Who knows when Fidel Castro actually kicked the bucket? But this weekend his brother decided to let us in on the secret. His presidential term lasted, gosh, an awfully long time, as The New York Times reminded us:
Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II.
That's one way of putting it. But in the end, when it comes to ruthlessly holding on to power, no one can compete with Her Majesty, and so that piker Castro got relegated to second place, while millions of English, Canadians, Jamaicans, Bahamians, Barbadians, Grenadians, etc, still groan under the jackboot of the Queen.
Elsewhere in the US media, The Nation offered a more local comparison:
Castro almost outlasted 11 US presidents—Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and passing in the waning days of Obama's last term. Perhaps he just couldn't bear the thought of President Donald Trump.
Impressive. How exactly did he manage to outlast all those here-today-gone-tomorrow US presidents? As I wrote in Maclean's eight years ago:
"Saying he is no longer healthy enough to hold office, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has announced he will not seek re-election after 49 years in power" — the Miami Herald.
Hmm. Castro didn't really have to "seek" re-election, did he? He's a — what's the word? Oh, yeah — "dictator." If he "seeks" re-election, he's pretty much guaranteed to find it — assuming for the purposes of argument you can be "re-elected" if you've never been freely or fairly elected in the first place. In its own "news report," the satirical website The Nose on Your Face got closer to reality:
"Fidel Castro announced today that he would not seek a new term as Cuba's president, citing concerns that at 81, it may be difficult for him to serve the full, constitutionally-mandated 49-year term."
Yeah, yeah, but who are you to preach? Back to The Nation:
Having been sanctimoniously lectured by all 11 US presidents on what constitutes proper democratic procedure, he might have thought Trump, about to take office with a minority of the vote and with significant voter suppression, a vindication.
Get back to us when Trump's first term lasts 49 years. As for that eleventh US president, Barack Obama declared:
At this time of Fidel Castro's passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives...
Indeed. He "altered the course of individual lives" by ending them. Of those he didn't end, 20 per cent of the population fled the country. Some made it to Miami, others had the course of their lives altered by winding up in a watery grave. Among the many "individual lives" he "altered" was Mercedes Fernandez's, who before taking up residence in Castro's prison had never before had to "defecate parasites six centimeters long". As the Swedish author Johan Norberg remarked:
When I die, I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like Fidel Castro, not screaming in terror, like his victims.
That's a savage variation of the old gag: I want to die like my dad - peacefully in my sleep, not screaming in terror, like his bus passengers. And it's entirely appropriate, even if Mr Norberg's Twitter followers don't care for the cut of his jib. On the other hand, Britain's Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, offered a more nuanced judgment:
For all his flaws... he will be remembered both as an internationalist and a champion of social justice.
To those of us old-fashioned enough to prefer simple, unadorned "justice" to "social justice", the latter's modish and capricious priorities inevitably set you on the path to tyranny, mass incarceration, and blood on the floor. So I have no particular quarrel with Mr Corbyn's assessment. But I wonder what particular strand of "social justice" he thinks Castro "championed"? Gay rights?
Fidel Castro denounced homosexuality as "a bourgeois perversion."
It's fine for the louche salons of British socialists, but don't try it in Havana, where "under Article 303a of the country's Penal Code, 'publicly manifested' homosexuality remains illegal".
Justin Trudeau enjoys "publicly manifested homosexuality" so much he's the first Prime Minister of Canada to march in the annual LGBTQWERTY parade. If he were minded to "publicly manifest" his enthusiasm in Cuba, he'd be arrested: "Social justice" isn't quite as sociable there as it is in Toronto. But don't let a little thing like that get in the way of some A-grade dictatorial crawling...
It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba's longest serving President.
Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro's supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for "el Comandante".
I don't know about that, but Justin's pa certainly had a deep and lasting affection for chaps who style themselves "el Comandante". When Pierre Trudeau resigned as Prime Minister in 1984, he took Justin and his siblings on a vacation to Siberia because "that's where the future is being made". The Siberian future went belly up within a decade, but its Caribbean subsidiary somehow clung on:
I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away.
That's because Castro was one of just three "world leaders" who showed up for Pierre Trudeau's obsequies. As I wrote way back when:
But there beats in the liberal breast a strange passion for normalizing dictatorships. You'll recall that, at the funeral of Pierre Trudeau, the Father of Our Country, the only fellow global colossi to show up were Fidel Castro, Jimmy Carter and Najib Zerouali (Minister of Scientific Research for Morocco, a nation renowned for its scientific research). This would have been a bleak enough comment on Trudeaupia's standing in the world, even without the general media swoon over Fidel. Apparently, millions of freeborn citizens of one of the oldest constitutional democracies on the planet were flattered by the attentions of the grubby strongman from an economic basket case representing the last redoubt of history's most blood-soaked and comprehensively failed ideology.
But cut poor old Trudeau fils some slack. Fidel might have been a bit uptight and stand-offish when Justin took him for a tour of Montreal's village gai, but the guy did show up for the funeral. Jean-Claude Juncker can claim no such personal connection. Who's M Juncker? He's the alleged "President" of "Europe". Whether or not Castro was a real president, Cuba is at least a real country. In that sense, M Juncker is doubly disadvantaged. But as one "president" to another he was anxious to show solidarity:
With the death of
#FidelCastro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.
He was certainly a hero to "President" Juncker, who feels the same way about Brexit and other EU referenda that Castro felt about elections. As I wrote back in 2008:
Of course, the realities of politics are such that the representative of a genuine democracy will at some point or other find himself sitting across the table from this week's president-for-life or generalissimo. But you hope your chap, even while high on the transnational cocktail circuit, will know the difference... When a free man enjoying the blessings of a free society promotes an equivalence between real democracy and a sham, he's colluding in the great lie being perpetrated by the prison state. A generation ago, to their shame, almost every Western politician did it — Trudeau, Mitterrand, Carter, Helmut Schmidt. Today, the political class is more circumspect, but the broader culture, almost instinctively, drapes thugs in the accessories of legitimacy...
Pondering Western enthusiasm for Castro and Co., you wonder whether the free world's urge to normalize tyranny is entirely confined to its exotic overseas exemplars. If you believe in big problems that demand "big government" solutions, democracy just gets in the way. Take Mayer Hillman, senior fellow at the Policy Studies Institute in London and big-shot eco-panjandrum. "When the chips are down I think democracy is a less important goal than is the protection of the planet from the death of life, the end of life on it," he said recently. "This has got to be imposed on people whether they like it or not."
Was Fidel sound on climate change? Or was he as iffy about that as he was with all those bourgeois sodomites? No matter:
Democracy, said Churchill, was the worst form of government except for all the others. It is, in fact, the best form of government for small government — for a rotating political class constrained by a sense of what is achievable in free societies. But, if your plans are bigger than that, then you need a freer hand. The totalitarian temptation lurks within every big idea, even the fluffily benign-sounding ones, and it will only grow in the years ahead.
And so, as evidenced by this weekend's droologies, it has. "Holding on to power" longer than anyone but the Queen, Castro even more impressively held the affections of the drawing rooms of the western left. As the headline of my Maclean's column summarized it:
Love With The Perfect Dictator
And love means never having to say you're sorry, no matter how many individual lives he "alters".
~Today, Monday, I'll be checking in with the great Stuart Varney, live on Fox Business, at 11.30am Eastern/8.30am Pacific. If you're in the presence of the receiving apparatus, I hope you'll dial us up.
~Our Ave atque vale eulogies department will be branching out into a novel television format as part of my new nightly TV extravaganza, The Mark Steyn Show, which starts a week from today - Monday December 5th. You can find out more about The Mark Steyn Show here.