In the wake of Cuban despot Fidel Castro’s death at the age of 90, media and public response has been decidedly mixed among North American and European personalities. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Irish President Michael Higgins, for instance, both penned effusive eulogies praising the “longest serving president” who advocated a “development path that was unique and determinedly independent.” Yet the nation’s largest community of Cuban-Americans, many of whom are exiles or escapees of the oppressive regime, celebrated in the streets that the man who jailed, murdered and starved thousands of their people was at last dead.

Why this chasm between those in the West who unequivocally condemn the man and those who are paying him post-mortem lip service? His deeds, among them mass murder and incarceration, the criminalization of free speech and homosexuality, and the absolute restriction of emigration from the country, would certainly horrify any person who values a Western society that protects the freedom to pursue one’s own ends.

One must wonder if the hesitation to outright condemn Castro comes in part from Western progressivism’s complex relationship with communism: American and European leftist intellectuals were quick to embrace communist precepts and praise early movements before the extent of the oppression and poverty in the USSR and elsewhere was known. French existentialist and political theorist Jean-Paul Sartre famously renounced communism, after years of intellectual participation in communist politics, when he witnessed first-hand the atrocities of the USSR. He was, as many Western leftists have been, enamored with surface elements of communist thought until familiar with its oppressive application. If this realization is so crucial, then forgetting communism’s violent history can only promote its renewed romantic aura in the eyes of the public and intellectuals alike.

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