Castro Dead, Good Riddance

Every dictator, at least once in his unique career, asks himself, how do I rule forever?

This is a crucial question that needs to be addressed, if a despot is serious about his vocation. Smarter tyrants look to history for erudition. Others such as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein lose the plot and meet grizzly ends by antagonizing too many of the world’s most important leaders. But a dictator of the 21st century – say Kim Jong-un of North Korea – needs to look toward more contemporary peers. Today’s Western powers are likely to be concerned with how a ruler treats his people, even if that ruler doesn’t venture outside of his/her territory.

So, what to do?

Jong-un knows. The million dollar answer is in nuclear weapons. Like Castro did, during the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis debacle, just hint, ever so subtly, “If I go, so would the planet!” This is not to say Castro was a bad man. Some refer to him as the father of (not so) modern Cuba. Indeed he was. It cannot possibly be denied that the man overshadowed the entire country for the better part of half a century. In fact, Castro, and his once close confidante, the famous Ernesto “Che” Guevara, are almost as popular than their country.

I have always been baffled by the exceptional fame of Che in this country. It is not uncommon to see his famous likeness on cheap stickers plastered on taxis and pool houses. He specially has a unique place in the hearts of youngsters – I should know, his image was once my Facebook profile picture. I think it was probably because he was an icon, so to speak, or a rebel. I also think it was because, once upon a time, Ethiopia was a communist state.

For all those that know what communism entails, it is a very sad period we thankfully left behind. But it is history nonetheless, and its full implications, as well as pretexts, have to be exposed in full detail, so that we could make sure it will never occur again. Never again! One of the bare knuckled cases Castro sympathizers throw at his accusers is that he, after all, and for all his shortcomings, did stand up to the mighty and powerful United States of America. Something not even the Soviet Union succeeded at. Very true, he did. What is more impressive is that, he launched his now famous guerrilla army with just 19 men in tow. He barely had international backers, unlike most of today’s coup d’état organizers.

He did not have sophisticated weapons, special military training or spies inside the government’s administration. All he had was an idea, and based on that, he built an army that was willing to die, not for him, but for the freedom of all. And his romantic dream for the future of Cuba, like with the case of all the world’s populists, had an invigorating ring to the poor (in other words, all) of Cuba. So, finally he did it.

He toppled the American-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and became Cuba’s knight in shining armor. It was at this point that everything started to go downhill – both for him and poor Cuba. As it has been proven time and time again, those who can stage a successful coup d’état, rarely know how to govern. He chose as his form of government, communism, misplacing his antagonistic views of America, on capitalism.

It is said that Mengistu Haile Mariam, leader of the communist party, DERG, also harbored a deep rooted hatred of America. On an academic visit to the country, he had experienced racism. At that time, it was very easy to confuse race based discrimination with that of class. Black people were almost exclusively poorer than white people. And one of the credos of the Marxist principle was that a society separated along economic lines will inevitably experience a traumatic political and societal divide. That stuck a cord inside Mengistu’s mind – what better way to remove discrimination than by making everyone exactly like everyone else.

That all people are born equal, and should be equal, in every form and manner, including class, became the mantra of communist Ethiopia.

But I am making Mengistu seem like this incredibly naïve, simple person that wanted nothing from Ethiopia but a state of understanding and friendship. Actually naivety is the root of all ignorance. Greatly influenced by the ideologies of Castro, to fulfil the dream of his own type of Ethiopia, he came to power. But, just like Castro, he quickly realized power gained through brutal force presents a Catch-22.

The Catch-22 is that one today I ruthlessly hold power, imprisoning and executing my way to high office, then tomorrow, the second I relinquish my authority, I will be scrutinized and punished for all my actions. This is what people like Castro and Mengistu face. Sure they would love to retire, spend their final years, relaxing in an island, drinking piña coladas surrounded by Victoria Secret models. They just cannot.

There is that existential threat all dictators fear – losing power means the smothering of all their achievements, legacies and more importantly personal fortunes and safeties. Just look at what happened to Qaddafi. And just look at what happened to Castro. If Mengistu dies today, Ethiopia would surely celebrate, while Cuba mourned its dead dictator of almost 50 years. Castro was a smarter leader than our once communist leader – when Castro finally left office, he made sure he did not really leave it, by putting that office his younger brother. A day will come though, when the current establishment disintegrates.

The real Cuba will have her say, and spit on the grave of the most unworthy ‘Father’ the world has ever known. It is certain to happen.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a Film Critic whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He can be reached at

Published on Dec 13,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 867]



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