No Tears for Fidel, Please
The murderous dictator put revolution ahead of country, so shed
them for the people and way of life he repressed.
By George Weigel August 4, 2006
News that Fidel Castro may be dead or dying has elicited a variety of
sentiments, including an odd grief tinged with an even odder respect. My first
reaction, on hearing of Castro's transfer of power to his equally lethal
brother, Raul, was to remember the strange circumstances in which I learned that
Castro had publicly denounced me to an international congress of journalists
meeting in Havana in late 1999.
I was having Christmas dinner with family and friends in Rome when one of my
hosts asked whether I had seen the fax that the Cuban mission to the Vatican was
sending around town. I confessed that I hadn't, and the document was fetched. It
turned out that, in the course of a typical four-hour harangue, Castro had
devoted a few paragraphs to denouncing the "Yanqui" who had slandered him in my
recently published biography of Pope John Paul II. I was touched by Castro's
attentiveness — he actually called me something that can't be printed here — but
I also was struck by his defensiveness and an insecurity unmitigated by age or
What I had written in "Witness to Hope" was the plain truth: The papal
pilgrimage to Cuba in January 1998 was the first time in almost 40 years that
Fidel Castro had not been the undisputed center of attention at a public event
in Cuba. I also had recounted other aspects of the papal visit that Castro would
have preferred to ignore, such as the fact that John Paul II had not mentioned
the Castro regime once in five days; that the pope had tried, in various ways,
to give back to the people of Cuba the rich spiritual culture that was their
birthright; that he had challenged Cubans to be the protagonists of their
history, rather than thinking of themselves, as Castro had so long proposed, as
victims of "Yanqui aggression." El Jefe was not pleased.
I had barely made it to Cuba in January 1998 — my first visa application was
rejected, and it took an intervention by Cardinal John O'Connor of New York to
get me in; the cardinal explained to the Cuban government that blocking the visa
of the pope's biographer would not look good. But once I had arrived, Cuba was
unforgettably vivid, the images of its destruction inescapable.
I remember walking the streets of Havana, noting the crumbling buildings and the
government office windows held together with masking tape, and thinking that
what should have been one of the world's most beautiful cities had been reduced
to a Caribbean Sarajevo — not by mortars and rockets, but by mindless ideology.
I remember the Museum of the Revolution, in which the bloodstained sheet that
had bound the body of Che Guevara was displayed in an obscene knockoff of the
Shroud of Turin. I remember the goofy cartoon billboards all over the country —
Cuba kicking Uncle Sam in the pants, with stylized captions roaring defiance
against the imperialists. And I remember thinking that this is what a country
would look like if it were run for decades by a group of vicious teenagers.
I remember the barren shelves in the pharmacies, with not even an aspirin to be
had, despite the propaganda about Cuban healthcare. I remember the teenage
waiters and waitresses at my hotel, who told me that 75% of their wages went to
the government. I remember talking to the prostitute — a well-spoken medical
doctor who, when I asked why she was selling herself, told me that it was the
only way to support her children. And I remember the elderly proprietor of a
restaurant overlooking the cove from which Hemingway's old man had set out to
the sea, telling me with tears running down his face that he had waited 40 years
to hear someone — and now the pope! — defend Christian family life in Cuba.
Whenever Castro dies, the temptation to afford a measure of respect, however
grudging, to the man who continued to defy the world's lone superpower will be
strong, at least in some quarters. It should, however, be firmly resisted.
Castro is not a mass murderer in the same league with Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot
and Mao Tse-tung, but he is a murderous dictator nonetheless. The stories of the
vile and grotesque conditions in which he keeps political prisoners should not
be forgotten. Nor should the injustices of previous Cuban regimes be cited as
excuses for this wicked man who reduced a proud and vibrant nation to penury and
international military prostitution in Africa.
In a statement read after his surgery, Castro assured his countrymen that the
defense of the island was secure against the U.S. To the end, it seems, Castro
will love the revolution more than he loves Cuba. That is why he destroyed so
much of his country, and that is why no tears should be shed for him.
GEORGE WEIGEL, a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in
Washington, is the author of "God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of
the Catholic Church" and "Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II."