The death of Fidel Castro in November was greeted by effusive tributes, not just from the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and the 92-year-old Jimmy Carter (now perhaps rather past his best), but also from younger dupes including the dismal Jean-Claude Juncker and Justin Trudeau. The Canadian prime minister betrayed his mind-boggling indifference to the facts of history by describing Castro as “a long-time friend of Canada and my family”. The Trudeaus may have been his friends, but Castro was anything but a friend to his own people, whom he kept in a state of oppression and near-starvation while plying gullible tourists with comfortable holidays.
Under Fidel and his brother, Raúl, thousands of Cubans have been imprisoned, tortured and even executed without trial. According to Amnesty International, no fewer than 8,000 were detained on political grounds in the last year alone. Did a horde of ravenous civil or human rights lawyers arise to prosecute Castro for these gross infringements of rights?
Well, no, actually. And it’s instructive to consider the contrast between the reactions in the media to the death of a major left-wing tyrant like Castro and to a minor right-wing dictator, with more genuine redeeming features, in the shape of General Augusto Pinochet.
I was in Chile in 1990, reporting on the abdication of Pinochet after a plebiscite which he lost by a narrow margin. Unlike our own dear Remainers, he didn’t indignantly demand a rerun. Instead, he drove from Santiago in an open car to take a helicopter to Valparaiso to receive the automatic resignation of the head of the navy. His route was lined by loyal old ladies, and others, chanting the Chilean version of “Will ye no come back again?”
At Valparaiso it was rather different. Pinochet’s car was pelted, rather eccentrically, with shoes and small coins. Had anyone wished to throw a bomb at him there was no one to stop them – and the families of the hundreds who had disappeared under his regime would have had a good reason to do so. But had he not come to power, having disposed of the hopelessly weak and vain Allende, the stooges whom the USSR had sent to Chile from Cuba would have rampaged round the fertile farms and vineyards of Chile and reduced them, à la Mugabe, to a desert.
By preventing this, Pinochet had been the saviour of his country. Later, of course, in his decrepit old age, he was hounded by lawyers friendly to Castro, and narrowly escaped a show trial in Spain.
Just as there is sometimes said to be one law for the rich and one for the poor, there is undoubtedly one law for the left and quite another one for the right. Almost unbelievably, after a century of violent crime by the left, this double standard is alive and well, especially, as usual, in the biased and misleading BBC, and shows no sign of being abolished.
On a more hopeful note, there was a recent account in these columns of the wonderful growth of the Church in South Korea, where there are so many vocations that there is actually a glut of priests. Why on earth can this surplus not be invited here to relieve the terrible pressure on our parish priests and the closure of so many of our much-loved and well-supported parish churches? The hierarchy have failed to take advantage of this great opportunity, as indeed they did in the similar case of Romania a few years ago. They must have a reason for this failure, but what is it?
Finally, I am regularly amazed by the kind consideration shown to elderly and infirm passengers on public transport, especially by those much younger. While lurching down the gangway in a swaying train recently, I was offered a seat by a genial cleric. I declined gratefully, having a reserved seat of my own not far away. Seeing the chain and cross hanging from his neck, I asked him where he was from. “I’m the Methodist Bishop of Cornwall,” was the answer.
On my way back past his seat I told him I was a Catholic, and I would never be guilty of an unworthy thought about Methodists again. He laughed heartily and said: “Oh, Bishop Mark at Plymouth is a great friend of mine!”
All most encouraging, and obviously not just in the season of goodwill.
John Jolliffe is an editor, author and book reviewer
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