WASHINGTON -- In these last months of Fidel Castro's moribundity, there is delicious irony in the film clip of him that is repeatedly shown on cable television. Wearing a clownishly incongruous jogging suit, the fabled maestro of revolution and progress is filmed shuffling metronomically, gray and feeble, blank-faced, and apparently going no place. Maybe he is on a treadmill that we cannot see. Maybe he is merely picking up his tired feet and putting them back down with no forward motion. Possibly this whole idiotic scene is a fabrication created by our CIA. Well, if so, it is a job well done. There is poetry here.
The cadaverish dictator shuffling in place is a perfect metaphoric rendering of Castro's Cuba over these many decades. He took his country from prosperity and a place at the head of Latin America in material terms to the bottom. In practically every material measure his country is a slum. In terms of freedom it is one vast jail. Had he, when he came to power after the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista's seven-year dictatorship, made good on his promise to return Cuba to the democratic condition in which it had existed in the 1940s, his country today would most likely be the richest and freest country south of our borders, and possibly Fidel would be in the pink and deserving of the accolades now paid him by the American left's rich and fatuous.
According to reports in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Fidel and "his entourage" rejected the conventional medical approach to his intestinal disorder. Instead they opted for a surgical procedure that is to medicine what Fidel's socialism is to economics, to wit, brute stupidity. Consequently, after the botched operation his body filled with feces and infection -- again a poetic touch.
I hope Armando Valladares has been following Fidel's suffering. Valladares chronicled his decades of unjustified imprisonment along with thousands of others in Fidel's vile prisons. Filth and pain were major features of these hoosegows, as you can judge for yourself in reading Valladares's book Against All Hope. Feces and infection were administered to Fidel's prisoners by his jailers. They probably still are. Fidel still jails any kind of dissenter and probably takes as much pleasure in their torture as did Saddam Hussein. Though recently there has not been much to put a smile on the old monster's mug.
Surely, Fidel must still get a kick out of the idiotic laudations American lefties erupt in after leaving his presence. After Steven Spielberg dined with him in 2002 Spielberg enthused that he had just spent "the eight most important hours of my life." Probably they had two desserts. After a three-hour visit in 1998 Jack Nicholson pronounced Fidel a "genius. We spoke about everything" -- which I guess makes Nicholson a genius, too. And remember when the filmmaker Saul Landau complimented Fidel for having "brought a greater equality in terms of wealth distribution [to Cuba] than I guess any country in the world today"? There is nothing like widespread poverty to boost a country's equality index.
Yet I do not think that Fidel should take much consolation in such foolish statements from such foolish people. Praising dictators has been a weakness of celebrities for years. If Fidel thinks the laudations of nitwits will assure him a lofty place in history may I refer him to an earlier dictator similarly praised by nitwits and similarly ruinous to his country, Benito Mussolini?
Benito and his bully boys were an inspiration to celebrities, at least throughout the 1920s and early 1930s The liberals at the New Republic thought him an exemplary forward-looker. Before Benito's star began to dim, Cole Porter had this lovely couplet written into his sunny song "You're the Tops!": "You're the tops, you're Mrs. Sweeny/You're the tops, you're Mussolini!"
Now, of course, Mussolini is recognized as a scoundrel and a fool. Surely, when historians review Fidel's career and recognize that he took over a prosperous country and laid it low with the Marxist-Leninist moonshine Fidel will be remembered as a fool too. Yet he will be remembered as something more than a scoundrel. He and his bully boys murdered hundreds of thousands. They tortured, exploited, and stole. Then Fidel filled with feces and infection.
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