Editorial: Castro struck out


We’ll say one thing for former Cuban President Fidel Castro: The guy is larger than life. Or he used to be, anyway. Nowadays he looks like a hobo.

But in his prime…. The beard. The cigar. That sexy contemptuousness. Even capitalist pigs had to admit there was something ruggedly charismatic about the guy.

Remember that time he took to the mountains with his rag-tag band of warriors after a failed guerilla-style coup? That was awesome.

Or when he met with Malcolm X up in Harlem? Way cool.

Crowds took to the streets when he assumed power in 1959. His forces held off an invasion by CIA-trained troops. Ernest Hemingway loved him.

He thwarted all those shady assassination attempts, and even foiled a plot by the CIA to have his beard fall out.

Say what you want about the guy, he was one tough old fellow. And, as the legend goes, a world-class baseball player.

But allow us to publish yet another editorial that paints Castro in the realistic style, not as a swarthy, chic revolutionary but as a fairly nasty dictator and unrepentant egomaniac whose idealism belied a thirst for power and significance that no amount of lime daiquiris could slake.

Most of his own men died in his takeover attempts of Cuba, and dozens more perished at the hands of Che Guavera, who looks cool on T-shirts and tattoos but was a character cast more along the lines of the Hussein brothers than, say, Rob Roy.

Execution was but one form of intimidation Castro used to oppress his people. The military uniform he wore in public, the hours-long speeches, even the cigar and beard were subtle props in his campaign of coercion against the Cubans.

Making overtures to the USSR was an attempt at importing fear to the US, but he backed the wrong horse in that race.

And while he was condemning the evils of capitalism, he was grabbing land, businesses and money from US interests with both hands. While his people lived in poverty even by Caribbean Islands standards, Castro himself was worth about $900 million as recently as 2006, according Forbes magazine.

And though small trickles of capitalism have slipped into the economic groundwater, Cuba’s financial picture remains bleak – a $239.7 million deficit in 2006; a trade deficit measuring $5.8 billion in 2007 and a currency, the Cuban peso, which is worth about a nickel on the streets of Havana, where it still looks like war-ravaged 1958.

And as it turns out, even the baseball thing is a lie. Legend has it that Castro was a fearsome southpaw on the mound and finagled his way to a tryout with the Washington Senators in the ’40s. His rejection from the team, the story goes, added spice to the anti-American sentiments already stewing within him.

This, too, is propagandist bunk. In his book The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, Roberto Gonzalez Ecchevarria writes, “In a country where sports coverage was broad and thorough… there is no record that Fidel Castro ever played, much less starred, on any team.”

Maybe the beard was fake, too.

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