Castro had long been cast by the United States in the role of an evil dictator. This scenario allowed the US to claim that it had the right to get rid of him, ignoring the violation of international law that such action would have entailed.
What has been the US stance toward real dictators? Well, for starters, the US supported Fulgencio Batista, the bona fide dictator who was overthrown by Castro in 1959. And hasn't Pakistan's current dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, been our friend for almost a decade? What about the white minority who ruled apartheid South Africa with an iron fist? Or the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos? General Pinochet of Chile? Indonesia's Suharto? The Shah of Iran? Zaire's Mobuto? Guatemala's Colonel Castillo Armas? Or the Somozas of Nicaragua? To name a few.
The track record shows that the criteria for acceptance of any head of state, dictator or not, has been based on whether and for how long each was willing to be a US puppet. Or in Tony Blair's case, poodle.
If our government caught people doing here what CIA operatives have done in Cuba, they would be brought to trial and probably incarcerated for a long time.
In the face of such unrelenting hostility, Cuba has had to protect itself as best it can against methods that were also used to destabilize Chile in the early seventies, culminating in the assassination of Salvador Allende, a duly-elected president, and ushering General Pinochet to power. Cubans who are working for the CIA usually have a cover. It is this cover that the US points to when it charges Castro with imprisoning innocent people.
In other words, Cubans have had to be extra-vigilant in order to protect themselves from the violence and nasty intentions of the powerful rogue state just ninety miles from their shore.
The upper class professionals and business people who fled Cuba after the revolution in pursuit of their own selfish interests have wept crocodile tears for years over the suffering of their poor compatriots under socialism. Hypocrites of the first magnitude, they did next to nothing for the same people when Batista was in charge.
What was the extent of this suffering? About the same time that Senator Church's committee was investigating the activities of the CIA in 1975-76, the Cuban people were enjoying the highest standard of living of any Central or South American country. Using widely accepted indices of a population's well-being, the 1978 United Nations Statistical Yearbook reported that no other country in the region could match Cuba's life expectancy of 68 years for men and 71 years for women. Only infant mortality rates in Jamaica and Martinique were as low as Cuba's 23 deaths for every 1000 births.
To drive this point home, let's look at the situation of a country that came under US domination at the same time as Cuba did, and through the same process - the Spanish-American War. The major difference is that the Philippines have been unable to break away from the grip of US imperialism. In 1978, while Marcos was dictator, the Filipino infant mortality rate was 58 deaths out of every 1000 births. Life expectancy for a man there was 56 years and for a woman, 60 years. These were comparable to the poorest nations of the world. Other major differences between the two were literacy rates and accessibility to quality health care.
In spite of the hardships that our country has imposed on the Cuban population, socialism there has been a success. Castro's sin, then, was not that he had ever been a dictator, but that he had successfully led the island's people out of abject poverty, making it an example of a country that had ended the exploitation of both its resources and its people by outside forces.
The need to make Cubans pay a heavy price for refusing to knuckle under to the demands of US capitalists remains a high priority. But Cuba's right to chart its own path should be supported by every decent American.