Following the death of repressive former Cuban President Fidel Castro, many liberal college professors in the United States took it upon themselves to defend the image of Castro as a “charismatic” and “incredibly complex” man who was a “dedicated and powerful proponent of racial justice.”
When Castro passed away Friday, a myriad of Cubans, Cuban-Americans, and U.S. politicians quickly condemned Castro and his dictatorial legacy.
“Although the Right detested him, those of us on the Left respected his standing up for the poor, the downtrodden, and the desperate masses of the developing world.”
But the narrative was markedly different on liberal college campuses, where many professors heaped praise on the Communist leader.
“His complex life and politics were vilified here in the U.S. But for me as an anglophone Caribbean person, he represented the provision of educational opportunities through scholarships, health opportunities, and national, social, and cultural opportunities,” Althea Spencer Miller, an assistant professor at Drew University, wrote in a post on Facebook.
“A complicated, contradictory human being has passed,” Spencer Miller continued. “Undoubtedly, he improved the lives of many — actually forcing upon them the conditions for that improvement. There is much still to be done in Cuba but he took that country way beyond what it had been under the former tyranny,” she added, referring to Castro’s overthrown predecessor, former President Fulgencio Batista.
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Peter Schwab, a professor of political science at Purchase College, State University of New York, wrote a letter to the editor published Sunday in The New York Times in which he called Castro “one of the more charismatic leaders of the 20th century.”
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“Although many Cuban exiles in Miami gleefully welcomed Mr. Castro’s death … his impact on politics in the third world was positive, while the model health care system his government developed and the educational opportunities he provided all Cubans will remain as among his greatest domestic achievements,” Schwab wrote. “Although the Right detested him, those of us on the Left respected his standing up for the poor, the downtrodden, and the desperate masses of the developing world.”
Schwab, however, made no mention of the thousands of Cuban exiles who fled from Castro’s own country to escape his regime and the economic poverty it created — nor did he mention the thousands more tortured and imprisoned during Castro’s decades in power.
Erik Loomis, a history professor at the University of Rhode Island, insisted in a blog post that Castro can’t be thought of “in terms of simplistic moral judgment.” Loomis attempted to make the case that Castro was “a tremendously complex person who attempted to rebuild a society around ideas of justice while also refusing to allow democratic institutions to form.”
Loomis dubbed Castro “an inspiration for billions of people around the world seeking freedom from colonial overlords.”
Rene De La Pedraja, a Cuban-born history professor at Canisius College, told TWC News that Castro was a “complex individual” that should not be “pigeon-holed” for his actions.
“I think the admiration was greater, both in this country and in the world, than those who actually reviled him,” De La Pedraja said. “I think it was a very small vocal minority, particularly in the United States, supported by the U.S. government that fed all this kind of hatred against the regime because he refused to be a puppet of the United States.”
De La Pedraja even attempted to minimize the fears and motivations Cuban exiles harbored as they fled Castro’s regime. Apparently, the widespread celebrations among Cuban-Americans upon news of Castro’s death didn’t really matter, either.
“It’s perfectly normal and logical for Cubans to want to come to the United States, but they’re not political refugees, they’re people looking for a better economic opportunity, which by the way the situation in Cuba is never as bad as the rest of Latin America,” De La Pedraja said. “He was a Cuban nationalist devoted 100 percent to improving the welfare of his people there in any way there … and his name is ‘Fidel,’ which means ‘loyal’ in Spanish. He never wavered from these beliefs there.”
In another attempt to minimize Castro’s crimes, Denise Baden, an associate professor at the University of Southhampton in the United Kingdom, offered her recommendations for how people across the pond should consider Castro’s legacy.
“Some of [the Cubans] blame Castro for the hardships they went through while others blame the U.S. embargo … I think most people blame the embargo,” Baden told the BBC. “I don’t think political prisons are okay, and I don’t think persecuting gay people is okay … What I’m disputing is that Fidel Castro of Cuba was any worse than any other country. If you expose America to the same lens you’d have a stack of crimes that would overshadow what Fidel Castro has done.”