Dictator is dead, dictatorship lingers on

The long-expected moment has arrived: the passing away of Fidel Castro, the man who maintained his grip on insular Cuba for almost 58 years and had emerged as one of the icons of radical leftist movements around the globe.

It has become customary for radical leftist movements to eschew real success, driving the country’s economic and social advancement and providing freedom to its citizens, as a method of achieving worldwide recognition. On the contrary, Cuba’s economy came from bad to worse. Living standards were falling and the economy reeled under the impact of permanent experiments. They emanated from the desperate efforts to determine what actually a socialist economy should look like, if it wants to stay functional. Sometimes the US dollar was a legal tender, other times it was a crime to have it. Until the dollar was again in circulation. A private restaurant – sometimes perfectly legal, other times a crime again. Until accepted as a legitimate form of the workers’ revolutionary fervour. Nothing worked, but bombastic praises of the “Cuban socialist model” continued without abate.

Today, more than one million Cubans live abroad and their approach to Castro and his regime was instantly evident to all and sundry when jubilations erupted in Miami after the Cuban leader’s death was announced. During and after the revolution, thousands of people were executed , thousands more passed through prisons during the regime’s tenure, and many more were exposed to other forms of pressure and reprisals, including the loss of employment, problems with their offspring’s education, or physical assaults by members of “street committees for the defence of the revolution”. The leading role of the Communist Party has been sanctioned by law and elections remain a farce, with a 99-percent turnout and a similar amount of votes cast for the ruling party candidates. If anyone can see freedom in this, his ideological blindness must be truly incredible.

Fidel Castro was, first and foremost, an egotist, a man obsessed with power. Lasting hours, his speeches—often lacking substance but brimming with self-appreciation, especially in recent years—became notorious. They were a true reflection of what Castro really stood for: a typical South American strongman, caudillo, determined to follow the footsteps of Batista, Peron, Somoza and others, snatch power and never share it. A leader, who turned communist probably due to the international political situation, as that made him the voice of a part of the developing world and many left-leaning intellectuals: a status that, say, Peron had never achieved. In the name of this strategy, he was capable of improbable exploits, such as nudging the Soviet Union to nearly start a nuclear war in the wake of the Cuban Crisis in 1962. Exporting revolution to African and South American nations, due to which a state as rich as Venezuela found itself on the brinkmanship of economic and social bankruptcy, was in a way just a little episode.

The world is not always consistently even-handed: Fidel Castro was never tried for crimes against his people. His long illness gave the regime enough time to gradually pass the power to its other proponents, and his death certainly will not be a signal for unrest, which it would have doubtless been 20 years ago or so. But Castro’s death has a symbolic meaning: Dictatorship stays but its main agent is gone. Hopefully, the undemocratic, dysfunctional system he has created will follow suit in due course.