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The New York Times’s Biased Obituary of Fidel Castro

After Fidel Castro passed away Friday night at 90 years old, the obituaries written about him in the American press typified the U.S. government propaganda used for decades to demonize Castro and obscure the tremendous social and humanitarian advances that the Cuban Revolution was able to achieve in the face of unrelenting interference, subversion and destabilization. None were more over-the-top in their bias than the obituary in the New York Times.

A mere 54 words, the lede paragraph contains an astonishing amount of misinformation and innuendo:

“Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959”

It’s hard to imagine any Western leader being called a “fiery apostle.” The phrase suggests Castro was driven by an irrational, religious mission to undertake revolution, rather than having resorted to armed resistance as a last resort after the possibility of nonviolent opposition through political means was eliminated. In 1952, as Castro was favored to win a seat in the House of Representatives, Fulgencio Batista promptly cancelled the upcoming elections as it became clear he would not be able to hold power in a free and fair vote. Only after this did Castro and others start to organize a guerilla resistance in order to prevent rule by a military dictatorship. Calling him a “fiery apostle of revolution” is reductionist and Manichean.

The second part of the sentence is easily disprovable. The Cold War was well underway and active in the Western Hemisphere long before the Revolution came to power in 1959. Five years earlier, the CIA, at the behest of the United Fruit Company and working in conjunction with Congress and the White House, supported the overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected progressive President Jacobo Arbenz by the Guatemalan military. The reason was summed up by Senator George Smathers of Florida, who was quoted in an article in the CIA’s professional journal, Studies in Intelligence, saying: “In all candor, we must admit that the democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere could not permit the continued existence of a Communist base in Latin America, so close to home.”

Aside from misrepresenting the Cold War timeline, the idea that it was Castro who was responsible for Cold War tensions with the United States is laughable. Castro immediately reached out to the U.S. government after taking power in 1959, and even visited the country four months later. Upon arriving he was stood up by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who decided to play golf instead meeting with Castro. The next year, Eisenhower would cancel the sugar quota Cuba depended on for export revenue, provoking Cuba to exercise its sovereign right to nationalize U.S. properties. In return, the U.S. government prohibited delivery of oil to the island, which led to Cuba seeking oil from the Soviet Union.

“and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader”

It is strange that Castro’s commitment not to compromise on the sovereignty of Cuba and its people would be seen as remarkable enough to draw attention to it so prominently. Imagine a Russian obituary to Ronald Reagan stating that he defied the Soviet Union. Such a statement presumes that the natural state of affairs would be subservience to the dictates of a foreign power. Americans would find this notion absurd.

“bedeviling 11 American presidents”

This one way of stating that Castro survived more than 600 assassination attempts authorized by multiple U.S. executives and resisted their criminal economic war that sought “to bring about hunger, desperation” and “hardship” and to this day continues to deny food and medicine to children.

“and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war”

A year and a half prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the CIA directed a mercenary invasion of Cuba that failed spectacularly after it was quickly repelled. Understanding that another invasion was imminent, Castro sought nuclear missiles from the Soviet Union because he believed it would be the only possibly deterrent to another U.S. attack. Meanwhile, the United States had nuclear missiles positioned across Eastern Europe at the Soviet Union. When Kennedy protested to the Soviets, Khrushchev offered to withdraw the missiles before they reached Cuba if the U.S. would likewise withdraw its nuclear missiles from Turkey and promise not to invade Cuba. Kennedy said this would “look like a very fair trade” to any “rational man.” Yet, he was still not satisfied and instead of accepting it decided to engage in a game of chicken that could easily have resulted in a nuclear holocaust. To pin responsibility on Fidel Castro for the escalation of this situation is a gross distortion.

“died on Friday. He was 90.”

This I don’t take issue with.

The rest of the obituary is riddled with other inaccuracies and rhetorical flourishes that all predictably echo decades worth of U.S. government propaganda.

The Times claims Castro “ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl.” In reality, Fidel resigned his position as the President of State in 2006. He did not personally hand power to his brother in a dictatorial display of nepotism. Raúl was at the time Vice President, having been elected in the process stipulated by the Cuban Constitution. Likewise under the Constitution, as Vice President he assumed the role of the Presidency upon the resignation of the current President. No different than how succession would work in the United States.

The piece goes on to make unfounded claims of Castro’s self-aggrandizement (“he believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland”) and launch evidence-free smears about his abuse of power (“he wielded power like a tyrant, controlling every aspect of the island’s existence”).

No one in recent history has been the subject of such vitriolic and politically biased propaganda emanating from the U.S. government as Fidel Castro. It is unsurprising that the self-declared paper of record in the U.S. would replicate the same disingenuous rhetoric rather than attempt to objectively assess the life of undoubtedly the most important individual of the 20th century based on documented facts placed in historical context.

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Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

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