dictator’s demise.

The obituary was written by Richard Gott, one of those upper-class Englishmen always on the lookout for a left-wing economic experiment to laud, preferably in the tropics (another such was the late Basil Davidson, whose enthusiasm for any African country was like the fifth horseman of the apocalypse). Gott accepted trips paid for by the KGB, but that didn’t harm his journalistic reputation anything like taking them from the CIA would have; and one of his more recent enthusiasms was for the late Hugo Chávez, about whom he wrote a book, and whose policies could have produced a shortage of saltwater in the Pacific. Here is what Gott wrote in the Guardian about Chávez in 2012:

In Venezuela itself, there is no doubt that the Bolivarian revolution presided over by Chávez will be able to soldier on without him. After 14 years of considerable institutional change, huge oil revenues now pour into the alleviation of the acute poverty suffered by a large percentage of the country, and there is a rock-solid base of chavista support that will take decades to erode.

It says something about the Guardian that a man with such prejudices and such powers of perception should have been entrusted with its obituary of Fidel Castro. Old reflexes die hard.

That Castro was, as Gott puts it, one of the most extraordinary political figures of the twentieth century is undeniably true. That he should have been able to topple a government by landing a handful of revolutionaries from a rickety boat was too improbable to be the plot of any novel. His powerful personality gave to his country a prominence that it could not otherwise have achieved.

What is so extraordinary about Gott’s Castro obituary, however, is that it makes no assessment of the economic effects of Castro’s regime. When Castro seized power, Cuba was at the economic level of Italy, and richer than Spain. It had a poor peasantry, but so did Spain and Italy. Like Perón in Argentina, but even more dramatically, Castro undeveloped his country.

Gott’s omission of any reference to the economic effects of Castroism pales by comparison with the following statement: “Castro’s revolution was remarkably peaceful, apart from the shooting of a number of Batista’s henchmen in the first few weeks.”

This is the only reference in the obituary’s two broadsheet pages of anything that so much as hints at repression. The middle class is admitted to have left Cuba in “swaths,” but no number is given to indicate the sheer scale of the emigration, or why it took place. There is nothing about executions, about the imprisonment of dissidents, about censorship, about constant surveillance, about arbitrary arrest, about the omnipresence of propaganda. Gott simply says that Castro “gave the Cuban people back their history.”

Richard Gott is now an elderly man, but he is still adolescent at heart: as so many intellectuals are.         

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images


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