POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
I don't defend dictators, but there are qualities about Castro every open-minded person must admire.
I was a young man when he first liberated Cuba, and many of my generation first regarded him as a heroic figure. It is not widely known now, but the style of military cap he wore became for a while a pop-culture item in the United States.
He stood up to American bullying, and he did it with flair and intelligence. Who does not admire the little guy who stands up to bullying?
American interests in Cuba had been to a great extent gambling, nightclubs, prostitution, and other dark activities. Castro did largely end this, making an enemy of the American Mafia interests who owned what had been goldmines.
Castro did genuinely try to help his people, and he did some very worthwhile things.
In a poor country, the average 8th grader is better educated, by far, than he or she is in the United States. Tests and observations have shown this many times. His health care system and medical training were remarkable achievements.
He resisted numerous attempts on his life by the CIA and its agents, he resisted an invasion, and he withstood a senseless embargo.
These facts tell us something about Castro not widely appreciated in the U.S. He was a popular figure despite having opponents just as all politicians do.
I was looking on the Internet for information on Cuban travel a couple of years ago, and I came across some comments from Americans who had managed to sidestep the ridiculous restrictions on travel. One man wrote, I'll never forget, along the lines, "It's a great place. Get there quickly before the U.S. gets back in and screws everything up."
He stands at the center of several major historical events of the 20th century. The Missile Crisis, of course. His position in this was not as unreasonable as Americans often think. He simply wanted the same security that American tactical weapons offered Western Europe at the time. The U.S. never stopped threatening him, attempting to kill him, and supporting and arming some vicious Cuban émigrés who regularly shot things up from boats and blew things up in Cuba. It was a bigger terror establishment by far down near New Orleans and other locations than the mountain redoubt of Osama, and it was government sponsored to the tune of millions.
And there can be little doubt that at least part of the plot to assassinate Kennedy revolved around an effort to discredit Cuba, perhaps making an invasion possible. I’ve always thought the violent émigrés who came to hate Kennedy for his settlement with the Soviets were behind the assassination.