Castro a hero to useful idiots, but not to the broken
At least the death of the monstrous Cuban dictator Fidel Castro – who murdered his own people and turned his nation into an island prison – accomplished something.
It triggered the useful idiots of the political left who praised their late hero.
And it caused me to remember someone I’d forgotten, back from another life, when I was 19, working on a merchant ship, having adventures and thinking I was a grown man.
Luis was his name.
He was a Cuban and a member of our crew, on a rusty old Liberty ship with old diesel engines and five cargo holds, and winches and planks, tarps and I-beams to support and seal those holds.
Luis was a brutal and violent fellow who’d been broken in Castro’s prisons. He had a heavyweight’s height and hands, but his legs were withered, as if they were made of paper, from all the beatings he took.
Back then, when Castro was alive and strong, our ship had engine problems and began to drift toward Cuban water, and Luis began to panic, announcing he would drown himself.
And I thought of him when Castro died, and as the political left painted the anti-American dictator as a hero, rather than as a murderer finally in hell where he belonged.
"While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante,’?" said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
My favorite response to Trudeau was a tweet by TakingHayekSeriously: "While a controversial figure, the hunter who shot Bambi’s mother had a deep love for animals & animals had a love for him. #trudeaueulogies"
Trudeau wasn’t alone in his liberal idiocy. Chicago’s the Rev. Jesse Jackson, determined to keep his place in the pantheon of fools, also praised Castro as did Dr. Jill Stein – Hillary Clinton’s new political buddy. She tweeted that "Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!"
And President Barack Obama, tepid and equivocal, said, "History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him."
Yes, Castro did have enormous impact. The impact of the bullets from Castro’s firing squads must have been enormous. And the impact of thermonuclear war would have been enormous, indeed, with Castro inviting the Soviet missiles to Cuba.
But Obama and Trudeau and Stein and the others are politicians.
Luis, the Cuban refugee, was a just a steward on our ship. He peeled the potatoes and served meals. He made coffee and cleaned the commodes.
He had no other place to go. All he wanted was a place to sleep and eat.
And when we’d hit port, he’d stay onboard or go off alone, because no one liked Luis.
Our crew came from everywhere, and we got along. We were Egyptians, Syrians, Sudanese, Greeks, Spaniards, Iranians and Iraqis. And Luis.
The problem with Luis was that he could be pleasant one day and murderous the next, with those pineapple-size fists of his. So we stayed away from him. We watched him.
He’d been a police officer in Havana before the communist revolution in Cuba, and later was put in prison, and got out, somehow. And wherever our ship went, so did he, as long as it wasn’t Cuba.
But on one summer voyage, after running bauxite down to Guyana, we were headed back to New Orleans for a load of grain. That’s when the engines stopped. And we drifted toward Cuban waters.
We had good weather with no wind as the engineers waited for parts to come or a tugboat. It was easy work for the deck crew, chipping and painting in the sun, and everyone asked me to tell them about America.
Luis said nothing. He was afraid we’d drift into Cuban water and Cuban patrols would take him. He announced that he would kill himself.
Though we didn’t like him, we stood with him at night, so he wouldn’t jump overboard. He hit the rum. There were stars overhead and a summer moon, and most of us were drinking and telling stories.
Luis was silent, fidgeting, terrified, rubbing his shaved head, blinking through those watery brown eyes.
It wasn’t like terror in a movie. It wasn’t dramatic that way. It was quiet, as if a silent animal was on the inside of him, devouring him in small, quiet bites.
On the evening of the second day the engineers got the boat going again, and we began to putter away from the edge of Cuban waters.
Night had fallen. Luis leaned over the side, and after days of silent fear, he began to sob.
We picked up speed, and soon, the dolphins were running with the ship, breaking out of the smooth tense water, the ship cutting through that calm, black, oily night sea.
Castro was very much alive and strong then and the Soviets were his friends and he’d broken his people so they’d inform on each other.
And Luis was broken, too.
As we were underway, he raised his head and looked up, with the lights of Havana to starboard, the light from the city glowing into the sky, tears on his face, gulping for air.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His Twitter handle is @john_kass.