Castro and Pinochet

Pinochet is dead, and it looks certain that Fidel Castro will soon follow him to the grave. I don’t have the same visceral loathing of Castro that I feel for Pinochet, whose brutal coup in 1973 was one of the big political events that formed my view of the world, along with Brezhnev’s invasion of Czechoslovakia five years earlier.

Viewed objectively, though, the similarities between the two outweigh the differences. Any good they have done (education in Cuba, economic growth in Chile) is less substantial than claimed by their admirers, and in any case outweighed by the central fact that, to impose the policies they thought were good, they were willing to jail, torture and kill those who got in their way. And Pinochet’s gross personal corruption is matched by Fidel’s conversion of his dictatorship into a family business, to be inherited by his brother.

Moreover, Pinochet and Castro were two sides of the same political coin. Pinochet justified his destruction of Chilean democracy by the fear that Allende would turn into a new Castro. Castro used Pinochet’s coup (among many other US-backed attacks on Cuba and other Latin American countries) as a justification for repressing domestic dissenters. The world will be a better place when both are gone and, hopefully, democracy comes to Cuba.

Update Predictably, Andew Bolt defends Pinochet. It’s important to observe that Bolt is even-handed in these matters. He would be just as eager to excuse Castro’s crimes if Fidel happened to change sides (hat tip: Tim Dunlop)

116 thoughts on “Castro and Pinochet

  1. “Public services to some degree offset low incomes. A point of pride was the government’s free provision of health care, education, and social-security benefits. Even here, though, problems of quality, availability, and equity simmered beneath the surface. Hospital treatment may have been without charge, but it was revealed in the 1980s that only every second hospital had an X-ray machine and only 20 percent of rural hospitals and clinics had hot running water. The sick often had to purchase therapy and medication through illegal gratuities. The Soviet elite, by contrast, received superior medical care in secret facilities closed to the masses. Underfunding of welfare programs, growing stress and alcohol consumption, and a worsening of environmental pollution caused a noticeable deterioration in health indicators in the late Soviet era. The infant mortality rate, which had plunged from 80.7 per 1000 live births in 1950 to 22.9 per 1000 in 1971, rose to 27.3 per 1000 in 1980, dropping somewhat to 25.4 per 1000 in 1987. Life expectancy for men, 66 years in the mid-1960s, sagged to 62 years by the early 1980s.”

    Commies don’t tell the truth about the state of their health care systems or anything elese. They never have and they never will.

    When El Presidente-for-life dies, and Cuba’s communist system starts to collapse, it will be the same old story…life expectancy figures will miraculously “sag”.

  2. Dave Surls,

    In fact the life expectancy of the average citizen of the former Soviet republic dropped dramatically after the collapse of the Soviet Union due to the wealth of that nation having been plundered in the course of turning it into a capitalist economy.

    Even most people who are critical of Cuba would acknowledge that Cuba is, and always has been, a far more open society than the Soviet Union was. If the reality of the Cuban health and education systems were different from what I described, then I doubt if it would have been possible for it to have concealed that from the rest of the world.

  3. “In fact the life expectancy of the average citizen of the former Soviet republic dropped dramatically after the collapse of the Soviet Union…”

    In fact they were lying their asses off about that and a whole lot of other things before the commie system fell apart, and then, as it began to unravel, the truth started to come out.

  4. David Surls,

    My point about the life expectancy going down and not up after the end of Communism in the former Soviet Union has, not unexpectedly, gone completely over your head.

    In any case, what is the relevance of the fact that the rulers of a different country on one side of the world did not always tell the truth got to do with a discussion about two countries on the other side of the world?

    Do you think that they are the only political leaders in the world ever to have lied? Do you take as gospel truth every word spoken by your President Bush?

    I think it’s about time you either begin to address the substantive arguments I have made about Cuba, or else, stop wasting my time.

  5. “My point about the life expectancy going down and not up after the end of Communism in the former Soviet Union has, not unexpectedly, gone completely over your head.”

    On the contrary. You’re just too much of an ideological retard to understand that the figures given by the commies were a bunch of crap (same for the bogus literacy rate figures spewed forth by the Baathists…which were found to be total hogwash once the Baathists were driven from power).

    “I think it’s about time you either begin to address the substantive arguments…”

    Sorry, boilerplate commie propaganda doesn’t count as substantive. And, all you’ve said about Cuba comes straight from there Ministry o’ Truth.

  6. So, what makes you so certain that what I have written is “boilerplate commie propaganda” and not the truth?

    Simply because it doesnt’t conform to your own pre-existing prejudices?

    Perhaps, you have alternative figures about life-expectancy, literacy, training and and education, and the overall health of the Cuban population that you would care to share with us?

    If you don’t dispute these figures, then perhaps you would care to explain why they have been able to achieve all of this when they consume only one eighth of the energy that is consumed by the U.S. on a per capita basis?

  7. Dave Surls, you seem to have fallen for a spoof pro-cuban propaganda satire by James Sinnamon. It is pretty good, the Two Ronnies would have been hard pressed to write better stuff.

    Don’t get too carrieda away with yourself, he is only rewording the sort of stuff which the communist bookshop in Sydney used to put out. He is posting satires of what “intellectuals” used to write after visting the USSR in the 30’s 50’s & even 60’s.

    Compare the propaganda which came from Hungary, & left wing visitors to Hungary, with the reality of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, and you have the reality of Cuba.

  8. steve at the pub,

    I have to admit that that’s a slightly novel way to once again add nothing of substance to this discussion: to cast me as a kind of extreme left wing mirror image of an unbalanced right fruit loop.

    Had it occurred to you that many would consider your own views on this and other questions to be barely less unbalanced than those of David Surls’s? Examples include: advocating the assassination of Castro, that anyone who is an ally of the West, be they they Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein is OK whilst they are allies, welcoming the execution of the convicted Australian drug traffickers in Indonesia, advocating the same for unspecifed categories of ‘criminals’ in Australia?

    BTW, I was most interested to learn that much of what I had written above was a rewording of material written about the USSR in the 1930’s, 50’s and 60’s, particularly about how Cuba transformed its agricultural system to use organic and permaculture techniques after the supply of oil was dratically reduced in 1990.

    Had you hoped that, by now, no-one would have noticed that you have still not answered the questions I have put to you a number of times before, that is:

    1. What is your own objection to the Cuban government?; and
    2. Why do you believe that the assassination of Castro would have been justified?

  9. “Dave Surls, you seem to have fallen for a spoof pro-cuban propaganda satire by James Sinnamon.”

    You could be right. Nobody with a brain in their head could possibly be dumb enough to buy into commmunism at this late date.

  10. Nothing unbalanced about killing commies, Jim.

    Better a few thousand worthless commies (or other leftist trash) wiped out than risking having your nation fall under the rule of a Stalin, Ho, Mao, Pol Pot or Tito.

    That’s just common sense.

  11. Pinochet’s posthumously published testament, while totally unrepentant, contains the following:
    My destiny is a kind of banishment and loneliness that I would have never imagined, much less wanted.
    I’m glad. I am so very, very glad that in the end, despite the failures of several judicial systems, he felt punished.

    As for Fidel, certainly it’s time he shuffled off the political scene, if not the mortal coil. But I think one of the reasons he is so attractive both inside and outside Cuba is that in 1959 he ‘stood up’ against the empire (or, as Mark @ #30 put it: ‘overthrew a kleptocrat and tyrant’). About 10 years ago I joined thousands of Vietnamese lining the route from the airport in Hanoi to wave and catch a glimpse of Castro. A man next to me asked why I was there. I said ‘to see one of the 20th century’s great historical figures’. I asked him why he was there and he said ‘because Cuba helped us a lot in the war’. They were clapping as he passed, but I was just a tourist. The Vietnamese Communists also ‘stood up’, as did Mao’s China. If you cannot recognize this, you cannot recognize the depth of nationalist feeling. It has nothing to do with the state of the economy or freedom of speech.

    Half a century later, and faced with different possibilities, people are sick of the regimes that were spawned then – especially the younger generation who never lived through colonialism – but Ho Chi Minh and Mao, though dead, are still popularly respected and so is Fidel. Raul was one of the original Granma group, so he will also continue to be respected. The current Vietnamese leadership, on the other hand, are a couple of generations removed and are not held in such esteem (or any esteem at all in fact) – despite the fact that they’ve presided over massive economic growth and a great (if imperfect) liberalization of political and cultural life.

  12. “despite the fact that they’ve presided over massive economic growth”

    Bangup job by the commies. Their per capita GDP/PPP is all the way up to $2,500 per annum, which, of course, is far superior to that of the enslaved hordes within the downtrodden “imperial” provinces of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, etc.


  13. “Quiggin was still a toddler when Castro overthrew Batista…”

    At least some things are constant.

  14. Melanie,

    We seem to be in some agreement about Castro’s stature and significance.

    I wouldn’t be too fixated on ‘massive economic growth’ that has occurred in countries like Vietnam, China or even the U.S. for that matter. It is largely based upon the consumption of our natural capital, including metals and fossil fuels, rather than just the interest, and may result in runaway global warming at that, so it doesn’t count for true economic growth in my opinion.

    The transformation of Cuba’s economy, into one which is far less dependant upon non-renewable fossil fuels, that occurred in the 1990’s will be a far more enduring achievement. When the world’s supply of petroleum and gas inevitably begins to dwindle, much of the rest of the world will be struggling to catch up with Cuba.

  15. James S, I actually edited a book a few years ago on the long-term sustainability of Vietnam’s current growth. There are numerous angles from which one can identify potential problems, not only the petroleum one (though for the time being, unlike Cuba, Vietnam is a producer of oil and gas). Nonetheless, I was referring above to the regime legitimacy that one might expect from the dramatic rise in living standards that the people have enjoyed over the past 15 years. There is an element of that, but offset by the equally massive increase in corruption.

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