Castro’s Passing Inspires Varied Responses

Alexandra Reinecke and

Cuban revolutionary and dictator Fidel Castro died Friday, November 25, at the age of 90, according to CNN. While most Americans are uniform in their dislike of the figure responsible for bringing the Cold War closer to the North American continent, the Cuban response to the death of the figure who has been their national symbol for nearly a half century has been much more varied.

Many Cubans have celebrated his death, pegging Castro as a dictator responsible for much of the economic and social restraint they experience in their daily lives, while others revere him as a kind of revolutionary hero. However varied Cuban response to Castro’s death has been, none can deny the central role Castro played in the lives of the Cuban people. Castro had a larger-than-life, almost supernatural presence over the people of his country, one which will not, in the wake of his death, be soon forgotten.

The variance of responses to Castro’s death do not contain themselves to Cuba. Many world powers, including the United States and Canada, have made formal remarks on the death of the dictator, many of which have been similar, but others of which deviated from the expectations of those who understand the late leader to have been a menace to American dominance. One such leader, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, took heat on Twitter this past weekend for what were regarded as his exceedingly warm comments towards Castro. Trudeau’s comments can largely be explained in light of the amicable relationship the late dictator had with Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, a somewhat controversial figure in his own right who held the office of Canadian Prime Minister from 1980-1984.

That Trudeau hailed Castro as “a larger than life leader who served his people” and “a legendary revolutionary and orator” who “made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation” in the statement he delivered at a press conference Saturday, November 26 in Antananarivo, Madagascar, came as a shock to many given Castro’s rocky track record with democratic standards such as a free market economy and freedom of the press and speech.

Some parodied Trudeau’s statement by conjuring similar such under-160 character odes to dictators, or what Twitter users have come to call Trudeau Eulogies–a eulogy being a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something, usually a recently deceased friend or family member–and have marked with the hashtag: #trudeaueulogies. Many of the tweets took a cold, cynical approach to the young Prime Minister’s statement, invoking such usually hands-off topics as the Stalinist famines, the Taliban, and the Jonestown mass murder responsible for the “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” colloquialism.

“Against all odds,” tweeted Twitter user Nick Gillespie, “Charles Manson not only kept his family together, he made sure they achieved most of their squad goals #trudeaueuologies,” referencing the actions of serial killer and cult leader Charles Manson. Another user @FowlCanuck wrote, “Today we mourn painter and animal rights activist Adolf Hitler. His death also highlights the need for suicide awareness.”

While such Tweets may go too far, they do raise a burning question: what, after all, is the appropriate response to situations such as these? Had a world leader with whom we had amicable relations passed, there would be the routine public condolences, the representative sent to whatever elaborate funeral or memorial service he or she was given. The response to the death of a long-time adversary to our country, however, is a little more complicated. In watching the varied responses to Castro’s death unfold on the news, I can not help but think of a parallel: when we see someone who has hurt us, are we sorry for them?

Should a friend stumble, we would reach out to support them, but our response to an enemy is more clouded. The question remains: how, exactly, do you mourn a dictator? What words do you use? What tone do you strike? Where exactly, does the United States, a country with a track record of conflict with Cuba, land in this funereal spectrum?

The Obama Administration, although striking a less reverent tone than that of Trudeau, decided that where we land is within a kind of middle ground, a ground of recognized commonalities. This, too, is a kind of moral approach, a kind of appeasement, invoking the same moral high road approach Clinton used throughout her campaign, using a phrase she borrowed from the Obama’s: “When they go low, we go high.” In the official statement from the White House, Obama extended “a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” stating that “the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

Responses to the question “how to mourn a dictator” have been varied. Havana mourns with reverence. Miami celebrates with glow-sticks, proudly waved flags. Canada invokes one of their past leader’s friendship. America sends condolences to his families, with “thoughts and prayers” for his country’s people.

That responses to Castro’s death have been varied is really less surprising than many have described it, for Castro was, as each person is, not the embodiment of one singular quality or another, but a comobobulation of parts. As we find ourselves trying to decide what to think and how to respond to the death of this famous man, it is important to reiterate a comment I heard a CNN commentator use during the recent election: we are entitled to our own opinions, he said, but we are not entitled to our own facts. 

Those inspired by Castro’s revolution in its innocent and early stages can remember his oratory power. Those harmed by the havoc he wreaked in Cuba and for the United States can blanket themselves in newspaper articles and textbook pages affirming his cruelty. Such are opinions; such are allowed. But despite the variance in people’s opinions of Castro, the facts surrounding him stand as they are. Therein lies the power of facts, in their simultaneous beautiful simplicity and unwavering judgement.

Castro’s passing does not absolve him of the many atrocities, such as the incarceration of thousands and the suppression of free press, he caused. The justification for the parties, the celebratory storming of the streets in Miami is absolutely there. There is, however, a kind of sacrilegious mood to such reverse-grieving, a kind of unshakable feeling of wrong in the waving of glow-sticks at news of a passing, even that for who was an undeniably evil man. The joy, however factually grounded, seems somehow immoral.

Watching these events unfold, these grins, these shouts, these flashing lights and relieved “Viva Cuba”s, I came upon what I believe to be an adequate cause for this sense of sacrilege. It isn’t that those mourning Castro with celebration are wrong, but rather the opposite: they are not only right, but so right, that this kind of celebration seems to fit to those old cliches about using a pain as a platform from which to produce another pain. Putting salt in a wound.

We don’t have to rail against Castro in his time of death. There is no necessity to shout our belief as to the cruelty carried out during his dictatorial life; facts capture this cruelty. We must sometimes allow the truth space to exert the power it has, for we weaken it in a way, repeating it, padding it with redundant or only loosely relevant supplementations the way one pads a faulty or precarious argument. That Castro was a cruel dictator, often violent, often ignorant of the basic rights owed human beings, is no precarious argument; we must not frame it as such.

Hemingway’s old statement about terseness is applicable here: “If I started to write elaborately . . . I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out . . . and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.” So is it coincidence that the man so unanimously heralded as one of our country’s greatest writers, capable of mirroring our sympathies, intimately attuned to our national sense, understood so fully the power in bare truth?

We admire his words because he was sparing with them. More often than not, he was incisive. What he understood about truth is what we must understand. What he demanded in his work, too, we should demand of ourselves: that we, now and always, respect the power fact–free of the better or worse of our supplementary interference–wields all alone. What he knew, so we should know: that in most cases, fact is most impactful unadorned. That the strange wake of this strange and multi-faceted man is such a case.

The White Houses’s statement, I believe, has been the superior comment on the event, for it allows fact the respect it deserves. “History,” it reads, “will record and judge [his] enormous impact.”

So history will.