Why is the BBC airing a Castro hagiography in 2020?
Too many of us in liberal democracies want a romantic story to believe in
Portrayals of Cuba as a revolutionary theme park have become such a cliché over the years that even writing critiques of these mechanical depictions of the island has come to feel rather tiresome and passé — all bearded guerrilleros, cadillacs and mafioso.
And yet the BBC appears to think we need more of this stuff. The first instalment of its new two-part Cuba: Castro vs the World aired last week and the second instalment is on BBC Two tomorrow. It is a piece of hagiography that is resplendent with all the familiar and cartoonish clichés about Cuba and its deceased dictator Fidel Castro.
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To be sure, the late Cuban revolutionary leader was a complex figure who ought to be placed in a proper historical and geographical context. This is especially true with regard to the military and economic aggression towards the island by the United States. “History will absolve me,” Castro famously said at his trial for insurrection against the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1953. “Yes”, runs a popular Cuban joke, “but geography condemns you”.
However, as Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara once put it, Cuba’s trajectory since the Revolution was “half the fruit of constraint and half the result of choice”. Sixty years after Castro came down triumphantly from the mountains, Cuba remains an oppressive one-party state where the Communist Party’s hold on power has more to do with its Stasi-trained secret police than Castro’s famous ‘charisma’.
And yet, you wouldn’t glean any of this from watching Cuba: Castro vs the World, because the BBC has decided to serve up a piece of fawning hagiography in which the strongest critique of Castro mustered over the course of two hours is that the late dictator “has only one defect, that he doesn’t know how to do anything by half measures”?
One would hate to see what a country run by mere mortals would look like considering the impoverished state of contemporary Cuba. That comment, though, like so many others in the film, is made by a Cuban communist apparatchik who — what did the BBC expect? — has only obsequious praise for the deceased dictator.
Interestingly, these portrayals of Cuba as a plucky underdog are not typically made by believing communists (who are nowadays mostly teenage keyboard warriors). Instead, one assumes it is good liberals who put together this programme — precisely the people who would find it impossible to live on an island where permission from the government is required for just about anything.
Many of us in the liberal democracies want a romantic story to believe in; Cuba continues to fit this idealistic bill. The island is far enough away that one is never likely to encounter any inconvenient facts, like the grinding poverty that is largely a product of a moribund command economy, or the political dissidents tortured in Castro’s grim prison system (Cuba won’t even let Amnesty into its prisons).
Decades after there was anything much to celebrate about Fidel Castro’s decrepit revolution, Cuba apparently still remains the acceptable face of dictatorship. Tune in to the BBC this week — you’ll see what I mean.
I am getting fed up with pointing out that the BBC seems to have some sort of death wish. Only explanation.
Clearly last year’s “Hugo Chavez: A Revolution Betrayed”, which laid the blame for Venezuela’s woes squarely at the door of the Chavez and Maduro governments, was an aberration. The BBC has returned to its “we’ll praise anyone who’s against the Yanks” form.
It was pretty tough (for three whole episodes) on Xi Jinping as well.
There is no organisation on this planet more reprehensible than the BBC.
Antifa? The KKK? NAMBLA?
It leaned towards sympathy but saying it was hagiography is a bit over the top. I was expecting more bias but anti Castro Cubans were interviewed. Cuba had and has a reprehensible political system, but its interventionist foreign policy, in contrast to the far more cautious Soviets, was undeniably important geopolitically (of course at the cost of Cubans themselves). The defeat of the South Africans in Angola and Namibia was the most notable example, thereby enabling left wing liberation regimes to take power in those countries. (I’m not saying this was a good outcome though probably none of the competing factions were ever going to provide good government). This further contributed to the end of apartheid in SA by bringing enemy countries to its own borders. Unfortunately the West’s main armed force in the region was in the end provided by a racial state which had no legitimacy.
Sometimes I think the BBC is suffering from a form of collective insanity.
Surely humanity’s appetite for romantic stories is universal and not confined to liberal democracies ?
However, there’s a time and place for such stories and a documentary about Castro shown by our national broadcaster is neither.
I would have thought it would be a better policy to maintain a fairly centrist position, politically, across all production on the BBC, but this would require some astute critical thinking to go on at all levels, not only that but the will to do it needs to be there in the first place.
A major problem seems to be that the consensus at the corporation is progressive liberalism is centrist, which it is’nt.
I wonder if the timing was accidental or whether the BBC enjoys sticking two fingers up at the Cuban people. August 5th was the anniversary of El Maleconazo, the rioting in Havana in 1994 when a starving population decided that they had had enough. Tens of thousands threw themselves at the mercy of the sea and sharks on homemade rafts typically made out of tyres and table tops. The estimate is that only a third made it safely to the US. As a result of this rioting, however, Castro decided that his only chance of surviving in power was to live off the capitalist countries. Young Cubans were increasingly allowed to leave, because they could be relied on to send capitalist currencies home. Tourism developed. Many foreign companies made goodwill investments in Cuba in order to have a foot already in the door when the dictatorship falls.
This was covered in the second episode broadcast last night.
I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of months in Havana back in 1979 as an officer cadet on a reefer (refrigerated cargo vessel) shipping 20,000 odd tons of frozen chickens from Nantes. It was interesting to find that, even with the trade and tourism embargo placed by the US the vast majority of tourists were American. Apparently it was an enormously popular destination for the well off Americans who would book to Valparaiso then book separately from Valparaiso to Havana (so technically never having been there.)
At that time the black market in dollars was so widespread that even at official exchange bureaus once you had exchanged the maximum amount of dollars under your “exchange card” you could then exchange as much as you wanted at the current black market (i.e much better) rate and both rates were posted on the bureau front.
I also had the privilege of seeing Carlos Santana live at the club Tropicana (let’s say – it was billed as him, it looked like him, it sounded like him and it spoke like him – if it wasn’t him it was so close as to be irrelevant.)
One thing which did strike me was the lack of Soviet Russian presence. There was one USSR ship in the port but the crew were not allowed any shore leave whereas there were a number of East German cargo vessels whose crews were freely able to go ashore and mix.
What do you expect from the BBC. A far better article would be one praising the lack of bias shown by the BBC, with exaples. However, I’ not going to hold my breath. (1930’s examples don’t count!)
“Many of us in the liberal democracies want a romantic story to believe in; Cuba continues to fit this idealistic bill.”
Even Gandhi would have been better than this. Maybe Seretse Khama instead?
Oh, but he isn’t communist. Nevermind. The BBC would hate him.
It’s fine to admire communism, but one should grow out of it before reaching adulthood. There seems to be this very childish view of the world that everything should be fair. Even if we brought about total economic equality people would only find new ways to prove they’re better than others.
The CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, offspring of the BBC suffers from the same delusions as its maternal goddess. Trudeau Senior fancied him self a pinko acolyte of Castro’s. Trudeau Jr., faux Castro bearded wunderkind slippery as a salamander in a rainstorm poured pre covid hundreds of millions into the state broadcasting corp, which strangely carries more advertising per hour than private television, and in return the CBC diligently glosses over his ethical blunders while enthralling fewer and fewer listeners who can stand to listen to their endless socially interventionist agenda. An irresponsible empire of entitled dogmatists, thought and language police who believe their job is to make the news rather than report it long ago lost its way.
Fidel tortured and Executed at least 17,000 of his opponents he is A dictator as per Pinochet chile, Argentina under galtieri, etc..
The BBC needs to spend some time in Florida, living and talking with Cuban exiles. It would clear their minds of the fantasies about Fidel and Co. and teach them what communism is – and always has been – about. Broadcasting Bolshevik Canards should not be the “business” of a publicly-funded arm of the UK government.
Good opinion piece by James, but I am really disappointed, after his report on the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, that he didn’t follow up with a report on the 25th anniversary of Operation Storm, 4-7 August 1995. For James, it seems the murder of several thousand Bosnian Muslims is a tragedy, and who would think otherwise? However, the ethnic cleansing of two hundred thousand Serbs, if not inconsequential, certainly doesn’t merit a column. It seems these Serb unfortunates are so much chopped liver to him, or something like it.
And James Bloodworth thinks bashing Castro is, instead, more fashionable, worthier piece for an online column?
The BBC has always been a shill for centralized authority and collectivist socioeconomic structures, regardless of the consistent record of tyrannical pratfalls complied on that road to slavery. They have never varied from that devotional.
Big factual error right at the beginning – saying Batista fled to the US. He didn’t, and couldn’t. He went to the Dominican Republic. By ’58 the US government had become tired of him, and had even imposed an arms embargo (which helped Castro). Overall very disappointing documentary which buried the most interesting part – namely interviews with ex-Soviet officials.
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