Death by Fidel
by Paul G. Kengor
Editor’s note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.
Fidel Castro is dead. To say those words is so strange. I’ve never known a moment when he wasn’t alive.
Castro came to power seven years before I was born, and I’m almost 50. I’ve been lecturing on the man every fall semester for 20 years, spending two or three weeks on him, his ideology, and the beautiful country he destroyed. It’s ironic that the day he died I finished two long chapters on him for a book manuscript, and a family friend (whose mother escaped Cuba) visiting for Thanksgiving just happened to ask how much longer I thought the 90-year-old despot might continue to live. The answer, it turned out, was a mere few hours more.
What to say in a few hundred words about a man like Fidel Castro at his death? Where to start? Where to end?
I think the answer is easy: The focus on Castro at his death must be just that: Castro and death. First, there’s the death he was responsible for since seizing Cuba in January 1959, and then, second, there are the incalculable millions more who would have died—not just in Cuba but in America and worldwide—had he gotten his way in October 1962.
So, for starters how many people were killed by Fidel and his communist dystopia?
“The Black Book of Communism,” the seminal Harvard University Press work, which specialized in trying to get accurate data on the enormous volume of deaths produced by communist tyrants, states that in the 1960s alone, when Fidel and his brother Raul (Cuba’s current leader) established their complete control, with the help of their murdering buddy Che Guevara, an estimated 30,000 people were arrested in Cuba for political reasons and 7,000 to 10,000 were believed to have been executed. Even then, that was merely the start.Unfortunately, no one truly knows, akin to how no one knows how many poor souls he tossed into his jails, from political dissidents to priests to homosexuals. Fidel’s prison-state has never permitted human-rights observers, reminiscent of how he never permitted the elections he repeatedly promised in the 1950s. That said, many sources have tried to pin down numbers and have generated some common estimates:
From the late 1950s to the late 1990s, it’s estimated that Castro killed between 15,000 to 18,000 people, whether victims of long-term imprisonment or outright execution by bullets.
That is a lot of people for a small island. And it isn’t all.
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