Category Archives: Castro, Fidel

A demagogue and a terminal bore

Chávez bestrode his country like a colossus inflated with gas

Resentment, notes Dalrymple,

is the nourishing broth in which demagogues like Castro and Chávez grow and thrive. The worse they make the situation, the better their explanation for it. We were right all along! See what they are doing to us! Since resentment is self-reinforcing, the demagogues are always sure of at least some support, however obvious the disaster they have wrought.

Dalrymple says that he is not prescient, far from it, but

I knew from the moment that Chávez took power that his rule would end disastrously. Whatever the parlous state of the country at the time he took power, he could only make it worse. (I reviewed a book by one of those fools whose wishful thinking flits like a butterfly from revolution to revolution and from radical to radical, and who took Chávez at his own estimate.)

A disaster from which Venezuela will take generations to recover

Chávez

was the kind of leader who could produce a shortage of saltwater in the Pacific. It was only appropriate that he should so have admired Bolívar that he named his ‘revolution’ after him, for Bolívar’s life ended miserably and his plans were utterly set at naught. ‘He who serves the revolution,’ said Bolívar at the end of his life, ‘ploughs the sea.’

Dalrymple points out that Chávez was

a charismatic nonentity, a terminal bore whose mind was stuffed with cliché, verbiage, and resentment. He bestrode his country like a colossus inflated with gas. He never said in a minute what he could say in an hour; if he had a fundamental belief, it was ‘I speak to an audience, therefore I am.’

His constant appeal

was to resentment, the most sustainable of all emotions. (It can last a lifetime and, being easily transferred, is heritable).

Chávez’s

resentful charlatanry, his patent-medicine-salesmanship of quick political and economic solutions, was a disaster for his country from which it will take generations to recover.

Full-bearded enlightenment

Wisdom resides in beards

Dalrymple is transfixed by the beard of Robert Sapolsky. He writes:

A man with a beard such as this must be very wise, a bit like Tolstoy or Darwin or Ruskin or Khomeini or Castro.

The Santa Claus of neuroscience: Robert Sapolsky

Fidel’s fantasy of making the world anew — violently

Dictador Supremo: José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia

Dictador Supremo: José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia

Fidel Castro, writes Dalrymple,

was the José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia de nos jours. Yet Francia had one great merit by comparison with Castro and his admirers: he made no pretence that the régime represented democracy of a higher or better kind than the parliamentary variety. Francia did not pretend that it was a democracy of any kind, and came right out with it: his self-chosen title was Dictator.

Castro was the darling of the intellectuals

partly because, like them, he was so slovenly in appearance, partly because he represented their wish fulfilment (inside every rebel there’s a dictator trying to get out). To rant for hours in front of a captive audience unable to answer or object: what greater bliss for an intellectual?

Admiration for Castro in the West was, of course, from afar. Dalrymple points out that Castro’s admirers

would not have found the régime they affected to admire supportable for a single day.

The admiration in the West

for Castro and his appalling sidekick and potential rival, Ernesto Guevara, was essentially frivolous, more a question of style than of substance. It was the promise of eternal adolescence that the two revolutionary egotists held out that rendered them so attractive at a time when adolescence was regarded as the finest of the seven ages of man.

Alberto Korda with his photograph

Alberto Korda with his photograph

Dalrymple notes that

if the photographer Alberto Korda had not snapped Guevara in an uncharacteristically romantic pose (usually he looked dishevelled and unwashed), the cult would not have existed. This was the face that launched a thousand T-shirts, not to say berets, badges, posters, coffee mugs, car stickers, and other items of kitsch.

Dictador Dalrymple would force

anyone guilty of wearing a Guevara T-shirt to read 20 pages of his writings, which make those of Leonid Brezhnev seem like P.G. Wodehouse.

When Dalrymple contemplates

the printed acreage of praise of Castro by Western intellectuals, I recall the words of Thomas Carlyle with regard to what he calls the gauchos of Paraguay:

These men are fit to be drilled into something! Their lives stand there like empty capacious bottles, calling to the heavens and the earth. ‘Is there nothing to put into us, then?’

Dalrymple:

Yes, there is: fantasies of omnipotence, fantasies of making the world anew, with us in charge.

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Revolutionary egotists

Richard Gott’s perverted KGB view of history

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Richard Gott: Guardian writer and onetime KGB agent

Richard Willoughby Gott, the upper-class English journalist and spy for the Soviet Union, was educated at Winchester and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. A communist, Gott was recruited by the KGB in the late 1970s and writes for the London Guardian newspaper.

Dalrymple observes that although Gott

accepted trips paid for by the KGB, that didn’t harm his journalistic reputation anything like taking them from the CIA would have.

The traitor Gott, Dalrymple points out, is

always on the lookout for a left-wing economic experiment to laud, preferably in the tropics,

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-23-24-51and one of his

more recent enthusiasms was for the late Hugo Chávez, about whom he wrote a book. Chávez’s policies could have produced a shortage of saltwater in the Pacific.

As for Fidel Castro, Western intellectuals have long retained a soft spot for the Cuban dictator, and Gott is one of his leading European champions, being entirely uninterested in

the economic effects of Castro’s regime. When Castro seized power, Cuba was at the economic level of Italy, and richer than Spain. It had a poor peasantry, but so did Spain and Italy. Like Perón in Argentina, but even more dramatically, Castro undeveloped his country.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-23-23-58Nor is Gott interested in Cuba’s

  • mass emigration, or why it took place
  • executions
  • imprisonment of dissidents
  • censorship
  • constant surveillance
  • arbitrary arrest
  • omnipresent propaganda

Gott, says Dalrymple,

is now an elderly man, but he is still adolescent at heart, as so many intellectuals are.

Castro’s Cuba: a pile of rubble flying a skull and crossbones

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-47-22The dictator’s end came 60 years too late

Fidel Castro, writes Dalrymple,

was his own greatest admirer. His ego was more important than the fate of anything in the world, or of the entire world. As he put it in a speech, ‘The Cuban people did not hesitate to face the dangers of thermonuclear war.’ It goes without saying that Castro did not invite the Cuban people to express an opinion on the matter of their incineration by nuclear bombs. The Romans said, ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.’ Castro, in effect, said, ‘Let the world end, so long as I play an important part in it.’ His willingness to approve an apocalypse for his own people was paralleled only by that of Hitler.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-48-22When the Russians ignored Castro in their negotiations with the Americans,

he felt humiliated by his insignificance in the larger scheme of things. The extent of his moral frivolity was demonstrated by the fact that he was reconciled with the Russians a year later after a long tour of the Soviet Union, during which the Russians fêted him as they had never fêted anyone else.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-49-41He liked nothing better, Dalrymple points out,

than to harangue hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución for several hours at a time. (Attendance was compulsory.)

A diplomat in Havana told Dalrymple that he had once dined with Castro,

who had spoken uninterruptedly for seven hours, pausing only briefly to take food and drink.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-23-27-46Castro was a master at

manipulating the opinion of Western intellectuals, many of whom supported him unconditionally. His creation of an utterly servile Press and suppression of all liberty of opinion did not bother those intellectuals either. The combination of his rebellious rhetoric and defiance of the US more than compensated them for the dilapidation of Cuba, the tyranny, and the large numbers of political prisoners.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-54-36Dalrymple notes that Castro knew how to get the most out of foreign interviewers.

His technique was to keep journalists waiting for days or weeks, so that their tension mounted, and then suddenly call them at 3am. Their relief was so great that they were disarmed, and susceptible to Castro’s magnetic charms. Dutiful propagandists, they would trot out Castro’s achievements in health and education, which were said to counterbalance the food rationing, the deterioration of the housing stock and the absence of elementary freedoms.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-43-54His daughter Alina Fernández, who has inherited Castro’s temper, once shouted at him: ‘You’re a mediocrity!’ Although this sounds

absurd, given Castro’s career, it contains a truth: for all his ebullience and activity, his ideas never rose above the level of cliché, and mistaken cliché at that.

The centralised economy he established

did not work, because such economies cannot work. Havana, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is crumbling into dust through lack of maintenance. Hundreds of thousands of people inhabit the ruins of a previous civilisation.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-59-07The only institution that functions in Cuba with anything approaching efficiency is

the secret police.

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Castro’s crude, dim-witted economics

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-21-56-22Fidel Castro, Dalrymple notes,

was born the illegitimate son of an impoverished Galician immigrant who became a landowning millionaire. No doubt his father’s great wealth had something to do with Fidel’s lifelong contempt for money: like a hidalgo, he despised it not only for himself but on behalf of everyone else as well.

It is probable that

his ambiguous social status as the illegitimate son of a very rich man caused him to be less attached to Cuban society than were others born with similar chances of prospering in it. Such an ambiguous position easily breeds both the confidence and the inclination to rebel.

But Castro’s life is also

an illustration of the maxim that inside every rebel there is a dictator trying to get out. From the very earliest age, Castro was endowed with a huge and ungovernable ego. Constantly, often violently, rebellious from his infancy on, he brooked no opposition from others from the moment he reached a position of power. At university, he took part in violent political feuds, and may have been a killer. Top dog was and is the only position he could ever accept.

He never learned to know how much he did not know. This gave him

the feeling of omnicompetence: a failing that is minor, though no doubt irritating, in a pub bore, but disastrous in a dictator whose whim is law.

From the outset he

pursued policies that were economically disastrous because founded on an erroneous premise: that wealth is the mirror image of poverty, that the rich are rich because the poor are poor.

But as the Cubans

have discovered at their leisure, if you confiscate luxury cars, it does not mean everyone gets shoes.

Castro’s legacy is

a mess of gargantuan proportions which will take years and the wisdom of Solomon to sort out.

The mendacity of Castroite historiography

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-20-47-35When the horrors of socialist revolutions are inadmissible

There are those, writes Dalrymple, who feel — and advertise — a deep, lifelong, invincible sympathy for Castro and his putrid dictatorship.

From Sartre to Mme Mitterand, prominent personalities have raised hosannas to the Cuban caudillo and all his works.

From the very first, of course, like all murderous tyrants, Castro

deceived his followers and lied his way to absolute power. Many of his close associates learnt this to their cost.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-20-57-10The dictator wanted nationalisation and he wanted war with America. Yet for some,

the blame for Cuba’s half-century of penury and totalitarianism lies only with America.

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George Galloway

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Wayne S. Smith

Danielle Mitterrand

Jean-Paul Sartre

Danielle Mitterrand

Danielle Mitterrand

Cubanos — your place is to obey

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-22-13-39The pitiful human results of a rotten tyrant’s folie de grandeur

Decay, writes Dalrymple,

when not carried to excess, has its architectural charms, and ruins are romantic: so romantic that 18th-century English gentlemen built them in their gardens, as pleasantly melancholic reminders of the transience of earthly existence.

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-22-21-41But Fidel Castro

is no 18th-century English gentleman, and Havana is not his private estate, for use as a personal memento mori. The ruins of Havana that he has brought into being are the habitation of over 1m people, whose collective will, these ruins attest, is not equal in power to the will of one man. ‘Comandante en jefe,’ says one of the political billboards that have replaced all commercial advertisements, ‘you give the orders.’ The place of everyone else is to obey.

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The terrible damage Castro has done

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 01.54.59It will, writes Dalrymple, long outlive him and his regime. Havana

stands as a dreadful warning to the world—if one were any longer needed—against the dangers of monomaniacs who believe themselves to be in possession of a theory that explains everything, including the future.

The repellent American Left

Alleged ignorance of the reality of Russian communism in no way excuses the US Left, writes Dalrymple, since

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Alger Hiss: their lion

the horrors were known and documented from the very first. For decades the Left preferred to ignore the facts than abandon its fantasies. There was hardly any revolutionary violence to which the American Left did not provide aid and comfort, repeating its original sin ad nauseam. It rewrote its own history as assiduously and dishonestly as Stalin wrote his.

As for the so-called New Left,

the internal logic of its socialist beliefs led it to support or make excuses for totalitarian regimes such as Castro’s, just as the previous generation of orthodox communists had done. It also indulged in what would have been comic-operetta revolutionism had it not been for the extreme criminal nastiness of the acts which it excused, condoned, concealed or perpetrated.