Fidel Castro: he was no hero, says the UK's national press
The Sunday Times’s front page headline about the death of said “World divides over revolutionary icon who became murderous tyrant.”
That view was repeated by the i on its Monday front page, and in the headline over The Guardian’s leading article made the same point:
“In death as in life, Castro divided opinion. For some he is a revolutionary hero who stood up to the US. Others see a dictator who trampled human rights.”
The split view has been evident in the many articles published by the national press over the past two days. But, by a considerable margin, the “murderous tyrant” has outweighed the “revolutionary icon.”
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Castro’s death on Sunday, the BBC broadcast interviews with several leftist politicians - and the former Guardian staffer Richard Gott - who praised Castro.
, Ken Livingston and the former Labour MP and junior minister Brian Wilson, who offered a particularly favourable tribute to the former Cuban president, were treated with scorn in newspaper editorials.
What stood out, Gott apart, was the dearth of journalistic sympathy for Castro. Simon Tisdall, , viewed him as “a relentless persecutor of those who dared challenge his will.” He was guilty of “violent abuses of accepted legal standards and human rights.”
Andrew Marr, in the , derided the cool image that made Castro an object of fascination in the west. He observed: “There was no freedom of the press.”
Rory Carroll, , made a similar point:
“Officials heavily censored books, newspapers, radio, television, music and film, stunting discourse even while promoting arts and culture. Only a few Cubans were trusted with full internet access. Havana ranked near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.”
Indeed, , which covers 180 countries, Cuba is ranked in 171st place, down in the depths with Iran, Yemen, China and North Korea.
In , Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls Cuba “Latin America’s worst media freedom violator” and that “the Castro family... maintains a media monopoly and tolerates no independent reporting.”
It adds: “The few independent bloggers and journalists have to cope with drastic restrictions on internet access.”
Furthermore, RSF names Castro’s brother and presidential successor, Raúl Castro, as one of its predators of press freedom, pointing to “”, which includes “33 cases of confiscation of journalistic material”.
Two Cuban journalists are currently serving prison terms. Yoeni de Jesús Guerra García was sentenced to seven years in March 2014 and .
José Antonio Torres, who worked as a correspondent for the government daily Granma, was arrested in February 2011 and later .
The Guardian’s leading article, which said there could be no excuse for during Castro’s rule, thought repression lessened when Castro left the stage.
However, with his brother in charge, “freedom of expression remains limited - only 25% of the Cuban population can get online. There is no independent media.”
And the Guardian columnist, Zoe Williams, was “You cannot make a defence of strongman politics, even if he’s your strongman.
“You cannot fete Castro as a noble failure while deriding Tony Blair as irredeemable. Principles are like relationships; they don’t mean anything if you won’t put them in order of importance.”
In , the Times spoke of Castro having created “a malign myth that has deluded generations of western students”. People were blinded to the reality: “mass arrests, firing squads, the jailing of priests and homosexuals, and cruel discrimination against weaker members of society.”
Alongside the many liberal voices that challenged the portrayal of Castro as a hero, the rightwing press criticism was altogether more predictable.
The Daily Mail’s editorial took the opportunity to attack Corbyn, Livingstone, John McDonnell and . They “have never grown up since their student days, when Che Guevara posters and revolutionary chic were all the rage among the left.”
The Sun referred to the “nauseating spectacle” of “glowing tributes” paid by US president , Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Ireland’s president, Michael Higgins. “He was no hero,” it said. “He was a monster.”