I’ve visited Cuba twice in the past five years. Fidel Castro, its dictator since 1959, has just died. As a communist, his grip on power and his people was tight. He was, however, a genuinely popular leader. Now in a state that operates a secret police and restricts freedom of expression, one cannot always be certain what real people really think. But I suspect my impression was correct.
The pro-American regime that he replaced in the late fifties was also a dictatorship, led by Batista. He was a pretty unpleasant character and cared little for his people’s welfare. Castro, on the other hand, boosted Cuba’s education and made its healthcare system one of the best in the world. They have more doctors per head of population than many developed countries.
I wouldn’t go as far as describing Cuba as a socialist paradise. State food rations in 2011 would only last for the first 17 days of every month; families would then be forced to purchase food from the illegal black markets to which the state had to turn a blind eye. Its record on religious freedom is also poor. Although persecution of Catholicism eased when Pope Francis visited the island, Protestant Congregations still struggle under the hostile hand of the state.
Unusually for communist dictators, a part of me is tempted to admired Castro. Now he’s gone to find out the extent to which God approved of him, and the crimes of his regime.