On Cuba, we need Truth and Reconciliation | Unpublished

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Unpublished Opinions

mihaychuk's picture
Ottawa, Ontario
About the author

 I am interested in sustainability, civic engagement and democratic renewal. You might meet me at the soccer pitch, at the Farmers Market, or walking or biking on local trails.
I'm a high-tech veteran and have lived in Ottawa since 2000. Before moving to the private sector, I earned my Ph.D. in laser & semiconductor physics at the University of Toronto.

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On Cuba, we need Truth and Reconciliation

November 29, 2016

This post was inspired by many people on social media putting forth false moral and ethical equivalences in an attempt to excuse Fidel Castro's many wrongs: human rights abuses, deprivations inflicted on his fellow Cubans, and the export of armed conflict.

Cuba and the world are going to need truth and reconciliation to move forward. Please take time to remember the victims of oppression in Cuba, and elsewhere. Seek out their stories, hear them with an open mind, and learn from them.

State-sponsored oppression is a tragic and common part of the human condition. To fight it, we must choose compassion over simplistic allegiances like left-right and us-them. As people of good will, we should support all victims of violence. We should support  human rights, the rule of law and elections that are free and fair.

Sadly, hero worship and simplistic readings of history sometimes lead us to whitewash hard facts and to be wilfully blind to the suffering of others.  When we fall into these traps, we often become complicit in the painful legacy of oppression in a way that victimizes survivors again.

I have recently read a regular drip of social media posts from educated people who make very dubious  excuses for Castro's brutal oppression and neglect of so many of his own people. The tendency to diminish and deny extreme human suffering is shameful behaviour but it as common as the grass. It is familiar to many of your neighbours who are themselves survivors of oppression, as it is to all who struggle to overcome poverty and exclusion.

Many Canadians are survivors of oppression and their loved ones. Some faced death, deprivation, imprisonment and humiliation under Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and other brutal dictators. Some are Canadians of Japanese, Ukrainian or other "enemy" ancestries who were internal exiles or were forced into labour camps. Many others are survivors of Canada's residential schools still working to heal, to be heard, and to be understood.

I also acknowledge the people that I have personally met who are survivors of oppression and hardships in their homeland: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the former Yugoslav republics, Ireland, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Eritrea, Rwanda, South Africa, Libya, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, and Mexico - to name only the countries of origin of those people whose stories I can recall quickly.

With this acknowledgement, we should also welcome skeptical and truthful examinations of all political leaders and their legacies. As we do so, it is especially important that claims to pursue noble ends should never to be used to justify or diminish brutality and the denial of basic human rights. Some of the most common and harmful rationalizations for state-sponsored oppression are "We did not know", "It was different then, we were at war",  and "He did it for the greater good". 

Castro knew very well what his crimes were. Indeed, he was vain in his displays of his so-called strength. His record shows that he repeatedly acted to consolidate his own power at the expense of any opposition. Like most totalitarian strongmen, he cruelly persecuted the LGBTQ community. Also true to form, his government lurched from one dubious economic plan to another, and from one Soviet bloc proxy war to another. 

Castro and his aides should bear the full responsibility for their failures and crimes. Instead were are often subjected to ridiculous, shameful deflections in a knee-jerk, faux-progressive online tit-for-tat. I see  people idolize a bogus, romanticized version of Castro, often as the yin to Che Guevara's yang, and I am completely baffled. Castro was a military dictator who failed the principal test of leadership: to put one's people before oneself.

To make matters worse Fidel Castro stubbornly refused to yield power, even to his own brother, until he literally could no longer stand through one of his own ridiculously long speeches. Lacking true compassion even for himself, it is no surprise that Fidel showed none for those who dared to disagree with him. His twisted example of perseverance is not one to be admired.

With Fidel's ridiculously long speeches  in mind I will end my comments here, but charge any readers who made it this far as follows:

- Try to define your team/tribe as "Human Rights and Dignity For All". This will free you from the sense that you must defend the myths of your "team" against hard truths. You will be more objective and open to criticism and new insights.

- Avoid making excuses for abuse, of anyone or by anyone, especially when the perpetrator is in a position of power. It is very important to acknowledge that this still applies when a victim becomes an abuser.

- Hear and support victims of violence and oppression. Let "the big story" be their story.