Great heads of state are remembered for the good that they’ve done for their people while in office. Fidel Castro ruled Communist Cuba with an iron fist for forty-nine years (1959-2008). History will remember him not for the good that he did for his countrymen, but for the bad decisions that he took to deprive them of a better life. Fidel was an egomaniac whose sole purpose in life was to promote and enrich himself. He had a double standard when it came to women. He was not an equal-opportunity magnate. Moreover, he displayed extreme hatred and disdain for Americans. His brother Raul is not any better.
Fidel blamed the U.S. embargo for the hardships that Cubans suffered. But, the U.S. embargo was unilateral. In other words, Cuba was free to trade with other countries, and it did. In fact, Cuba received a subsidy from the Soviet Union until its disintegration in 1991, which ranged between $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion annually. With the ascension to power of strongman Hugo Chávez, Venezuela subsidized the Castro regime with 100,000 barrels of oil daily, at an estimated value of over $5 billion annually – which Venezuela will be unable to honor much longer due to the recent drop in oil prices in world markets. Between 1990 and 2000, more than $3.5 billion were invested in the tourist industry by Canada and Europe. Thus, Fidel is not being truthful when he claims that the U.S. embargo has triggered all this misery on the Cuban population of approximately 11 million inhabitants.
It is truly appalling that after all these years of the revolution’s failed promises, the average monthly salary for a Cuban worker is $20. After all these years, the only accomplishments of this communist state are oppression, hunger, and repression of any kind of dissent. Fidel’s socialist, economic policies eliminated the powerful upper and middle classes that existed prior to 1959, while impoverishing most of the population. Employees involved in the military and the Communist Party became the new privileged group. After 1959, Cubans rose to the top based solely on their blind allegiance to Fidel. It was Fidel, and now Raul, who have caused Cuba’s economic straits — not the U.S. embargo.
Despite all the angry diatribes against capitalism, Fidel was a capitalist at heart. For those seeking a better explanation for the extreme poverty of the Cuban population, you have to look no further than Fidel. In 2006, Forbes magazine placed Fidel among the top richest men in the world. His financial worth was set at $900 million, which exceeded even the fortune of British Queen Elizabeth. Naturally, this enraged Fidel to no end, and he claimed that his fortune was limited to a $38 monthly salary – a laughable assertion given that Fidel is the undisputed latifundista (rich landowner) of Cuba. Nothing gets done without Fidel’s approval. According to Juan Reinaldo Sánchez’ book “The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Máximo Líder,” Fidel had a special account that was maintained by transferring funds from the national coffers. Moreover, Fidel was not content with owning one house. In a country suffering from a severe housing shortage, Sánchez indicated that Fidel had twenty residences reserved for his exclusive use. Obviously, Fidel was not a man of the people.
While proclaiming that rampant discrimination was abolished after the Cuban Revolution, Fidel practiced a double standard when dealing with women’s rights. According to Sánchez, Fidel cheated on his first wife (Mirta Díaz-Balart) with Natalia Revuelta. He cheated on his second wife (the teacher Dalia Soto del Valle) with Celia Sánchez and his English interpreter Juana Vera. You would think that he would have been more tolerant after finding out that his wife Dalia was having an affair with Jorge, a member of his security detail. But this was not to be. Upon discovering his wife’s infidelity, Fidel did not set foot in his house for a month. This was his way of punishing her. Clearly, Latin-American machismo was more congruent with Fidel’s behavior.
Members of Fidel’s security detail were trained to take a bullet, if necessary, to protect his safety. They were the eyes and ears of El Comandante. They traveled ahead of Fidel’s overseas trips to make all necessary security arrangements. You would think that Fidel would be sensitive and appreciative of the twenty-six years that Sánchez spent in the service of El Comandante — seventeen of them serving within his escort. In his book, Sánchez explained how Fidel fired him from his job after his daughter married a Venezuelan and went to live in Venezuela, and his brother left on a raft and settled in Florida. After considering and rejecting less prestigious offers, he decided to retire from the military. But, he was in for the biggest surprise of his life. He got thrown into prison, declared a “traitor to the homeland,” tortured to get him to sign a statement admitting his culpability, and served a 2-year prison sentence. Similarly, Sánchez indicated how after Paco Cabrera, the head of Fidel’s Escort, got his skull cracked by a spinning propeller during a trip to Venezuela, all that Fidel uttered was “What an imbecile!” And just minutes after expressing his condolences to the widow of Captain Armín Pompa Álvarez, who died of a sudden illness, Sánchez indicated that Fidel left to have sex with his mistress Juanita Vera. The latter incident led one of the members of Fidel’s escort to say “So, the last thing you should do here is die – if you die, you’ll be forgotten in a flash.” In Communist Cuba, the chant of “No Justice, No Peace” has less resonance than “No Justice, Keep Your Mouth Shut.”
Despite his many statements to the contrary, Fidel has never ceased being an enemy of the United States. He shared a belief with Iranian ayatollahs that America was the “Great Satan,” and, as such, could not be trusted. Sánchez revealed in his book how several drug traffickers arrested in Florida in the 1980’s indicated that the Cuban government was linked to Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel. In fact, Sánchez eavesdropped on a conversation where Fidel approved a cocaine shipment to the United States. According to Sánchez, Fidel opined that drug trafficking to the United States brought in cash to bankroll subversion, in addition to corrupting and destabilizing American society.
When Americans became suspicious of Cuba’s involvement in drug trafficking in the 1980’s, Fidel jumped into action to clear his name. Sánchez stated that he arrested General Arnaldo Ochoa (the hero of the Angola War and the most decorated soldier with the title of “hero of the Republic of Cuba), Tony de la Guardia of the MC Department (which was part of the Ministry of the Interior), and José Abrantes (Minister of the Interior). After being charged with spurious charges by a kangaroo court – where Fidel and Raul interrupted the trial to give direct instructions to the judge, prosecuting attorney, and jurors about the desired outcome – Ochoa and de la Guardia received the death sentence which was carried out by a firing squad, while Abrantes received a 20-year sentence. Sánchez stated that despite being in perfect health, Abrantes died two years later of an alleged fatal heart attack — just like Laura Pollán (co-founder of the protest group Ladies in White) and Oswaldo Pallá (one of the most powerful voices of dissent against the Castro brothers) died under similar mysterious circumstances. Fidel made the members of his security detail watch a film of the execution of Ochoa and de la Guardia as a training exercise. To many, it had the opposite effect as they began to question their loyalty to El Jefe.
Some people try to differentiate Raul from Fidel by indicating that the latter is different, that Raul is more empathetic than his brother. This is not the case. First, let’s deal with the allegations of Raul’s involvement in the drug trade. According to a 2009 post in the Capitol Hill Cubans blog, federal prosecutors were ready to indict Raul Castro in 1993 as the head of a major cocaine smuggling conspiracy to the United States, but the Clinton Administration’s Justice Department overruled them. Justice Department officials indicated that Raul, who was then serving as Defense Minister, allowed Colombian drug lords to pay for the use of Cuban waters and airstrips as staging grounds to smuggle drugs into the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, convicted Colombian drug boss Carlos Lehder of the Medellin Cartel testified in a 1991 federal trial that he met twice in Havana with Raul Castro to arrange safe passage for cocaine flights over Cuban airspace.
Raul and his wife, Vilma Espín, were close friends of General Ochoa and his wife. Sánchez revealed that after Ochoa received the ultimate sentence, Espín showed no mercy for her friend and stated to the Council of State: “Let the sentence [death by a firing squad] be confirmed and carried out.” I think that the nickname “The Iron Lady” better suited Espín than former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
After Ochoa’s death, Raul went on a vodka-drinking binge that impaired the execution of his duties as Defense Minister. But his depression was not triggered by a sense of guilt at his inability to prevent the execution of his friend. Sánchez stated that he was preoccupied that Fidel would get rid of him, too. His logic being that if Tony de la Guardia reported to José Abrantes and the latter received a 20-year prison sentence, a similar fate would befall him as the former supervisor of General Ochoa. It was only after Fidel reassured Raul that his life would be spared because of his Castro surname that Raul went back to his normal life.
As long as a Castro is in power, nothing will change for the betterment of the Cuban people. As long as a Castro remains in power, Cuba will be an enemy of the United States. As long as a Castro is in power, the world will not be safe.