The death of Fidel Castro in November was greeted by effusive tributes, not just from the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and the 92-year-old Jimmy Carter (now perhaps rather past his best), but also from younger dupes including the dismal Jean-Claude Juncker and Justin Trudeau. The Canadian prime minister betrayed his mind-boggling indifference to the facts of history by describing Castro as “a long-time friend of Canada and my family”. The Trudeaus may have been his friends, but Castro was anything but a friend to his own people, whom he kept in a state of oppression and near-starvation while plying gullible tourists with comfortable holidays.
Under Fidel and his brother, Raúl, thousands of Cubans have been imprisoned, tortured and even executed without trial. According to Amnesty International, no fewer than 8,000 were detained on political grounds in the last year alone. Did a horde of ravenous civil or human rights lawyers arise to prosecute Castro for these gross infringements of rights?
Well, no, actually. And it’s instructive to consider the contrast between the reactions in the media to the death of a major left-wing tyrant like Castro and to a minor right-wing dictator, with more genuine redeeming features, in the shape of General Augusto Pinochet.
I was in Chile in 1990, reporting on the abdication of Pinochet after a plebiscite which he lost by a narrow margin. Unlike our own dear Remainers, he didn’t indignantly demand a rerun. Instead, he drove from Santiago in an open car to take a helicopter to Valparaiso to receive the automatic resignation of the head of the navy. His route was lined by loyal old ladies, and others, chanting the Chilean version of “Will ye no come back again?”
At Valparaiso it was rather different. Pinochet’s car was pelted, rather eccentrically, with shoes and small coins. Had anyone wished to throw a bomb at him there was no one to stop them – and the families of the hundreds who had disappeared under his regime would have had a good reason to do so. But had he not come to power, having disposed of the hopelessly weak and vain Allende, the stooges whom the USSR had sent to Chile from Cuba would have rampaged round the fertile farms and vineyards of Chile and reduced them, à la Mugabe, to a desert.
By preventing this, Pinochet had been the saviour of his country. Later, of course, in his decrepit old age, he was hounded by lawyers friendly to Castro, and narrowly escaped a show trial in Spain.
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