On the Death of Fidel Castro

10 Dec

 

 

I have been bemused by the captious tone and condescending assessments of mainstream media in the West reacting to Fidel Castro’s death on November 25, 2016. Typical was coverage in The Economist, which while acknowledging Castro’s epic historical role, and even grudgingly admitting that he achieved world class health care and universal education in his impoverished country, reached the ‘politically correct’ conclusion that these achievements were “outweighed by his drab legacy. Much of the human capital was wasted by his one-party system, police state, and stagnant centrally planned economy.” The lead editorial in The Economist went on even to mock the reverence ordinary Cubans felt for Castro: “Cubans say Mr. Castro was ‘like a father” to them. They are right: he infantilized a nation. Anyone with initiative found ways to leave for exile abroad.” [The Economist, “After Fidel,” Dec. 3-9, 2016]

 

In contrast to generally condescending appraisals in the West, I call attention to two extraordinary essays of appreciation written by cherished friends. One by Sri Lanka’s lead diplomat and cultural critic, Dayan Jayatilleka, published as an opinion piece in the Colombo Telegraph beneath a suitable headline, “A Farewell to Fidel: The Last of Epic Heroes,” Nov. 26, 2016. Dayan not only celebrates Castro’s heroic revolutionary achievement in transforming Cuba from its gangster state identity in the Batista period to a vital outpost of Third World progressive ideals. He also underscores the admirable ethics of liberation violence that guided Castro’s revolutionary practice in ways that exhibited disciplined respect for the innocence of civilian life. For greater detail see Jayatilleka fine appreciative study, Fidel’s Ethics of Violence: The Moral Dimension of the Political Thought of Fidel Castro (London: Pluto Press, 2007). This conception of the ethics of political violence has been essentially absent from the manner in which the struggle between terrorist groups and sovereign states has been waged in various combat zones, especially since the 9/11 attacks. Jayatilleka’s assessments have been confirmed and extended in the recently published book by Nick Hewlett entitled Blood and Progress: Violence in the Pursuit of Emancipation (Edinburgh, Scotland: University of Edinburgh Press, 2016).

 

The other tribute to Castro’s legacy that is deeply informed and resonates strongly with my own perceptions is that of Marjorie Cohn, a lead progressive commentator on national and international issues who writes with knowledgeable passion. In her “The Remarkable Legacy of Fidel Castro,” Huffington Post, Dec. 4, 2016, she contextualizes the Cuban experience during the Castro years, especially lauding the exceptional leadership provided by Castro and the memorable resilience of the Cuban people in withstanding the determined, persistent, and criminal efforts of the United States to reverse the Cuban Revolution and restore the old dictatorial gang to power in Havana. It is truly one of the political miracles of the past century that Cuba was able to withstand this sustained and vicious superpower challenge to its right of self-determination, and as a result Castro’s Cuba served as both inspiration and engaged partner to peoples around the world in their various liberation struggles to free themselves from various forms of colonialism and hegemonic exploitation. Marjorie reminds us of the words of gratitude spoken by Nelson Mandela to Castro in recognition of the help given by Cuba to the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Castro was a genuine internationalist, as well as an ardent nationalist, a combination that is both necessary and rare among statesmen of the last hundred years. Perhaps, it is best to appreciate Castro as a progressive humanist, devoted to improving the human condition throughout the world, and not just in his home country.

 

Even these tributes do not credit Castro’s leadership with its innovative responses to economic isolation and punitive sanctions, which entailed Cuba moving toward ‘a green economy’ (well depicted by Stephen Zunes in an excellent article published on December 9, 2016 by the National Catholic Reporter under the title, “Fidel Castro Left Cuba a Green Legacy”), a vivid instance of necessity serving as the mother of invention. Cuba moved away from monoculture (sugar and tobacco), and concentrated on small scale ecological farming (with greatly reduced reliance on pesticides, fertilizers, and oil consuming machinery) that produced healthier foods in sufficient quantities to meet Cuba’s food security requirements. Now with the opening of the country to a flood of visitors, especially from the United States, there are renewed reports of food scarcities confronting the Cuban people. Paradoxically, it might turn out that the Cuban people benefit more from external pressure than they do from its welcome removal.

 

 

Personal Notes of Remembrance

 

When I was a teenager I visited Cuba with my father, a lawyer with close friends in Havana. We were there during the height of the Batista period, and I remember being at a nightclub where other guests at neighboring tables placed their guns on the table in full view. At that time, Havana possessed Spanish colonial charm, with a small elite doing well while the mass of the people were impoverished and ignored, if not abused. Cuba as a country had no international presence beyond being known as a pawn on Washington’s Caribbean chessboard. It was against such a political background that Castro emerged, and was led to mount his historic challenge a decade or so later.

 

As with so many others, I found Castro to be an inspirational figure whose basic energies were directed at establishing a progressive and proud state in Cuba that stood its ground against the intense geopolitical pressures mounted by the United States under the banner of anti-Communism and in light of the ideological divide that defined the Cold War. How many poor countries, including those not subject to sanctions by its powerful neighbor to the North, would have been able under these conditions to provide universal health care and education for the whole of its population, with resulting high literacy rates and low levels of infant mortality? And not only this, that despite the massive pressures arrayed against Cuba, the government still lent material and invaluable psychological support in solidarity with progressive nationalist movements throughout Latin America and Africa that were in the midst of struggles against colonialist and oppressive forces.

 

No wonder the Cuban people en masse and many millions throughout the Global South deeply mourn with genuine displays of sorrow the passing of this great man, whose warm, vital, and lofty spirit, survived numerous assassination plots and terrorist initiatives launched by CIA operatives and Cuban exiles. As confirmed by declassified official documents, US Government went so far as to enlist notorious Mafia (Cosa Nostra) figures such as Salvatore Giancana and Santos Trafficante in its undertaking to decapitate this Cuban leader as beloved by the great majority of his people as any political figure anywhere in modern times. What an objective media should have focused upon was the degree to which the economic and political deformations in Cuba that so obstructed its political and economic development were largely attributable to the unwillingness of those who governed in the United States to live in peace with the outcome of the Cuban Revolution.

 

While a student at Harvard in 1959 I had a brief experience of the Castro magic. During Castro’s visit to the United States and UN shortly after his revolutionary victory, prior to the split with Washington occasioned by the nationalization of American owned properties in Cuba, he stopped at Princeton to make a guest appearance at a famous seminar on revolution taught by the celebrated historian, R.R. Palmer, and then came to Harvard to speak in the evening at an outdoor sports facility, introduced by the then Dean of the Faculty, McGeorge Bundy (later the National Security Advisor of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson). I found Castro to be a colorful revolutionary figure who spoke eloquently and in a conciliatory tone expressing fervent hopes for friendship between Cuba and the United States. These hopes were immediately permanently crushed after Castro proceeded to nationalize foreign owned investments in Cuba, especially in the vital sugar industry, offering compensation based on the fraudulently low valuations used by these companies to determine their tax responsibilities during the years when the corrupt Batista regime made a variety of ‘crony capitalist’ arrangements beneficial to foreign investors and damaging to Cuban society.

 

Decades later I again felt a connection with Cuba through the efforts of my son, Dimitri, who made a documentary film depicting life under Castro as affected by crippling American sanctions and assorted other disruptive tactics. I was very proud of Dimitri’s efforts, resulting after years of dedicated work that included overcoming a variety of obstacles to complete this difficult project during a period when all forms of travel to Cuba were forbidden for Americans. Dimitri’s commitment resulted in a fine film, Media Noche in Cuba (Midnight in Cuba) that was completed in 1998, shown in the Berlin Film Festival as well as other cinema venues. The film captures the vitality and confining impacts of Cuba’s isolation by tracing the lives of four ordinary Cubans, a dancer, boxer, rock musician, and a prostitute through their ups and downs, conveying a positive image of Cuba that at the same time avoids sentimentality.

 

Fifteen years after watching Dimitri’s film I finally got a second touristic chance to visit Cuba with my wife, Hilal Elver while spending a semester at McGill University in Canada. Travel at that time to Cuba from Canada was easy to arrange, and as long as Americans didn’t spend dollars in the country it was quite legal to visit. Although I fell hard on a concrete tennis court on the day of our arrival due to strong winds, causing a bad gash above my left eye, we had a wonderful exposure to Cuban life, experiencing the warmth of the people and the lyrical grace of its vibrant popular culture. My injury also gave me direct contact with the Cuban health system. After the fall I was immediately driven to a nearby hospital in an ambulance, receiving seven stitches, and daily treatment for our week of residence at a clinic linked to the hotel without ever being asked to pay a single dollar for this exceptional health care. I wonder if it take a second American Revolution to be able to have a comparable experience if a Cuban visiting the United States suffered an accidental injury.

 

 

A Final Word

 

As suggested, there are many reasons to celebrate the life of Castro and numerous reasons to lament the severe hardships imposed on the Cuban people by the long American unseemly campaign to undo the Cuban Revolution, and turn the country back to the malicious mercies of what would likely be a corrupt and dictatorial replay of the Batista years. True, Castro imposed one-party rule and limited the freedoms of Cubans in various ways, but could the revolution have survived if a more permissive approach to governance had been adopted? The United States tried every dirty trick in the book to get rid of Castro, with a range of macabre assassination schemes involving poisoning his food and infiltrating toxic and exploding cigars. When we look at more ‘democratic’ attempts to recover control of a nation and its resources on behalf of its people throughout Latin America, we are confronted by a series of progressive assertions of national political will followed quickly by counterrevolutionary seizures of powers encouraged and abetted by the US Government (e.g. Guatemala 1954 or Chile 1973, and many others over the years). Castro seems to have been enough of a realist to take the measures needed to safeguard the revolution from repeated efforts to overthrow the Cuban government by intervention or achieve the same results by imposing sanctions intended to strangle the country and cause the collapse of its government. Americans should never forget the Bay of Pigs (1961) failure of a CIA backed intervention that might have succeeded had not Jack Kennedy withheld air support from the invading Cuban exiles or the closeness to World War III that produced a confrontation with the Soviet Union known as the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ of 1962. In this regard, American paid a large reputational cost by its embrace of the Cuban counterrevolutionary cause, and actually risked the catastrophe of nuclear war as an indirect result of challenging Castro’s legitimacy as the head of the Cuban state.

 

Barack Obama deserves credit for breaking the anachronistic logjam, and taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba over the course of the last year. But even Obama could not let go of economic sanctions altogether, and endured another near unanimous resolution of censure of the US economic embargo of Cuba by the UN General Assembly. Nor would he send a formal delegation to attend Castro’s funeral, which would have subtly signaled a willingness to acknowledge how wrong had been the US policy toward Cuba over the years. Now with Trump posturing about reconsidering Obama’s normalization moves, the Cuban people are being made newly aware that their sovereign reality is cruelly subject to the arbitrary political whims of the American presidency.

 

The perversity of the American policy toward Cuba is underscored by its persistence for more than 25 years after the end of the Cold War. This hostility, fueled by the reactionary Cuban community in Miami, has survived even a Cuban post-Castro turn toward market economics and a willingness to turn a blind eye toward the suffering inflicted on the Cuban people as a result

of U.S. policies designed to isolate, punish, and destabilize. Now it is entirely possible for the nightmare to be extended even beyond Fidel Castro’s death. It would take only one more midnight tweet from the fertile imagination of Donald Trump.

 

And finally, it is sad that the media coverage of Castro’s death, while acknowledging his significance, contented itself with platitudes about the failures of freedom in Cuba without ever seriously exploring the degree to

which the alleged regressive patterns of Cuban governance were necessary responses, the prudent price paid for the revolutionary survival of the Cuban political experiment. Of course, domestic politics played its part in pushing American hostility to such an irrational extreme, and may continue to do so. The location of a large, activist anti-Castro Cuban exile community in Florida, a swing state in American national elections, made political leaders in Washington reluctant to challenge Cuban policy even after the end of the Cold War. Just as with Palestine, there is no political upside for such a challenge, and the adverse practical consequences of challenging the anti-Castro consensus in Washington were understandably inhibiting, and sadly, maybe still are. Unfortunately, the moral upside of challenging these regressive policies doesn’t pay dividends in domestic politics.

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6 Responses to “On the Death of Fidel Castro”

  1. Ceylan December 11, 2016 at 4:21 am #

    Dearest Richard,

    You are far to productive than I can keep up with following your blog; just as I was trying to digest your essay on Nobel Peace Prize & Kissinger your Castro & Cuba has arrived which I have read a couple of times. With each reading, once again I found myself arguing with you hence realised how much I missed our heated conversations and you and Hilal.

    I was in Cuba in February 2004 for about ten to twelve days. Rented a car and travelled all the way up to Santa Clara, mostly spending the nights at “casa particulares” which are actually rooms rented by local people –all operate with a special permit from the state. During the whole trip, only twice for a night or two I have stayed in a hotel. 0nce in Habana –at the Nacional, previously was a Hilton and, once in Varadero at one of those (then) recently permitted European holiday resort type of a chain hotel (which I believe was a German enterprise).

    At first I was hesitant driving through Cuba with a rented a car –especially after I saw the car! But since I was not alone but travelling with a Turkish friend and her Swedish husband I went along with the idea, I am glad we did it. Only naturally we have experienced another Cuba than you portray in your essay.

    I have had my first cultural (if not political) shock in Trinidad, which is a UNESCO ‘world heritage’ site. As we spend a night or two in one of those crumbling yet still maintaining its Spanish colonial architectural lavishness with most of the original furniture and objects still in use, we were asked if we would have dinner at “casa” which was at an extra charge of $ 10 (US Dollars) per person including half a bottle of wine -mind you the cost of bed & breakfast was depending on the ‘casa’s historical value (not the amenities that it provided; there were hardly any rooms with a private shower & WC, bed linen were mostly synthetic, towels you and I would probably use to clean the floors only) was between $ 20 & $ 30 per person/night. As we have noticed earlier that there were no restaurants in this world famous touristic town, we accepted the offer. The dinner consisted of a lobster weighing approximately a pound each, plus abundance of rice and as much of fried plantains besides some salad and, mostly fresh pineapple for a dessert.

    The next morning as an early riser I went out strolling through those postcard cobbled streets lined with rainbow coloured painted houses on both sides. At a corner I saw a crowd of people, queuing behind an old truck. As I came round and closer, I saw that it was a mobile butcher selling meat. As much as it was of curiosity to me, I was to the locals; we tried to communicate, upon my question they tried to explain that this was –again, a state service which came round once a week providing meat on ration! Than I checked in to a nearby store which looked as if it was a neighbourhood grocery – I say “looked like” since, there was nothing to buy on the shelves.

    Back at the ‘casa’ that same night I have tried to talk to the owner (which by then I was not sure if they really owned the property or given with a condition by the sate) I have learned that food is rationed in Cuba! Each person had a weekly ration of rice, meat, sugar, coffee, and so on…a pound of rice per person per week whose main dish is rice pilav! No wonder I saw no obese people in Cuba.

    I am not sure if your description of a paradox reflects the reality:

    Cuba moved away from monoculture (sugar and tobacco), and concentrated on small scale ecological farming (with greatly reduced reliance on pesticides, fertilizers, and oil consuming machinery) that produced healthier foods in sufficient quantities to meet Cuba’s food security requirements. Now with the opening of the country to a flood of visitors, especially from the United States, there are renewed reports of food scarcities confronting the Cuban people. Paradoxically, it might turn out that the Cuban people benefit more from external pressure than they do from its welcome removal.

    Nor the opinion on “green revolution” since most probably simply because they could not (yet I agree for the better) import none of the pollutant herbicides, fertilisers and oil to farm with high tech agricultural machines; but when I was visiting “scarcities” as you put it were already there for sometime as standard.

    Cuba, along with India, are the only two countries that I have travelled around the world in which I have lost my appetite due to guilt feeling, however delicious the food was.

    In Camaguey we have met this lovely, helpful young lady who helped us find a ‘casa particulare’ to spend the night upon which while waiting for my friends to relax, shower & change I have invited her to a corner bar to have a mojito or two. At first she was hesitant, than she accepted my offer but during the whole time –maybe 45 minutes in total, that we have spend together she was constantly looking over her shoulders as I was trying to learn more about life of a Cuban in Cuba.

    After a while she must have had some confidence (at least) in me that when my friends arrived she also accepted their offer to join us for dinner at a place of her choice. She took us to a restaurant with music whose managers were apparently people she knew well (and probably she got a commission from directing us there). During dinner she somehow overcame her habit of checking over her shoulders –later it dawned on me that obviously she was afraid of ‘informers’. Before the night ended we have exchanged address’ so that I could send her some of the photos I took of her and also send her request of classics books in English literature. By profession she was an English Literature teacher, when she realised she did not like teaching she became a guide & interpreter. Of course she was having hard time finding a regular job.

    Many months and smuggled letters (!) she has send to me mostly via Canada, she has written that she is pregnant from a boyfriend who does not want o have anything to do with the baby and, she asked me to send her money to have better care during labour. Of course I thought all aspects of spending her money; was she an opportunist? Would I be getting involved in some sort of an international smuggling gang? Would I be tracked by bank transferring money to Cuba? Was she really desperately in need of this little amount of 60 Euros in a country –like you, the whole world praise its free and excellent health care? Nevertheless I did send it. In her letter she explained that that was the limit of the amount of foreign currency a Cuban can receive from abroad without getting into trouble (!).

    She had the baby, a girl! Lovely, cute, healthy curly haired; darker skinned version of my childhood photos began to arrive along with a list of requests of clothing: could I please send her a raincoat as the rainy season has arrived and as she has started the school. Since she is going to school walking perhaps it would be a good idea if I could also send a child’s umbrella; etc., which I did all of them through friends visiting Cuba.

    A few years ago she stopped corresponding. I wonder sometimes if she has been arrested for simply corresponding with me “illegally” through smuggled letters or receiving gifts from me or did she go into exile or, … I still hope one day she will show up sign of life somehow.

    At Varedero we have faced another facet of reality in Cuba: while sun bathing along the pristine beach of the hotel as we got up from our chaise lounge’s to go for a swim we saw one of the private guards of the beach (beaches had guards !) pushing a local boy out of the beach hence we learned that beaches were private, locals were not allowed to step foot on these private beaches designated for tourists. Upon leaving the hotel, local people surrounded our car asking for something which we finally understood from samples of scraps of soap they were holding in their hands that they were asking for soap; surely some of their relatives working at the hotel told them that the small complimentary soaps provided by international star & hygiene standard are thrown to rubbish after each customer.

    Back in Habana, after my friends left I have had a day or two on my own. I took a guided tour (actually the only way of visiting) of the ‘Nacional Teatro’. Yet another lavish building from colonial days; each room designated for an activity or a rehearsal. There was my first and only encounter with live flamenco; I admired the discipline and the perfection of those fish bone thin (or as the current saying goes size zero) girls all in black ankle length slinging dress’ yet emphasising the contours of their muscled bodies; giant drops of tears began rolling down my cheeks in apprehension –all kinds of feelings attached.

    As I walked out of the building at an altered state of mind and spirit I found myself at the “National Museum of Fine Arts”. While admiring the Cuban contemporary art (truly amazing!) I was among the surprisingly few visitors having most of the 3 floors almost all to my self during the whole time but the many guards whom most were women. When one of them made sure that she and I was alone, after looking around over her shoulders, she asked for a medication in Spanish, while making gestures to explain that she had a headache, so I deciphered. Both in English and in sign language I have explained that I had Aspirin but it was in my bag which was by regulation in the locker below by the entrance and if she wished to accompany me down I could give her one; upon which immediately in panic she withdrew, walked away to her position as if this short encounter never took place she put her stone like mask of an expression on her face. As I was leaving the room when I passed by her by saying ‘good bye’ she pretended she did not see me nor hear me.

    I was curious: in this so called country where the free health system is so praised, as I was walking through the streets of the Old Town I walked into an apothecary and asked for Aspirin. In those few seconds that I spend in this place I could not help but admire shelves full of old fashion stoneware and porcelain jars (which I would love to take home with me) and hand blown old medicine bottles –apparently all for decoration, he said ‘not available’. I persisted by gestures like the young woman at the museum, that I had a headache, he kept on saying “no”. Like the grocery store in Trinidad, the apothecary’s shelves were empty of any medication.

    There is either a system in Cuba to be served, provided with provisions of any kind or, maybe one has to belong to a lucky privileged few like yourself who had an immediate and excellent attention and care upon your misfortunate fall which resulted with some stiches. I can’t help but wonder what if I really have had a headache how would I be able to get over with it unless I was pre-warned to carry along some basic medication with me while travelling in Cuba? Visit a corner bar and have a couple of mojitos until I knocked myself unconscious, I wonder?

    From Habana I flew to Buenos Aires with Cuban Air. The last dream flight of my life: one could still smoke on a flight of a Cuban Air; if not for anything else I was grateful to Castro; that’s what I called revolutionary in 2004! That’s how & when I appreciated Castro most, contrary to what you wrote:

    Perhaps, it is best to appreciate Castro as a progressive humanist, devoted to improving the human condition throughout the world, and not just in his home country.

    As always we have our -even if minute, contradicting opinion; but that’s what good friends are for, ain’t they?

    On that first visit to Buenos Aires and in the following years I have met & made many Argentina friends some of which have had Cuba in their own personal histories. One is a friend who grew up in Cuba during the early years of the revolution since his father was one of the founding fathers of “this” Cuban health system; he sold a very successful upper middle class private practice in -still today, very prestigious neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, San Isidro and moved to Cuba with all his family by invitation from Ernesto the Che himself personally. The other is a woman, slightly older than the mentioned male friend above, who also grew up in Cuba but during Batista as the daughter of a landlord who owned a sugar plantation. One can only imagine the differences of opinion or memories of their Cuba! One still remembers and lives with the vivid memories of it as the last champion of hope of a just world; the latter remembers of the unjust world thinking of all their confiscated wealth by Castro & Co. Gang. Such is life!

    On the other hand while reading yours and the positive references you have quoted both for people of Cuba (which I totally agree) and Castro (not agreed totally), I could not help but wonder between resemblances to both Ataturk and RTE and their Turkey; I belong to a generation which still grew up with Ataturk ideals, and now there are a couple generations which grew or currently growing up with RTE ideals ( I am yet to apprehend); both according to them, in their own way, resurrected a nation from its ashes. Specifically the latter, RTE (even if pretending), reject international help or intervention while the economy is collapsing, unofficial inflation uttered in 2 digits once again, poverty, unemployment increasing by the hour, and of course without mentioning all the other & any unlawful acts taking place (while writing this almost epic respond I have learned that there is yet another two bombs exploded in Istanbul last night and currently there are 38 deaths) but still I do not want to mention this side of it…

    With or without sanctions, international intervention nor none of it or whatever else you may wish to add, I am afraid a dictator is a dictator: A dictator should not be praised simply because s/he put up resistance to capitalism or for that reason to the USA, punto!

    I was also sad when I have read that Castro passed away not for what the media has written –or not, but along with Cohen, Greg Lake of Emerson Lake Palmer, it is my past that is drifting away with each one of them … and I could not help but wonder if he would become a symbol of protests like CHE without whom Castro could not have achieve most of this Cuban revolution.

    I was sad leaving Cuba:

    Yes indeed I agree with one -if not most important, point you have made: it has been the Cuban people who have put up the real resistance and long suffered not only from the US sanctions but from iron will of Castro.

    Nevertheless, may he finally rest in peace.
    Not that peace remains peaceful these days.

    Warmest greetings from a once again lovely mild Mazi,
    Ceylan

    • Gene Schulman December 12, 2016 at 1:21 am #

      Guess everyone has their own views on Cuba: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/12/telling-lies-about-fidel/

    • Richard Falk December 12, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      Dearest Ceylan: Thanks for sharing these remembrances and experiences. As with Turkey, ‘it is not where
      you look, it’s what you see.’ I do think there are interesting comparisons between Castro and other autocratic
      leaders. I attribute the harshness of his governance to a context created by the US refusal to allow Cuba
      to develop a socialist economy that included the need to gain control over the wealth of the country appropriated
      via foreign control. The relationship between Castro and Che is certainly worth exploring, and it is maybe true
      that Cuba was too small for two such historical giants. Castro was the practical leader who exhibited qualities
      of defiance, love, and perseverance, while Che was the romantic revolutionary whose life itself was inspirational.
      Of course, Cuba was blessed by having both, and America is politically impoverished by having neither.

      And in your way, Turkey is blessed to have this voice of conscience who lives so bravely in the blissful
      beauty of Mazi. With love,

      Richard

  2. Beau Oolayforos December 11, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    When Goldwater used to warn that “…we can’t have a bearded dictator 90 miles from our shores…”, it made me wonder which was worse, the beard or the dictator. Kennedy’s thing during the Missile Crisis about “…a full retaliatory response by the United States…” seemed like unnecessary saber-rattling. Good for Castro that he survived the poisoned toothpaste & all that. RIP.

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