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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