Bill Carmichael: Castro's legacy of poverty and tyranny in Cuba

MY first reaction to the news of Fidel Castro's death was to echo former Home Secretary David Blunkett when he learned that mass murderer Dr Harold Shipman had killed himself: 'Is it too early to open a bottle?'

Maia Marti holds a poster of Fidel Castro as she waits in line to pay her final respects to the late Fidel Castro at Revolution Plaza, in Havana.

Of course each death may be a tragedy to the close family of the deceased, but the rest of us need shed no tears over the demise of this vile old tyrant.

Castro enslaved the people of Cuba for almost 60 years in grinding, unrelenting poverty and repression; shooting or jailing political opponents, throwing homosexuals in jail simply because of their sexual persuasion, destroying the economy and denying even the most basic civil liberties to the people.

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This is not “right-wing propaganda” as Castro’s many apologists in the West would have you believe – but has been well documented by the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Still, this hasn’t stopped left-wingers in the UK and elsewhere pouring treacle over the blood-soaked dictator in an embarrassing display of mawkish sycophancy.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hailed Castro as a “champion of social justice” – although I suspect the gays he dragged off to prison camps may not agree.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was a “hero for many” – although presumably not those who received a bullet in the back of the head for their political views.

Most shameful of all was Canadian premier Justin Trudeau who gushed that Castro was a “legendary revolutionary” held in “deep and lasting affection” by the Cuban people – although certainly not by the 1.2 million, 10 per cent of Cuba’s population, driven into exile, many risking their lives on rickety rafts and rubber rings rather than live under Castro’s red terror.

When these human rights violations are pointed out, Castro’s defenders invariably reply that at least he improved the Cuban health and education services.

This is remarkably similar to the apologists for fascism who have always argued that yes, Hitler and Mussolini might have murdered lots of people, but at least the trains ran on time!

In truth, any improvement to Cuba’s literacy rates is of little consequence to the thousands sitting in jail or the thousands more lying in mass graves.

To be fair Castro did have a hand in creating one Cuban community that is prosperous, vibrant and free – but it is in Miami, Florida.

Most of the hundreds of thousands fleeing his tyranny ended up in the United States, often with just the clothes on their backs, and in a few short years they built a hugely successful and well-respected community.

Rather than mourn Castro’s passing, these Cuban exiles were dancing in the streets in parties of joyous celebration that lasted for days. To be honest, I trust their judgment over Jeremy Corbyn’s.

But the question remains – how is it that Cuban exiles can create prosperous lives from absolutely nothing within a few years of landing in the US, while their compatriots back in the homeland have remained mired in desperate poverty for more than half a century?

The answer can be summed up in a single word – socialism.

Wherever socialism has been tried in the world it has proved to be a dismal failure – not once, not twice, but every single time – in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Venezuela and, of course, Cuba.

Socialism has proved particularly hard on the poorest; they end up queuing all day for a loaf of stale bread while the party bosses live lives of unimaginable opulence that would shame the Bourbon kings.

For example Castro, despite his ‘man of the people’ shtick, had personal wealth estimated at more than £700m, while ordinary people are forced to carry ration books to get enough to eat.

In contrast free market capitalism – although far from perfect – has a record of astonishing success over recent decades, and the main beneficiaries are the poor.

A billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in just 20 years, and there have been dramatic improvements in infant mortality, average lifespans and the general health of the population.

Still there are some who ignore the overwhelming evidence and believe that this time it will be different. Forget Stalin, Castro, Mugabe, Chavez and Kim Jong-un – this time socialism will really work!

When will they ever learn?