Bad apple doesn’t fall far from the rotten tree

Leaders of bloody revolutions very often come from the middle and upper classes, not from the downtrodden they claim to represent, many historians will note. Now a new book on Fidel Castro’s youth confirms this observation. In The Boys from Dolores: Fidel Castro’s Classmates from Revolution to Exile, author Patrick Symmes follows his subjects, Castro’s classmates from “the Colegio de Dolores, the elite Jesuit prep school in Santiago, Cuba,” across both the U.S. and Cuba, “[s]hifting among Havana, Santiago, Miami and New York,” notes Washington Post reviewer Wendy Gimbel.

Well connected, white and wealthy, the Dolorinos, as the students were called, had every reason to look forward to predictable futures as pillars of the bourgeoisie. Their social advantages separated them from most Cubans, including their schoolmate Fidel, whose family had plenty of money but was short on pedigree.

Gimbel speculates that this lack of pedigree may have “fostered [Fidel Castro’s] resentment of Santiago Society,” which is possible. But, motives aside, Fidel seems to have learned his methods at a young age, and from a trusted source.

Angel, Fidel’s father, was an illiterate ex-soldier who beat his employees and stole a fortune from United Fruit.

Logistics aside, it’s not much of a moral leap to then beat your population into submission and steal a fortune from the whole country! Unfortunately, however, Gimbel lets Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant off easy in her conclusion.

It’s possible, as Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante suggested, to believe that Cuba’s leader is none other than a Cyclops, a terrible giant who rules over a forlorn and defeated island. But it’s also true that many others see Castro not as a monster but as a romantic revolutionary. For this core of true believers, Castro ransomed Cuba from the clutches of both a corrupt Gen. Batista and the mob’s Meyer Lansky. Perhaps, after all, Castro is neither monster nor hero. Maybe he’s just a “boy” from Dolores. [Emphasis added]

I wonder what some of the “more than a million Cubans” whom, she notes, Castro drove “into the limbo of exile” might think of such moral ambiguity. I think they’d take Infante’s assessment, especially considering that, today in the region, leaders who see Fidel “as a romantic revolutionary” are taking their own countries toward autocracy and economic ruin. As the BBC notes regarding Fidel’s most notorious disciple and regional heir apparent, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez:

Mr Chavez’s government has implemented a number of “missions” or social programmes, including education and health services for all. But chronic poverty and unemployment are still widespread, despite the country’s oil wealth.

Romantic, indeed! Well, it might be for Angel Castro, whose rotten legacy doesn’t end with Fidel.