Death is the one tyrant who subdues cannot be subdued. Let this speech by the Cuban dissident poet Armando Valladares stand as the tyrant Fidel Castro’s memorial. Excerpts:
When I was 23 years old I refused to do something that at the time seemed at the time very small. I refused to say a few words, “I’m with Fidel.” First I refused the sign on my desk at the postal office that said that, and after years of torture and watching many fellow fighters die, either in body or in spirit, I still refused to say those words.
If I just said those three words, I would have been released from prison.
My story is proof that a small act of defiance can mean everything for the friends of liberty. They did not keep me in jail for 22 years because my refusal to say three words meant nothing. In reality those three words meant everything.
For me to say those words would constituted a type of spiritual suicide. Even though my body was in prison and being tortured, my soul was free and it flourished. My jailers took everything away from me, but they could not take away my conscience or my faith.
Even when we have nothing, each person and only that person possesses the key to his or her own conscience, his or her own sacred castle. In that respect, each of us, though we may not have an earthly castle or even a house, each of us is richer than a king or queen.
For many of you, particularly the young people, it may seem I come from a faraway land from a long time ago. Young friends, you may not be taken away at gunpoint, as I was for staying true to my conscience, but there are many other ways to take you away and to imprison your body and your mind. There are many ways you can be silenced, in your schools, your universities, in your workplace.
I warn you: Just as there is a very short distance between the US and Cuba, there is a very short distance between a democracy and a dictatorship where the government gets to decide what to do, how to think, and how to live. And sometimes your freedom is not taken away at gunpoint but instead it is done one piece of paper at a time, one seemingly meaningless rule at a time, one small silencing at a time. Never allow the government–or anyone else–to tell you what you can or cannot believe or what you can and cannot say or what your conscience tells you to have to do or not do.
Years ago, my former National Review colleague Jay Nordlinger shared this memory of being in Valladares’ presence:
The year was 1986 (or thereabouts), and the place was Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The speaker, at a student forum, was Armando Valladares, the great Cuban dissident. He wrote a memoir called Against All Hope. Everything that is important to know — vital to know — about Castro’s rule on Cuba is in that book. Not for nothing is the author known as “the Cuban Solzhenitsyn.”
After Valladares’s speech, the students came after him: Hadn’t Castro “done some good things for his people”? Hadn’t he delivered universal health care? Hadn’t he brought about universal literacy? They echoed the standard propaganda line, learned from their teachers, the New York Times, and so on. Valladares gave an answer I will never forget. He said it gently, earnestly, yearning for the students to understand. I will paraphrase it: Say all those things are true. They’re not, but just say they are. Can’t you have those things without torturing people? Can’t you have them without wrongly imprisoning them? Can’t you have them without killing them? Without denying them rights? Without forbidding them to speak freely, without forbidding them to worship, without forbidding them to vote and have a normal political life and pursue their own destinies, and so on? Why is material well-being — not that Cuba has it, or anything remotely like it — but why is material well-being incompatible with freedom? Or not even with freedom: with the absence of a stifling, horrid dictatorship? Why?
I doubt that Valladares moved very many of those people. But every time I hear the phrase “Castro has done some good things for his people,” I wince.
God bless those who survived Castro’s dictatorship, and thanks be to God for sparing some Cuban exiles to see this headline in the Miami Herald:
Meanwhile, there’s this:
Jeremy Corbyn has hailed Fidel Castro as a “champion of social justice”, following the announcement of the former Cuban leader’s death.
The Labour leader admitted to “flaws” in the revolutionary leader’s long rule over the Caribbean island, but praised him as a “huge figure of modern history”.
Mr Corbyn said: “Fidel Castro’s death marks the passing of a huge figure of modern history, national independence and 20th century socialism.
“From building a world class health and education system, to Cuba’s record of international solidarity abroad, Castro’s achievements were many.
“For all his flaws, Castro’s support for Angola played a crucial role in bringing an end to Apartheid in South Africa and he will be remembered both as an internationalist and a champion of social justice.”
“For all his flaws.” That tells you the only thing worth knowing about the kind of man Jeremy Corbyn is.
“History will absolve me,” Castro the young revolutionary famously said. Well, no. The immiseration and tyrannization of his entire nation for over half a century is history’s verdict on Fidel Castro. But last night, this demon went into the dock before the ultimate Judge, whose verdict will be eternal. May Fidel’s death be the beginning of the end of the Castro curse upon the Cuban nation. ¡Viva Cuba libre!