Telegraph | Opinion | Why the tears for an oppressive Stalinist?
Why the tears for an oppressive Stalinist?
By Simon Heffer
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Why the tears for an oppressive Stalinist?
There is, believe it or not, one reason to be grateful for the war raging in the Middle East. But for it, we should have been treated to even more absurd acts of journalistic reverence towards the appalling Fidel Castro, tyrant of Cuba, who has this week had a stomach operation that his many enemies hope might precipitate the end of his life, and of the enslavement of his country.
Because Castro runs an orthodox Stalinist regime - one rivalled in its repressiveness only by the psychotic North Korea - we simply don't know how ill he is. He might even be dead already, with his if anything even more repulsive little brother, Raul, about to impose himself as successor. In Miami, HQ of Cuba in exile, the party has already started. Given that almost the only thing Cuba does well is healthcare, it may be premature.
What has amazed me most this week is how even apparently sane and intelligent people can think that Cuba is actually rather a nice place; and that those of us who wish Castro a speedy reunion with Stalin, Khruschev, Brezhnev and his various other idols and chums are evil.
This appears to rest on the fact that, since the Soviet Union wound up and the Kremlin stopped sending Castro the monthly cheque, the old monster has had to open up his prison camp to Western tourists so as to remain solvent. While being final proof that capitalism always wins in the end, it also means that the gullible, having had nice holidays in Castro's tropical paradise, think that he and his regime are much maligned.
It is the most enormous paradox that Western liberals should have this reverence for Castro, for he hates so many of the things they say they love. He is a great, and committed, supporter of capital punishment. Amnesty International, an organisation dear to the hearts of all Leftists, reports how 72 dissidents were rounded up and jailed in two separate incidents in 2003 and 2005: this is just a soupçon of the viciousness with which Castro treats dissent.
The journalists who find him frightfully witty, and claim to adore his country, are perhaps the biggest hypocrites of all. He runs a press that makes the Soviet-era Pravda look like a hotbed of radical debate. When a leading Cuban journalist was found "guilty" a few years ago of having contacts in the outside world he was promptly given 20 years in prison. It is no wonder so many people find Cuba so awful that they risk their lives on flimsy boats in shark-infested waters trying to get away.
For good measure, Castro also routinely imprisons homosexuals for no reason other than that he does not share their preferences. He has special quarantine camps for anyone who is HIV-positive. His commitment to multiculturalism is such that he sought, for the first 35 years of his rule, to have an atheist state, locking up priests and closing down churches and church schools. He has relaxed that slightly, perhaps with an eye to his future.
For all his ranting about collectivism, he is thought to be one of the richest heads of state in the world. Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at $900 million, and it seems much of it has come from his cut of a lucrative drugs trade. He maintains power through a network of informers and a reign of fear. Poverty is endemic, food scarce, and the regime's determination to exert control means that wealth-creating technology such as the internet or mobile telephony are almost unknown.
He is so popular because America hates him, and America is now the most hated country in the world. Americans have a choice about whether they stay in their country or not: Cubans don't. Sure, you can have a nice holiday there, just as you could have done in Germany in 1938. Castro is a tyrant, plain and simple, and those who revere him are either wicked or stupid. I wish him a short illness.
There's no asylum under 'Butcher Bob'
Before we leave the subject of the world's most disgusting tyrants, what on earth was our Government doing this week in trying to deport Zimbabwean asylum seekers back to the tender mercies of "Butcher Bob" Mugabe? And what do the courts think they are doing in giving the Government permission to do so? Mind you, these are the same courts that have, yet again, allowed a bunch of Afghan hijackers to stay in this country, even though I would wager they have far less to fear in returning home than the Zimbabweans have in going back to their benighted land.
Mugabe is famed for his ruthlessness with his opponents. He is a proven genocidal maniac, rigs elections, locks up his critics, bulldozes their houses and inflicts famine on them. How does this square with a Britain that elsewhere happily admits, and takes no measures to deport, some people whose mission is to destroy our way of life? I'm sure there is an unanswerable logic at work here, but I am ashamed to say that I, for one, am too stupid to work it out.
What better way to spend £1 million
If, like me, you never cease to be amazed at the causes the state finds money to waste on, you might also be amazed at a story we ran in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. Unless £1 million can be found quickly, the Vulcan bomber, an iconic British aircraft and a key weapon in our victory in the Falklands, may never fly again.
As Gerald Howarth, the shadow defence minister, has said, the Vulcan is a "fundamental symbol" of the Cold War, and of our victory in that, too. Even only £250,000 will, if raised in the next three weeks, stop engineers working on a restoration project being laid off. Nor is the appeal for money something for nothing: once restored, the Vulcan could fly at air shows for the next 15 years, paying its way and reminding us of almost the last bit of our glorious past.
Come on, you plutocrats, go to www.vulcantothesky.com, and get your credit cards out. And if the Government can spare a few bob out of its funds for looking after wasters and scroungers, perhaps it might like to make a little donation, too.
Crucifixion is too good for Madonna
Being aggressively middle-aged - well, actually, I'm a year younger than her - I haven't ever had the taste for Madonna's music, and I am afraid to admit that I couldn't hum you a single bar of it. But I do have to hand it to her: she's a whizz at getting publicity, and has been helped this week by none other than His Holiness the Pope. The Vatican has expressed its outrage that Madonna has a mock crucifixion as part of her act, and some Catholics are even calling for her to be excommunicated.
She, for her part, claims that she has been brought closer to God after a serious riding accident, and we are asked to believe that this quite graphic act of blasphemy is in some way a homage to her maker. Of course, since Christians are used to turning the other cheek, Madonna will get away with it. If she wants to be really daring she could, of course, always adorn her next stage set with pictures of Mohammed: that would be awfully chic, wouldn't it?
It's TV presenters we should worry about
Apparently, nursery nurses these days are setting a bad example to their charges by dressing and acting like the celebrated comic creation Vicky Pollard: and there are fears that a new generation of such ogresses will, as a result, be brought forth. For as long as I can remember, the world has been rather full of Vicky Pollards, and I can't believe that a few chavtastic nursemaids are going to make much difference to that.
Far more baleful, in my view, is the influence of some of the people who now present children's television: I well recall the shock a decade ago, when my own boys were small, realising that some presenters couldn't speak English properly, and didn't even wear ties. Is it too late to bring back Valerie Singleton, and rescue the future of our nation?
He'll soon have time enough for holidays
In an act befitting a world statesman, the Prime Minister has postponed his holiday for a few days so that he can assist in bringing peace to the Middle East. To me, though, this seems like self-flagellation on an epic scale. In an age before we achieved union with the foreign policy of America, Tony Blair might have made a difference: now, though, he probably can't make any at all.
All that is likely to change is that when he gets the word from his masters that a UN resolution has been cobbled together, he will be in a stuffy office off Whitehall rather than answering his mobile on the beach in Barbados. Still, at least he will avoid the negative PR exercise of being photographed sipping rum punches while Beirut burns, Israel is pounded by terrorists and British soldiers die valiantly all over the Middle East.
Indeed, since within a matter of months life might be one lengthy holiday for the Prime Minister, it might be sensible for him to give up the idea of going away, and at least leave office looking reasonably serious.
Silence is golden for the Tory party
Once we are back from our holidays, we can concentrate properly on the life and work of Dave, as he continues in his mission to turn the Tories into a Left-wing version of New Labour. The cracks, which started to emerge when he ratted on his promise to pull his MEPs out of the EPP grouping in Europe, are now widening. William Hague, fresh from the EPP debacle, has now upset the enormously rich Lord Kalms over the party's clumsy policy on Israel. One presumes Lords Kalms's chequebook will remain closed for some time, along with those of many of his friends.
The party's extra-planetary policy chief Oliver Letwin makes yet more enemies by patronising Lord Kalms as "a great man" and then implying he is a bovine idiot. The attempt to find a decent candidate for the London mayoralty has ended in a shambles. The A-list of 100 parliamentary candidates has now become a B- or C-list of 200. Provided Dave's chums say and do nothing, they do brilliantly. But once they start trying to do politics, it all goes horribly wrong.