On Social Justice, Trump Trumps Castro

When Donald Trump became the president-elect of the United States, people cried, classes were canceled, tickets to Canada were purchased, and numerous discussion spaces were sponsored by campus groups. Yet, many of these same students happily wear Che T-shirts and proudly declare themselves Leninists or Maoists. Why is it that many of the students who mobilized en masse against Donald Trump seem to have such a romantic view of Fidel Castro and other totalitarian dictatorships? These totalitarian tyrants are magnitudes worse than Donald Trump in every way. To hate one and praise the others requires Olympic levels of mental gymnastics.

Donald Trump ran a racially incendiary campaign with strong ties to white nationalism. In the days following his electoral victory, hate crimes swept the nation. The concern that a Trump presidency legitimizes racial norms is real, but the legacy of Castro’s Cuba is no better. Castro declared he was going to “end racial discrimination at work centers,” and much of his mythology is built around his supposed identity as a racial crusader. Castro did initially follow through on his promises by implementing a series of anti-discrimination laws and removing racial discrimination within the institutional framework of the government. But in 1962, the Cuban government declared that racism was no longer a problem. Further discussions of race were seen as divisive and outlawed. Those who tried to bring up racial issues were politically repressed. Castro’s Cuba eliminated and prohibited black advocacy groups. Because open discussions of race are repressed, racist sentiment and discrimination are rampant in Cuba even if Afro-Cubans are close to parity with whites in many material indicators. For example, 58% of Cubans believe blacks are “less intelligent than whites.”

LGBTQ rights are a huge concern under a Trump presidency, especially because of his Vice President, Mike Pence. Yet until 1979, being gay was a crime in Cuba. “Publicly manifested” homosexuality and “persistently bothering others with homosexual amorous advances” is still illegal. To Fidel Castro, homosexuality was an imperialist perversion blamed on the United States. Gay individuals were forced to serve in “Military Units to Aid Production” or UMAPs. These were essentially labor camps for those ineligible to serve in the army. Independent LGBT rights groups and publications are also banned in Cuba. If you think Reagan’s response to AIDS was bad, the Cuban government non-voluntarily quarantined people with HIV/AIDS until 1993.

Trump’s treatment of the media and engendering of distrust of the media is extremely dangerous. His childish dislike of those who criticize him is constantly visible, the most recent example being his incredibly inappropriate treatment of journalists in a private meeting. But compared to Castro’s regime this is almost nothing. The Cuban constitution allows free speech… as long its message isn’t subversive or critical of the revolution. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Cuba as the 10th most censored country in the world. The Communist party completely controls the press and Cuba jails the second most reporters of any country in the world.

Perhaps the lowest points of Trump’s campaign were when he advocated for torture and war crimes. While Trump has talked about committing atrocities, Castro actually followed through. Thousands of political executions took place under Castro (an exact number is impossible to obtain). Cuba’s prisons are notorious for forced labor, beatings, biological experiments, and violent interrogations. Many political prisoners underwent forced psychiatric treatment as torture.

Supporters say Castro was an opponent of imperialism. Yet, he did not care about the Soviet Union’s imperialist foreign policy during the Cold War. The Brezhnev Doctrine denied sovereignty and self-determination to states that attempted liberalization and was used to justify violent intervention inside the Eastern Bloc. While tanks rolled through the streets of Prague and Kabul, Castro did not oppose his Soviet allies.

Castro’s legacy is not unique among totalitarian countries. It is easy for those who have never grown up under a repressive regime to romanticize Stalin, Mao, or Castro, but if you ask people who have escaped from Cuba or who have lived in the USSR about how they feel about these governments, you might get a different reaction.

Trump is terrible and dangerous, but to mourn over a Trump presidency and praise Castro, or any other regime that blatantly violates human rights, makes no sense. If one confronts the realities of left-wing totalitarianism, things aren’t so romantic.

Featured image courtesy of The Huffington Post.


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21 comments

  1. 2
    Anonymous says:

    In case this wasn’t clear the long comment I made is addressed to the one who wrote the first comment. Obviously not the writer of this article.

  2. 0
    thank you says:

    First good article put out by a Swarthmore publication in a long time. The nuance and clarity are very appreciated. This should be the standard not only of our writing, but the caliber to which we should hold our discussions. THIS is what liberal arts critical thinking looks like.

  3. 0
    Fox, Marxist Political Philosopher says:

    The Cuban Revolution abolished the noose that Batista and the US had around the Cuban people. Cuba was merely an imperialist playground. Castro, Guevara, and “band of revolutionaries” merely took back the island for the Cuban people.

    The “Cuban Missile Crisis” was brought about by President John F. Kennedy’s refusal to acknowledge the Cuban peoples right to independence and self determination. He was embarrassed at the Bay of Pigs, and decided he wanted to “one up” the Cuban people by having a US fighter plane fly over Soviet territory claiming he was lost on his way to Alaska. Yeah, right.

    The installation of the missiles by the USSR in Cuba was done by the USSR at the request of Castro for help. Castro appealed to the only Socialist friendly entity in the World at the time. The US had already attacked his island, and in protection from further aggression, Castro made a pact with the USSR for help.

    President Obama finally began making steps towards normalizing the US’s relationship. Something that should have been done years ago. Americans kept blaming all Socialists for what Stalin did in the 1950s. Dictators are dictators and revolutionaries revolutionaries. It’s like some one making an argument that Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, and Castro are all the same because they each asserted that they were Marxists.

    One last point, America thinks itself so superior. That everything we do is the best. What do you think is going to happen to our medical care when dear Trump get it torn apart? Think the beloved “free market” will be able to reconstruct insurance for 20-30 million Americans? What about the effects on employee insurance plans, veteran’s care, or senior care? If we lived in Cuba, we wouldn’t be worrying about who is going to deliver the baby or help with grandma’s broken hip. We’d know. Cuba has the most advanced medical training in at least this part of the world. It puts America’s medical school system to shame. Exports medical doctors to all of So. America, the Caribbean, and once the whole Soviet Union.

    In the vernacular, “we ain’t got nothin’ on Cuba.”

  4. 0
    Cearo joshilo says:

    Political repression? Sure Castro was bad, but what about peaceful protestors at Standing Rock being met with water cannons, rubber bullets, batons, and dogs? What about voter ID laws and purging voter rolls and gerrymandering?

    1. 1
      steve says:

      So, you’ll compare Standing Rock to Castro? Brush up on your Cuban history.

      Voter ID laws? Every country has them so that non-citizens don’t vote. The only reason not to have them is to support voter fraud. Everyone who buys liquor has ID.

  5. 0
    hojn cena says:

    In case this wasn’t clear the long comment I made is addressed to the one who wrote the first comment. Obviously not the writer of this article.

  6. 0
    Todd Anderson says:

    I don’t go here, but could someone please confirm whether or not classes were actually CANCELLED in the aftermath of Trump’s election, and (if they were) what the justification for that possibly could have been?

    1. 0
      2019 Anon says:

      I think it is also important to consider how politically engaged our campus is, and so many of us actively campaigned, phone banked, and participated in GOTV hoping that our efforts would make a difference (the majority in favor of Hillary). And our favored candidate not winning is a part of life I guess, and people may not agree with the campus response, but maybe this gives more of an idea as to why the campus was as emotional as it was.

    2. 0
      Former Swarthmore Donor says:

      It looks like some Swarthmore students could not take the pain, and some classes were cancelled.
      “Wednesday morning saw somber Swatties dragging their feet through the rain. Both the school and the weather seemed to grieve collectively. Some professors cancelled class, many tests were postponed, and classes that did meet disregarded the syllabus to unpack emotions surrounding the night before. Come 11:00 a.m., students crowded into Kohlberg, huddling around computer screens to watch Hillary give a composed, eloquent concession speech, sighing sadly at the presidential potential that will forever remain unrealized.”
      http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2016/11/10/dont-be-silenced-by-the-election/

      1. 2
        Todd Anderson says:

        At some point, though, shouldn’t there be an adult in the room who says “okay, I’m sure a lot (but not all) of people here are very disappointed, but your parents paid us $60k per head to educate you, and so we have to continue to do that, even if this didn’t go our way?”

  7. 0
    Siddharth Srivatsan ( User Karma: 28 ) says:

    I think your article is predicated on a straw man, which is that there are people out there who heap blind praises on Castro. I think it’s quite fair to say that Castro was a complex figure who did things both good and bad, and that anyone who praises something Castro did doesn’t see him as some sort of messiah. Everyone recognizes that there were a lot of pretty awful things Castro did. But you have to take the good with the bad. There are so many Americans sitting in their glass houses throwing stones at Cuba. All these things you criticize Cuba for we literally have done.

    Political repression? Sure Castro was bad, but what about peaceful protestors at Standing Rock being met with water cannons, rubber bullets, batons, and dogs? What about voter ID laws and purging voter rolls and gerrymandering? Torture? Castro certainly tortured people, but what about Guantanamo Bay, where we literally have beaten, waterboarded, and sodomized prisoners, many of whom were innocent? LBGTQ rights? What about our support for countries like Saudi Arabia where gay people are stoned to death? You talked about Cuba quarantining people with HIV/AIDS, but is that worse than laughing and doing nothing about it like Reagan did? The deaths of thousands of innocent people? What about the hundreds of thousands of civilians who died as a result of not just our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but of Grenada, Panama, and all the CIA-backed coups in Latin America? You mention the Soviet Union’s prevention of self-determination in the Eastern Bloc, but you’ve gotta be kidding if you’re saying that’s on par with what America did. We literally turned Latin America into places for our corporations to extract resources from by overthrowing democratically elected governments. Forced labor? What about the corporations in America that literally pay prisoners cents on the dollar to make their goods? Jailing journalists? What about the whistle blowers who have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act by President Obama? What about the fact that President Obama can literally imprison US citizens indefinitely without a trial, and the fact that he can kill US citizens without a trial?

    If you want to argue that Castro did bad things, that’s not a hard argument to make. But when people praise things Castro did with healthcare and education and housing, they obviously aren’t ignoring his human rights abuses. But maybe we need to keep it real about Trump being “better” than Castro. I’d rather live in a communist dictatorship than a corporate dictatorship where government is sold to the highest bidder.

    1. 10
      Navid Kiassat ( User Karma: 21 ) says:

      “I think your article is predicated on a straw man, which is that there are people out there who heap blind praises on Castro. I think it’s quite fair to say that Castro was a complex figure who did things both good and bad, and that anyone who praises something Castro did doesn’t see him as some sort of messiah. Everyone recognizes that there were a lot of pretty awful things Castro did. But you have to take the good with the bad. There are so many Americans sitting in their glass houses throwing stones at Cuba. All these things you criticize Cuba for we literally have done.”
      My point was to point out the moral double standard of criticizing certain aspects of American policy while praising dictatorships that do the same. The fact that we do similar things to Castro (and I use that word lightly) is not relevant to my point. I am not saying we shouldn’t criticize the United States.

      “Political repression? Sure Castro was bad, but what about peaceful protestors at Standing Rock being met with water cannons, rubber bullets, batons, and dogs?”
      Again, is Standing Rock anywhere on the magnitude of Castro’s firing squads? Also, in a state like Castro’s, you wouldn’t even know about Standing Rock because of party controlled media.
      “What about voter ID laws and purging voter rolls and gerrymandering?”
      Totally the same things imprisoning your political opponents.

      “Torture? Castro certainly tortured people, but what about Guantanamo Bay, where we literally have beaten, waterboarded, and sodomized prisoners, many of whom were innocent?”
      Guantanamo bay is bad but again not nearly as bad as Cuban prisons. In all of Guantanamo Bay’s history, 800 men have been imprisoned. The Castro regime tortured thousands.
      “LBGTQ rights? What about our support for countries like Saudi Arabia where gay people are stoned to death?”
      I don’t think you can reduce the complexity of diplomacy down to affirming everything your allies do. Also, again, the fact the US supports Saudi Arabia is not relevant to my argument. It’s that people who are against LGBTQ discrimination and against, for example, Mike Pence will praise Castro. My argument does not hinge on US policy in any way.

      “You talked about Cuba quarantining people with HIV/AIDS, but is that worse than laughing and doing nothing about it like Reagan did? The deaths of thousands of innocent people?”
      Yes, I would say quarantine is worse than laughing. I would rather be laughed at than forcibly quarantined. Also, citation that Reagan laughed at AIDS. I think you are referring to his press secretary, not Reagan himself.

      “What about the hundreds of thousands of civilians who died as a result of not just our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but of Grenada, Panama, and all the CIA-backed coups in Latin America?”
      Again, I agree that it wasn’t right for the US to do those things, but that was not the point of my article. You can criticize Castro and the United States.
      “You mention the Soviet Union’s prevention of self-determination in the Eastern Bloc, but you’ve gotta be kidding if you’re saying that’s on par with what America did.We literally turned Latin America into places for our corporations to extract resources from by overthrowing democratically elected governments.”
      My point was that Castro did not oppose Soviet imperialism. It made no positive judgement on the US’s foreign policy.
      “Forced labor? What about the corporations in America that literally pay prisoners cents on the dollar to make their goods? “
      Salaries of prison workers are not just, but they are not being forced to work those jobs and the conditions are not as bad as Cuban labor camps.
      “Jailing journalists? What about the whistle blowers who have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act by President Obama? “
      I don’t agree with the prosecution of whistleblowers. But that is miles apart from jailing journalist who disagree with the party.
      “What about the fact that President Obama can literally imprison US citizens indefinitely without a trial, and the fact that he can kill US citizens without a trial?”
      Yeah, that’s wrong.
      “If you want to argue that Castro did bad things, that’s not a hard argument to make. But when people praise things Castro did with healthcare and education and housing, they obviously aren’t ignoring his human rights abuses. But maybe we need to keep it real about Trump being “better” than Castro. I’d rather live in a communist dictatorship than a corporate dictatorship where government is sold to the highest bidder.”
      Castro’s ability to develop the Cuban healthcare system all came from soviet subsidies and technology. Its not miracle of fidel or communism that the Cuban healthcare system is decent. Also, its still considered worse than our healthcare system according to WHO rankings.
      Lol “government is sold to the highest bidder” that is a very loaded statement that is not substantiated at all. Also, you may prefer to live under a communist dictatorship but again I’d say that’s because you have had the privilege of living in the United States for so long and have never experienced what those countries are like. There is a reason people aren’t fleeing Miami to go to Cuba.

    2. 3
      Anonymous says:

      Wow. I think you are incredibly misinformed about the quality of life under communist regimes. The government in Cuba (and other past communist regimes have been similar in their brutality) has consistently murdered, beaten, and jailed political dissenters. They ram their ships into boats containing women and children trying to FLEE the communist dictatorship for our ‘corporate dictatorship.’ They realize the fact that in the US we don’t have people murdered in the name of the collective. We here in America believe in individual freedom being the basis of our society where peaceful political dissenters (at least today) are not beaten and killed. Also calling our country a dictatorship might be the stupidest comment I have ever heard given the fact we have an 8 year limit on our chief executive…. and the political party in control of our government in the preseidency and congress continually shifts peacefully from one to the other.

      The fact is, Cuba was a developing but prospering nation prior to the communist takeover. Their pre-communism average wages exceeded that of FRANCE. Their infant mortality rate was the 13th lowest in the world. The communists came in, murdered thousands and reduced their ‘collective economy’ to starving people and depriving them of complete basic necessities. They are famous for their healthcare system…. that gives statistics the communist government collects. In reality, escaped Cubans tell of the need to bring your own sheets, soap, toilet paper to hospitals because they do not provide them. Doctors sometimes reuse latex gloves… because they cannot afford to buy more. If Cuba was so much better than the US, people would not flee to the US in the millions. Their literacy rates are self reported and therefore extremely unreliable. Colin Kaepernick has been a recent notable figure to voice similar opinions to you. His kneeling protest, which I wholeheartedly disagree with but also completely respect his right to do it, would have very different results in Cuba. In fact, he would be dragged to prison and beaten to a bloody pulp. If this sounds like a world you want to live in, by all means go live in Cuba and suffer with the poor citizens who would do pretty much anything to trade places with you because you clearly have absolutely no appreciation whatsoever for American values.

      1. 2
        Siddharth Srivatsan ( User Karma: 28 ) says:

        I love how you say that peaceful political dissenters aren’t beaten today, when that’s exactly what’s happening at Standing Rock. And I never called our country a corporate dictatorship. I said I would rather live in a place like Cuba than the Latin American banana republic dictatorships supported by America, if that wasn’t clear.

        “Cuba was a developing but prospering nation prior to the communist takeover” I’ve never heard a more ignorant and uninformed comment. To help you out, here’s a portion of the Wikipedia page on Fulgencio Batista.

        “Batista suspended the 1940 Constitution and revoked most political liberties, including the right to strike. He then aligned with the wealthiest landowners who owned the largest sugar plantations, and presided over a stagnating economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. Batista’s increasingly corrupt and repressive government then began to systematically profit from the exploitation of Cuba’s commercial interests, by negotiating lucrative relationships with the American Mafia, who controlled the drug, gambling, and prostitution businesses in Havana, and with large U.S.-based multinational companies which were awarded lucrative contracts. To quell the growing discontent amongst the populace—which was subsequently displayed through frequent student riots and demonstrations—Batista established tighter censorship of the media, while also utilizing his Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities to carry out wide-scale violence, torture and public executions; ultimately killing anywhere from hundreds to 20,000 people. For several years until 1959, the Batista government received financial, military, and logistical support from the United States government.”

        I also never said Cuba was better than the United States. Of course the United States is better than Cuba. But so long as people here keep saying “well x y z is bad here, but at least it’s better than Cuba”, we’re only going to continue the race to the bottom, because we have these same problems here. Not to the same extent as Cuba, but they’re still there, and we need to focus on that.

        Continue creating the straw man. All I said was that Castro was not all bad and that there are things we can learn from Cuba that they’ve gotten right. People like you are going to be the reason America keeps declining while you tell everyone who points that out to leave.

        1. 0
          Former Swarthmore Donor says:

          Sounds like Cuba is the quintessential “corporate dictatorship”.
          I think that some privileged college students now are incredibly unappreciative of what they have. Paying $65,000 a year so as to attend colleges where all they have to do is pontificate about issues they do not know how to research well, and add nothing to society except a lot of whining.
          It would be better for many students to live in Cuba or Iraq, and get an appreciation of what they have. Until then, it is all spewing uninformed opinions. That is why I no longer contribute to Swarthmore. Many of the student groups just spew hate. I have seen it firsthand, unfortunately, and the current administration panders to them. I used to really respect what happened at the school, but no longer.
          “Fidel Castro long told Cubans he lived off of a meager salary. But the Cuban leader, who died Saturday at the age of 90, passed away a very wealthy man — and he reportedly had been for many years.

          Forbes Magazine, perhaps the news outlet best-known for tracking the net worth of wealthy individuals, made international waves in 2006 when it listed Castro among the richest world leaders. Despite being the leader of a communist country, the magazine pegged Castro’s wealth at $900 million a decade ago. A large portion of that staggering wealth reportedly came from the Cuban leader wielding control over state-backed interests, including a convention center, a pharmaceuticals company and a retail chain.”
          International Business Times
          Fidel Castro is not a hero. He was a brutal dictator who enslaved his people and stole their money.

    3. 0
      Former Swarthmore Donor says:

      So you would rather be arrested, tortured, imprisoned and executed in Cuba, for trying to exercise free speech, rather than live in the US?
      There are still tens of thousands of political prisoners in Cuba, who were trying to express opinions.
      The Ladies in White get beaten and arrested every Sunday after Mass, for their silent protests against the tolitarian Cuban military dictatorship.

      1. 4
        Siddharth Srivatsan ( User Karma: 28 ) says:

        I never said I would rather live in Cuba! I simply said life in Cuba is better than life in Latin American banana republics. Of course the US is better than Cuba. Of course totalitarianism is bad. But the problem is Americans pat themselves on the back for our “liberal democracy” and cry foul at others, but we keep slipping towards what we always criticize.

        1. 0
          Former Swarthmore Donor says:

          You said that you would rather live in a communist dictatorship than a “corporate dictatorship”
          So leave and go live in Cuba.
          Jer Blue flies there. Or are you really too scared?

          1. 6
            Siddharth Srivatsan ( User Karma: 28 ) says:

            Maybe I should repeat myself. We are /not/, I repeat, /not/ a corporate dictatorship. But we are steadily moving towards one, as evidenced by everything I listed off. How typical of you to bash anyone who dares to criticize this country by telling them to go live elsewhere. I would rather live under Castro than under Pinochet. Didn’t think that was that hard to comprehend…

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