Appalled by the corruption and political violence under Batista’s regime, many members of Cuba’s middle class and intelligentsia supported Castro’s Revolution (during which his relationship to communism was still ambiguous). However, they were quickly disappointed with what came next. In the fifty-seven years that the Castro brothers have ruled Cuba, the country has become a laboratory of communist terror: the killings and disappearances of thousands of Cubans have been documented; there are no free elections; the quality of life in Cuba has deteriorated rapidly, and many Cubans live in abject poverty; and the abortion rate in the country is the world’s second highest (which only makes Cuba’s rapidly aging population worse). Despite the left’s embrace of the LGBT agenda, the fact that homosexuals are sent to concentration camps in Cuba has not been especially well publicized in the mainstream media. The situation for political prisoners in Cuba’s jails is so desperate that many of them deliberately inject themselves with the HIV virus to put themselves out of their misery. Meanwhile, each year thousands of Cubans try to float across shark-infested waters to Florida on inner tubes to flee the appalling reality of the Castro brothers’ dictatorship.Share
Despite these well-documented horrors, Fidel Castro has been romanticized more so than perhaps any other tyrant. As a college student, I spent many hours verbally sparring about Castro with naïve undergraduates (and, once, a professor) who had the luxury of never having to experience communism in practice; no matter how many statistics that proved that the Cuban dictator turned his country into one big gulag I fed them, their conviction that Castro was a wily, handsome, articulate, and charismatic romantic rebel who has boldly fought against Yankee imperialism for half a century remained unchanged.
However, not only naïve undergraduates have shown surprising deference to the Cuban tyrant. Senator Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully fought to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in this year’s primaries, openly praised Castro in 1985 (and has refused to retract his past statements). Meanwhile, although Steven Spielberg has made films chronicling the horrors of the Holocaust and of slavery, he has been much more forgiving of communist butchers: he has called his meeting with Castro “the best seven hours [he] ever spent.”
There are many other global leaders and celebrities who have openly praised Castro. It would be an exaggeration to put Pope Francis in this ignoble crowd. However, it would not be too much to call his attitude towards Cuba Neville Chamberlain-style appeasement. During his 2015 pilgrimage to the country, the pontiff met with no dissidents. In fact, while he did call for Cuba to open up to the world, he said nothing that would make the regime uncomfortable. Rather, as is often with Francis, his homily stuck to vague feel-good phrases. During his 1998 visit to Cuba, Pope St. John Paul II used the word “freedom” seventeen times and “justice” thirteen times during his homily. By contrast, Francis did not use either word at all during his homily in Havana. This appeasing attitude was so evident that even the Washington Post published an editorial criticizing the pontiff. That’s the WaPo, folks, not the National Review; there’s a reason why conservatives jokingly called the publication “Pravda on the Potomac” during the Cold War. It is true that Raul Castro recently released 787 prisoners and claimed to be influenced by Francis’ call for heads of state to do so during the Year of Mercy, but this was not a papal appeal to the Cuban regime specifically. Fidel’s brother denies there are political prisoners in Cuban jails despite the claims of human rights organizations. (Read more.)