While Cuban-Americans partied in the streets of Miami after Fidel Castro died, dissidents in Cuba stayed home, fearing more repression though some hope his brother Raul will enact reforms, AFP reports:
The Ladies in White movement called off a regular protest on Sunday “out of respect” for those who mourn Castro and to avoid being accused of committing acts of “provocation,” said the group’s leader, Berta Soler. The group was founded in 2003 after Fidel Castro’s regime imprisoned 75 dissidents who were the women’s husbands or sons. While all have since been released, the group has marched almost every Sunday, dressed in white.
“We are not happy about the death of a man, a human being. We are happy about the death of dictators,” Soler said.
“I regret that this criminal never faced a tribunal for all the crimes he committed against his own people,” Mr Guiterrez said, according to a translation by the BBC.
“This is a man who leaves a legacy of intolerance, of setting up a family-run dictatorship which had no tolerance for anyone who thought differently, who set up a vicious totalitarian regime where people were persecuted for the most slight deviation from official ideology.”
“The tyrant is dead but the tyranny continues,” said Gutierrez.
Dissidents also laid low in Santiago de Cuba, the eastern city where Castro’s ashes will be laid to rest next Sunday, DW adds.
“We won’t conduct any actions against the regime in the streets in the next days, especially out of concern for the repression we could face,” said former prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer (left).
Castro’s passing may improve US-Cuban relations and facilitate further reform on the island, some analysts suggest.
“Castro was a symbol of the people’s animus,” said Christopher Sabatini, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “A lot of the momentum to roll back these changes will slow down. It takes a lot of wind out the sails.”
Some tributes to Castro misjudged the balance, said Sabatini, an expert on Cuba who advised Barack Obama’s administration.
“Unfortunately, his human rights record will not get the weight it deserves. You see that in many of the declarations of presidents calling him a revolutionary icon. Let’s be honest: this was a regime which when it came to power lined up its opponents and shot them.”
Castro jailed thousands in abysmal prisons, while thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied political freedoms, Human Rights Watch said.
“As other countries in the region turned away from authoritarian rule, only Fidel Castro’s Cuba continued to repress virtually all civil and political rights,” said José Miguel Vivanco, the group’s Americas director. “Castro’s draconian rule and the harsh punishments he meted out to dissidents kept his repressive system rooted firmly in place for decades.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, called Castro a “hero to many”, prompting Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s Swedish trade commissioner to tweet that it was “strange to hear all the tributes”.
“Fidel Castro was a dictator who oppressed his people for 50 years,” she said.
Canadian premier Justin Trudeau drew widespread scorn (see below) for airbrushing Castro’s human rights abuses, but other liberal and progressives challenged the romanticization of the dictator and his legacy.
He abolished Christmas as an official holiday for nearly 30 years, one observer notes:
While he dispatched Cuban-educated doctors and Cuban-developed vaccines to the poorest corners of Latin America, Cubans in central Havana found pharmacy shelves empty of medicine, and many lived in apartments in which they used buckets in their kitchens as toilets……Mr. Castro personally ordered the restoration of Old Havana, an architectural gem where tourists can savor $300 boxes of Cuban cigars, some of the world’s best music and sweet Havana Club rum — the proceeds of which went to Mr. Castro’s revolution. But just a block behind the restored facades, impoverished Cubans lived in crumbling homes on rationed food. Teenage prostitutes in tight spandex openly offered their services to tourists.
“He is a man who made a lot of promises to the Cuban people,” said Cuban democracy activist Frank Calzon. “Cubans were going to have freedom. They were going to have honest government. They were going to have a return to the constitution. Instead what he gave them was a Stalinist type of government.”
Raul Castro is not so different from his brother, sharing the same ideological and authoritarian traits, he adds.
Other observers drew attention to the perpetuation of the myth – evident in many obituaries – that Castro eliminated racial prejudice in Cuba, noting that Afro-Cubans are disproportionately found in the worst jobs, worst housing, and under-represented in the upper echelons of the ruling Communist Party. This systematic racism helps explain why Afro-Cubans like Jorge Luis Peres ‘Antunez’, Oscar Biscet, Bertha Soler, Guillermo Farinas, Laritza Diversent (right) and Manuel Cuesta are major leaders of the democratic opposition and dissident movement, some commentators suggested.
Some of the obituaries recalled that Castro not only reneged on promises to bring democracy to Cuba, but also jailed or killed his rivals and critics, and turned against many of his fellow revolutionaries, including Camille Cienfuegos and Huber Matos.
Such a sentence was the true measure of the cruelty and vindictiveness of Fidel Castro–and of his fear of liberty for the Cuban people. For it was when Matos showed his true goal as a revolutionary–the freedom of the Cuban people–that Fidel Castro had him arrested and jailed. Matos emerged from prison in 1979 and joined his family in Costa Rica, and then soon moved to the United States–where he lived until his death in 2014 at age 95. He founded and for nearly two decades led Cuba Independiente y Democratico, an organization that worked for freedom for the Cuban people. Today, I just wish he could have lived to 97.
History will indeed judge Fidel Castro, and it will judge him as a cruel dictator who wrecked the lives of Cubans who sought freedom, and who held his nation back from liberty for decade after decade, adds Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. And some day, the Castro statues will be replaced by statues of men like Huber Matos. When? When Cuba is free.
Castro was many things: a revolutionary, a Communist, a garrulous orator. Amidst the fawning encomia released upon his long-overdue death at the age of 90, it should never be forgotten that he was also an oppressor, torturer, and murderer of gay people, FPI’s James Kirchick writes for The Daily Beast.