What a difference a few days make. Only last week,
Fidel Castro seemed in fine fettle, joking that he didn’t plan to be
still in office at the age of 100. Although he turns 80 later this
month, he was described by Cuba’s parliamentary speaker as “an
extraordinarily healthy man”.

Today, Latin America’s last dictator (and the world’s longest-serving head of government) has handed over
the reins of power, at least temporarily, as he is hospitalised for
surgery for an intestinal complaint. There is widespread speculation
that he may be too ill to ever return, and consequent jubilation among the Cuban exile community in Florida, which is optimistically talking about a “transition to democracy” in Cuba.

Castro’s
designated successor and now acting president is his brother Raúl,
himself 75. In the early year’s of Cuba’s revolution, Raúl was
considered more hard-line than his brother, being a more orthodox
communist and closer to the Soviet Union. He is now apparently regarded
as more of an economic liberal, but still committed to maintaining the
party’s grip on power.

In latest reports, a statement attributed to Fidel says he is “stable” and in “good spirits”.

It is perhaps poor timing for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation this week to be airing a two-part documentary praising Castro’s regime:
“celebrating the country’s success in providing for itself in the face
of a massive economic crisis, and how its latest revolutions, an
agricultural revolution and a revolution in science and medicine are
having repercussions around the world.”

Although such claims are
no doubt overblown, Cuba does have real achievements that Castro’s
critics need to come to grips with. Its standards of health and
literacy are enviable, and it has survived the collapse of its Soviet
patron much better than most observers expected.

I don’t believe
dictatorship is a necessary condition for such achievements, and even
if I did I would say it’s not a price worth paying. But if the end of
Castro’s regime really is in sight, then Cuba’s would-be saviours
should pay some attention to its strengths as well as its weaknesses.

Peter Fray

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