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Does Castro trump Trump?

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 2 December 2016

Following the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, US public opinion guru Frank Luntz provided some good advice on Twitter: “If you praise Fidel Castro, don’t expect anyone to take your criticism of Donald Trump seriously.”

If only Frank Luntz had more Twitter followers.

Though proverbs remind us not to speak ill of the dead, there is no need to wax lyrical about them either. And certainly not when the person in question has an abhorrent human rights record.

By conservative estimates, Castro’s regime is responsible for the deaths of at least 15,000 dissidents. It sent homosexuals and priests to re-education camps. It caused more than a million of its people to flee via the dangerous sea passage to Florida.

Cuba’s abysmal record is well-documented in international rankings. Reporters without Borders rank Cuba 171st out 180 countries for press freedom. The Economist Intelligence Unit lists Cuba as 129th out of 167 countries in its Democracy Index. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom sees the country as 177th for economic freedom (only North Korea fares worse).

Under Castro, Cuba failed miserably. Its economy is a shambles, and living standards have not improved for five decades. The only prosperous and flourishing Cuban community Castro created is in Miami.

None of this seems to deter admirers of Castro. They do not tire of praising Cuba’s education and health system. As the Sunday Times wryly put it, “Free healthcare and education were of little comfort when food rationing and poverty were all around.”

In fact, I would go further: There are plenty of other countries offering decent education and healthcare to their people. Yet most of them don’t impoverish, incarcerate or harass them.

Let’s be blunt. Fidel Castro was an abject failure as a political leader – and we are not even talking about his role in the Cuban missile crisis, which almost led to a nuclear war.

This makes it even more astonishing how much praise he is receiving after his death. Pope Francis was “very sad” to hear the news of Castro’s death. EU Commission President Juncker talked of a “hero”. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau spoke of a “larger than life leader who served his people”.

The same people who were (rightly) outraged by Donald Trump’s verbal offensiveness, showed themselves willing to overlook Castro’s actual bloody deeds.

Frank Luntz is right. Those who do not condemn the evil tyranny of Castro, should spare us their moral judgements on others.

PS: If you are still inclined to shed a tear for Castro, shed a tear for his victims instead. Watch this video.

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