The meek shall inherit very little - Autocrats’ common characteristics

FIDEL CASTRO seized power in Cuba in 1959.
The meek shall inherit very little - Autocrats’ common characteristics

He died aged 90 last week but even in death he exercises authority as a gone-but-lingering puppeteer through a proxy, his brother Raúl. That power lives on also through an authoritarian state that does not tolerate difference. In some ways, Cuba is more like the caliphate IS fantasise about than a modern democracy. It may have exemplary health and education systems but opposition need not be recognised as it is not tolerated.

The millions of words written about Castro were, unsurprisingly, polarised. Some were nostalgic hagiography. Others reactionary diatribes. How else could it be? After all, it is impossible to be neutral about a man who encouraged the Soviet president Nikita Khrushchev to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against America in 1963. El Comandante wanted to advance the proletariat by vaporising millions of workers who, by random fate, lived in America, the country that did so much for so very long to destroy his vision of Cuba.

The evaluation of Castro now falls to historians but myriad obituaries highlighted character traits alive among world leaders today — even one elected but yet to take power. Biographer Leycester Coltman warned Castro could be “vindictive and unforgiving”, “a bad loser” who would act with “ferocious rage if he thought that he was being humiliated”. Castro threw “tantrums and made snap judgements”, he wrote. British historian Alex Von Tunzelmann adds: “Castro was a patriot... with a profound sense that it was his mission to save the Cuban people.” Make Cuba Great Again?

Trump will be the first American president since Eisenhower to look across the Straights of Florida and not see Castro’s opposition to American imperialism as the defining characteristic in their relationship. Mortality may preclude Trump from sustaining a position for more than half a century — he is 70 after all — but it is not hard to imagine him or his Praetorian Guard (Fidel had one too) being so immovable.

The two have more than that in common — both came from privileged homes and both understood the power of well-crafted imagery. Trump may be rolling back on some of the promises he made to get elected but the photographs of Castro taken by Alberto Korda— his very own Leni Riefenstahl — and drip-released carefully to foster a particular impression, are benchmark works of political propaganda. The extremism of these men suggests the meek will, despite the highest assurances to the contrary, inherit very little indeed. The weekend victory of François Fillon, to be France’s centre-right presidential candidate adds to that feeling.

It is nearly 40 years since another revolutionary, Czechoslovakia’s Václav Havel, helped establish a loose movement called Charter 77 to encourage opposition to autocratic communism or fascism. Charter 77 wanted “a free, informal, open community of people of different convictions, different faiths and different professions united by the will to strive individually and collectively for the respect of civil and human rights”. Cuba today, Trump, Putin, Erdo?gan, Le Pen, Fillon, Haider, Wilders, Salvini and Orbán — and, sadly, Brexit — all suggest Charter 77 is again a relevant, necessary proposal.

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