You can speak ill of the dead
It is not the normal thing in politics to speak ill of the dead. However, there are some cases in which it is not only fair, but necessary, to criticize someone’s record in order to ensure that their actions are not repeated. I would never consider it proper to revel in someone’s death; however, nor is it proper to ignore their deeds in life.
This past week marked the death of Fidel Castro — certainly a leader of significant consequence. He led and defined Cuban politics for 50 years, and had a significant indirect influence on American politics and on the direction of the Cold War. His support for the stationing of nuclear missiles in Cuba brought the world closer to all-out nuclear war than anything else that has taken place, before or since.
Fidel Castro was consequential, but it must also be said that he was a tyrant. He put in place a deeply repressive system which forced one-fifth of the Cuban population to flee or die trying, and this political system he put in place remains, under the direction of his brother. In 2015, for example, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation identified more than 8,500 politically-motivated instances of arbitrary arrest. Political activities outside the communist party remain illegal, medicines are scarce, all media is tightly controlled, and more than half of the economy is controlled directly by the military. This is classic totalitarian fare.
Recognizing this reality, it is both right and important to “speak ill of the dead” in this context. Passing off Castro’s crimes as minor or incidental would be an injustice to his victims and a great disservice to the ongoing cause of Cuban reform today.
Communist regimes in the past always relied on so-called “useful idiots” in the West — people who loved their own freedom but had romantic ideas of what life was actually like under dictators, and so defended them. Castro never lacked for “useful idiots” to defend his cause — people who took Cuban propaganda about education and health care reform at face value, and who would align their cause with anyone who was seen to be sticking it to the Americans. Castro’s defenders always had their reasons for doing so, usually rooted in ideology, domestic politics, or anti-Americanism, but they rarely spared a thought for the Cuban people who had to suffer under the unrelenting tyranny of Castroism.
Like many of you, I was disappointed by our prime minister’s fawning tribute to Fidel Castro at the time of his death. Castro certainly did not deserve the tribute. However, more importantly, when Western leaders compliment tyrants, they help dictatorships perpetuate their position and undermine reform movements. Western leaders can make a difference in badly governed places, like Cuba, by speaking the truth and by testifying to the positive impacts of human rights protections in their own countries.
Garnett Genuis is the member of Parliament for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 780-467-4944. His office is located in the Park Place Professional Centre, Unit No. 214. Genuis was first elected in October 2015.
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2016