Fidel Castro should not be revered; he should be reviled

Fidel Castro should not be revered; he should be reviled
© Getty Images

With the death of Fidel Castro, Cubans can now close a chapter of this horrific nightmare they have endured for over half a century. While some have been quick to offer their praise of him and mourn the passing of a man they hail as a great leader, nothing could be further from the truth or more ignorant. The real Castro was a sadistic murderer who brought great suffering to the people of Cuba. That is his legacy. He should not be revered; he should be reviled. His only accomplishment was staying in power and maintaining a stranglehold on the Cuban people. Even as news of his death spread across Cuba, reports came in that pro-democracy leaders who oppose the regime were rounded up, thrown in jail and purged from the streets — one last measure that symbolizes his decades of rule. His real legacy will be the firing squads, the gulags, the torture and the beatings for anyone who dared stand in opposition to him. His legacy will be of a man with blood-soaked hands, stained with the blood of American citizens and the blood of the people in Cuba, Venezuela and around Latin America who dared to call for freedom and democracy. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I was born in Cuba. When I was 8 years old, my family and I were forced to flee our homeland shortly after Castro came to power. We were not the first, nor were we the last. In the fifty-plus years that followed, many Cubans arrived in the United States just as my family and I did, with countless having died trying to escape from Castro’s rule and countless more no doubt wishing to flee but unable to do so. The sheer number of people who have risked their lives, the lives of their families, and who left everything that they know behind to have a chance to be free of Castro and his regime should be a testament to just how dire the situation in Cuba was under his rule.

Today, I have the honor of representing many in the Cuban-American community — a community that knows firsthand the brutality of the Castro regime. Upon hearing the news of Castro’s death, the people of Cuba and the Cuban-American community mourned and grieved; they mourned for the lives that had been taken away from them by Castro, and they grieved for the friends and loved ones they have lost at his hands. 

From former Cuban political prisoners living in exile to the families of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots — three Americans and one U.S. legal resident — who were murdered when their planes were shot down over international waters by Castro, the announcement of Fidel’s death has given some spiritual closure to many. But it also brings an opportunity, because though one tyrant is dead, the tyranny remains. With Raúl Castro firmly entrenched as the communist head of the regime, it would be unwise to expect any immediate change. But this death gives the people of Cuba the opportunity to stand up and demand what is rightfully theirs. It gives the United States an opportunity to refocus our efforts to help the people of Cuba finally achieve that which has eluded them for nearly six decades — a free and vibrant democratic society and the realization that every man, woman and child is entitled to fundamental human rights, and that no individual or regime may take that away from any one of them. 

Now is the time to put pressure on the Castro regime to close all the gulags, release all political prisoners, and call for free and transparent elections in Cuba. We must work together alongside responsible nations to help write a new chapter in the history of Cuba, one that is an era of progress and peace, and close this chapter marred in violence, bloodshed and oppression. And while the Obama administration has been unwilling or unable to recognize the Castro regime as the impediment to democracy for Cubans, President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE has illustrated his willingness to help the people of Cuba, not its ruthless oppressors. By recognizing that Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator and rightly stating that he will overturn many of President Obama’s ill-conceived overtures to the communist dictatorship, Trump has an opportunity to bring about real change in Cuba. This is a good start, but we must also engage our allies internationally who believe in the cause for freedom and seek their assistance to bring real reforms and immediate changes to the island to help the people of Cuba. The people of Cuba yearn to be free and desire democracy, and we can help them get there. That can be our legacy. 

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representative from Florida, is chairwoman emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, current chairwoman of its Middle East and North Africa subcommittee and is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.