Bernie Sanders made the claim in the 1980s that the reason the Cuban people didn’t help overthrow Castro’s government was that he educated the people, and gave them other socialized concessions, like healthcare. Rubio fired back, stating that the real reason they didn’t help overthrow Fidel’s government was that he “jailed, murdered or exiled dissidents.”
This statement is something a historical revisionist might tell you. The question here isn’t about whether or not the Cuban government jailed or executed dissidents, it’s about whether or not that sort of governing would work to maintain power, in the instance of Cuba.
Before Fidel Castro, Cuba was ruled by a pro-U.S, pro-capitalist dictator by the name of Fulgencio Batista. During his first term, he was a more moderate president, with backings from labour unions, and even the very small at the time communist party. After his term ended, he moved to the U.S, only to return about half a decade later to run again. With his electorate chances very slim, he decided to jump the gun and seize power through military force.
Batista had a secret police organization. It went by the name of “Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities” or BRAC. This was an organization that, with both intelligence and financial support from the United States, brutalized anti-Batista dissidents. There was tight media censorship, public executions, arrests, and torture, and other forms of thuggish government control.
Despite Batista jailing, exiling, and executing dissidents, Fidel Castro still managed to overthrow his government. The argument that repression is all it takes to maintain power is an unsubstantiated notion. This paints a picture that the Communist government of Cuba is unpopular, and maintains power simply through repression. Castro managed to overthrow a U.S backed dictator with less than 500 people.
There isn’t something magical about Fidel Castro’s repression that makes it impossible for an unpopular government to be overthrown. If we compare Castro’s government to Batista’s, and U.S support to Soviet support, there’s no reason that Castro couldn’t be overthrown just the same as Batista. Except for one stark difference; Fidel Castro was immensely popular and beloved by his people. The Communist party remains popular as well. This popularity is why it was possible for Batista to be ousted, but not Castro. It’s not too often that a “dictatorship” goes through three head of state changes within the same ruling party, with an allegedly unpopular government, without some event causing the state to crumble. That is a sign of a stable country.
If the conditions people like Marco Rubio described actually existed in Cuba, there would be widespread civil unrest, and possibly a civil war. The proof of the stability of Cuba lies in its status as a somewhat popular tourist destination. Even the U.S travel advisory only rates Cuba a 2, whereas a country like Syria, which has widespread civil unrest is rated a 4, the highest rating, urging against travel. And Cuba’s 2 rating is mostly related to medical reasons, not political ones.
Now things have changed a lot since Castro was in power, but the argument isn’t that Cuba stopped being a brutal dictatorship after Castro, the argument is that it is still one. But, dictatorship or not, the Communist party has had widespread support from the people of Cuba since Batista began attempts to repress it. And if it didn’t have that, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the failed attempt at Cuban exiles overthrowing Castro, might have gone very differently.
I urge Marco Rubio, and others, to hear some opinions from people outside of the U.S, rather than projecting their beliefs onto entire populaces. Rubio has made it very clear he doesn’t like the Cuban government. These feelings he has have made it very difficult for him to comprehend that not everyone feels the same way he does. Listening to more Cubans in Havana, instead of just the ones in Miami, will help create a more holistic picture of how Cubans feel regarding the legacy of Fidel Castro.