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Funeral for a Tyrant
A morally disorienting gathering in Havana.
This time the rumors are real: Castro is dying of stomach cancer. He may have already died, even before the funeral preparations were finished, so the news is not out. Confirmation of the terminal illness comes from the usual sources but in a non-conventional manner. The Cuban government has been summoning to Havana representatives of the major international media to negotiate the best seats, camera angles, and interviews with the despot’s political survivors, and to inform them of the ground rules for coverage of the state funeral.
The foreign media are being told that the model for Castro’s funeral is that of Pope John Paul II a year ago. The Cubans actually believe — or pretend — that the death of a tyrant deserves the same attention as that of the world’s great men of peace.
This is one of Castro’s lasting legacies to his countrymen: moral disorientation. The Cuban ruling class has been so isolated from reality for so long by fear and Castro’s airtight press control that they equate the burial of a mass murderer with that of a prince of the Church. No doubt there will be “dignitaries” at the funeral: fellow revolutionary leaders from the last repressive regimes on Earth: Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan, for example; and leaders of failed states like Zimbabwe and Bolivia; and representatives of the world’s resentful Left and the Hollywood Left (pardon the redundancy).
Some examples of distinguished invitees will include terrorists whose organizations once instilled panic in entire populations but are now forgotten except to their victims. Many of them were trained in Cuban camps back when Castro called for world revolution and predicted he would outlive capitalism: Argentine Montoneros, Uruguayan Tupamaros, Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Salvadorean FMLN, Colombian ELN, MIR, FARC, and others; Chileans, Brazilians, Guatemalans, Angolans, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Syrians, even Vietnamese. The list is virtually endless. Not long ago, Castro himself admitted publicly to having “supported wars of national liberation in every country in this hemisphere with the exception of Mexico”. I believe everything except the exception; his hand has been present in much of Mexico’s violence as well.
One security problem the Cubans will face is that some of the “revolutionaries” who they trained in techniques of assassination, torture, kidnapping, bank robbery, explosives, and other tricks of the trade now hate each other and may use the occasion to settle old debts. The explosions heard in Havana may come not only from ceremonial cannons. The guests will have to be carefully screened for poisoned-tipped umbrellas and other Cold War artifacts.
Among the guests coming to Havana for the Third-World Burial of the Century will be Western capitalists anxious to see how they can exploit Cuban workers, who are assigned to the employer by a Cuban state entity which then collects the salary and delivers five percent — yes, five percent — to the worker and keeps the rest to pay for the expenses incurred by the generous socialist state. There will be the bottom feeders of the capitalist world willing to go anywhere or do anything for the Almighty euro or peso. You know the ones, those who have given capitalism a bad name, the exploitation of man by man, and whose example is in turn used by the revolutionaries against the good capitalists. There will recognizable faces of American and other TV, oblivious to the irony of “covering” a press event orchestrated by a government which has not allowed a single free or independent newspaper, magazine, radio or television station for almost five decades.
Caught up in the spectacle of the funeral, the smiley faces of the free world’s morning shows, the “serious” news readers of evening newscasts, of 24-hour news channels and “prestige press” will unlikely mention the “Ley Mordaza” (literally muzzle law), law number 88 of 1998, which calls for penalties of up to 30 years in prison for any Cuban caught telling the foreign press of any flaw in Cuba’s economic or human-rights record. It is unlikely they will ask to interview the prisoners who have violated Castro’s Orwellian laws and are serving terms of as much as 27 years for committing journalism without a license or stating that the economy does not produce enough to feed the people.
There may be international labor leaders in attendance, who will equally disregard the absence of any but the official Cuban Communist labor organization. Not wishing to offend their hosts, they will not mention the Castro law which condemns to eight years in prison anyone guilty of even attempting to establish a non-government labor union. On second thought: Why should they mention it now, when they have been silent for so many decades?
Some of those leaders present may even be government officials from democratic states, having been elected in free elections such as the ones which disappeared in Cuba half a century ago. That irony will escape them also. Then there will be some genuinely elected Christian or social democrats, from Europe and Latin America. Those who have been silent about, and therefore complicit in, the longest dictatorship in this hemisphere’s history. A wise man once said that “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” The history of Cuba in the past 50 years proves him right.
— Otto J. Reich served President Bush from 2001 to 2004, first as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere and later in the National Security Council. He now heads his own international government-relations firm in Washington.