Daily World Dispatch – Fidel Castro and a bucketful of bolivars

“He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

The origins of this quotation – like so many that have universal currency – have become unclear.

Was it Franklin Roosevelt or Allen Dulles or Dean Acheson who said it? Was the subject Anastasio Somoza or Rafael Trujillo or some other Cold War dictator?

In the end, the reason such a quote survives is not because it tells us something about a specific speaker or subject but because it resonates with our sense of the way the world is.

So that when the Latin American dictator who defined himself above all as not being the USA’s SOB died, we got to witness a lot of cant and hypocrisy.

Anyone in Washington who talks now about Fidel Castro as a dictator needs to talk about whether Fulgencio Batista was a democrat. And to those who protest that long decades have passed since the days of Batista, I re-direct you to the quote above, which could at different times in Western history have been applied to Augusto Pinochet, Efrain Rios Montt, Manuel Noriega, Leopoldo Galtieri, Hosni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier and even Josef Stalin.

Those who rail against dealing with Communist one-party states while doing all they can to attract business from the People’s Republic of China also need to wonder whether they too could one day be open to the kind of mockery Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is experiencing. British and Australian citizens don’t need to wonder – they flew flags at half-mast for the king of Saudi Arabia within recent memory.

Yet those who want to suggest, as Castro did, that history will absolve a leader – something Tony Blair also said when invading Iraq – need to think more clearly about any leader’s duty to those living in the here and now. In the end, it is not history’s job to canonise or absolve but to record. And that involves the voices of those who lived under the leader. It is in listening and responding, rather than in issuing interminable speeches, that real absolution is likely to be found.

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