A tyrant’s liberation

January 1, 1959 should have been a joyous day for Cubans; Fulgencio Batista was leaving and they were getting a new leader, Fidel Castro. But something went terribly wrong, says Otto Reich, former assistant secretary of state and special envoy for Western Hemisphere affairs under Pres. George W. Bush. Very quickly, Batista's coarse abuse of power was eclipsed by a system never before seen in the Caribbean: a totalitarian dictatorship.

Like many Latin American dictators, Fidel Castro fit the traditional authoritarian model: he was brutal, corrupt and dishonest; but he was something more, explains Reich:

  • He was well educated, self-cantered, power-hungry and he flirted with fascism.
  • Eventually, he calculated that communism was the ideal national-socialist system to keep him in power indefinitely.
  • His programme combined a one-party ideology, fail-safe police-state tactics and massive Soviet assistance to obscure the disintegration of Cuba's economy.

    As a result, more than 1 million Cubans became refugees seeking freedom on foreign shores. Those who remained behind faced tyranny and indoctrination, says Reich:
  • To house his prisoners, Castro built 350 penitentiaries, and at some point in the 1960s, Cuba led the world in the number of political prisoners per capita.
  • The hundreds dead under Batista's secret police grew to thousands under Castro's – as many as 6,130 – and many thousands more died on the high seas in 50 years of attempts to escape.

    Why do Cubans not rebel against the despot Castro as they did against Batista? Cubans know what outsiders don't: Castro's dictatorship is of a very different character, explains Reich:
  • The freelance informants of the Batista era were supplanted by a national neighbourhood-surveillance system that encompasses every block of every city and town in Cuba.
  • Called the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution and serving as the eyes and ears of the regime, they are the enforcers of revolutionary diktats, spying on every citizen and encouraging informants to turn on neighbours and relatives.
  • They are empowered to knock on any door at any time to demand that a resident identify any visitor and explain the reason for the visit, or to demand an explanation of why the resident did not "voluntarily" attend the latest mass rally.

    As this year marks a new era in American government, we should take a good look at our Cuban neighbours, says Reich. Few native-born Americans have any idea what it is to lose all freedom and to live in a nationwide "company town" where the government is the only employer and the sole source of your family's food.

    Source: Otto Reich, A Tyrant's 'Liberation': Remembering the fall of Batista, and the 50 years of Cuban misery that have followed, National Review, January 2009.

    For text: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/A+tyrant's+'liberation':+remembering+the+fall+of+Batista,+and+the+50...-a0192311236

    For more on International Issues: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_Category=26

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 10 February 2009
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