- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Fidel Castro, one of the world’s longest-serving dictators, has recently handed the reins of power to his younger brother Raul. Mr. Castro the elder has for many years had a nickname “El Caballo” (“The Horse”) and it is a fitting title for an aging narcissistic despot. It is equally befitting that his brother Raul should accordingly be crowned “The Mule.”

Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, is only 90 miles or so away form Florida and is indeed host to a dictatorship, notably an island lair of unswerving state repression and human-rights violations. With the whispers of El Caballo’s ill health looming in the media, we see the lingering death of not only Fidel Castro himself but of one of the pawns of the Cold War.

While the media ruminate how Raul will rule Cuba, with El Caballo’s passing it is most likely the Mule will follow his brother’s legacy, down the tired path of authoritarianism. We can expect to hear more inane dribble lauding the so-called “glorious revolution,” while Cuba’s people remain subject to authoritarian rule.

El Caballo lies near death, toying with us, as always, for he loves the stage. Infatuated with his own voice, El Caballo’s narcissism is incredulous, and he holds the record for the longest speech in the United Nations (four hours and 29 minutes in 1960). In Cuba his record was more than seven hours — of nonstop rambling and I can picture his much flaunted image: a cigar-chomping despot, an unforgettable scraggly beard and revolutionary military cap. However, with the grim reaper hovering over his bedside, dare I say, he now cannot indulge in his self-importance for hours on end.

While his photo cuts a lasting image of history, there is more to the picture of “The Horse” than often meets the public eye and his nefarious activities stretch across the globe. Killings, torture and exporting communist repression are closely intertwined with his regime, including the lesser-known acts of Cuba’s direct involvement in the torture and murder of U.S. prisoners during the Vietnam War.

As to the island people of Cuba, it was estimated in 1959 when El Caballo dragged his country into the Cold War that some 14,000 political opponents were liquidated by his thugs. It is up for speculation how many Cuban people since have perished under his dictatorship.

More recently the Cuban regime sanctioned the ethnic cleansing of indigenous mountain tribal people by the Vietnamese government. In 2002, as a human-rights advocate, I saw the devil in Mr. Castro’s regime come alive. It was in Geneva at the United Nations Human Rights Commission when the long time co-conspirator of Cuba — Vietnam (which has brutally persecuted its indigenous people) — attacked a Degar Montagnard human-rights activist in the United Nations.

For decades, Vietnam had persecuted this race of ancient tribal peoples and had the audacity to formally accuse them of “terrorism” when they complained of such barbarities to the United Nations. Rudely interrupted by the Vietnamese ambassador, the government of Vietnam was rebuffed by the commission’s ahairman. Cuba, however, greatly amazed the audience in the halls of the U.N. by coming joyfully to Vietnam’s defense and also rudely interrupted the indigenous hill tribesman who was merely pleading for mercy on behalf of his people.

In a most cruel manner these two communist nations politically conspired to intimidate and silence a lone hill tribesman trying to speak in the United Nations.

How dishonorable can a nation be? While one should not be surprised by the uncouth style of such regimes, it would be two years before the Degar Montagnards could clear their name of such underhanded mischief.

In the end, the terrorist allegations were dismissed by a vote in the United Nations itself. But Vietnam and Cuba like vengeful bullies continue to this very day to persecute their citizens.

While the Bays of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis and reported CIA assassination attempts may ring a bell, few people know that at least 19 American servicemen were tortured and at least one murdered by Cuban interrogators during the Vietnam War. One of the torturers would be rewarded later, becoming the Cuban minister of education and I name him here: “Fernando Vecino Alegret.” Yes, surprisingly there were Cuban interrogators in Vietnam but their devious interventions have been (strangely) less publicized.

The Cold War was real indeed and El Caballo had other exports to give our world. I refer to the battles Cuban soldiers fought in Africa in the 1980s, which was nothing short of communist colonialism. Export the glorious revolution. Yes, the Cold War … was all part of Soviet empire-building.

But that was years ago and as sure as the sun shines over Havana, Castro the dictator soon will die. His legacy is one drenched in the repression of his own people. His own daughter, Alina Fernandez, became one of his most vocal critics. She later wrote how as a child she saw executions on Cuban TV that the state had replaced over Mickey Mouse cartoons.

Thus in a parting eulogy to El Caballo, I offer a joke.

Castro, Che Guevara, Lenin and Stalin were all driving together in a car, when they came to a fork in the road. Lost, with no maps they stopped and Castro asked, “Which way do we go?” Lenin looked at them all and said “signal left but turn right” And so they did .

So as EL Caballo parts from this world let us not forget him what he was, first and foremost a brutal dictator who in line with the joke above, tried to trick the world with his “glorious revolution.” El Caballo will in the end however, like old horses and old dictators finish up in the glue factory. Adios El Caballo.

SCOTT JOHNSON

Adviser to the Montagnard Foundation

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