Red and White Stripes: A Response to Mark Narusov

By Zak Vescera

Zak’s original piece “Castro, Canada, and History’s Absolution” can be found here. Mark’s response to his piece was published on the Sundial Press here. This article, which is a response to Mark, was originally published on The Student Press here

Dear Mark,

Having just read your response to my article “Castro, Canada, and History’s Absolution”, I attach my response below.

While you have written an impressive condemnation of Castro’s regime, and one that I do not entirely disagree with, you haven’t addressed the main arguments of my article.

Your response begins with a lengthy summary of all the things we should rightfully condemn Castro for. Supporting foreign dictators? Absolutely. Human rights violations? My article was explicit about those. Totalitarian? I wrote that Cuba’s regime was a dictatorship.

My article was not a defence of Castro’s legacy, but rather a defence of my Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, as well as the need to view Castro, and all figures of his stature, in a lens that sees shades beyond black and white.

I argued that given Canada and Cuba’s relationship, it would not be appropriate for Trudeau to spit on a dead man’s grave à la Marco Rubio.

Your response was to first question whether Canada’s friendship with Cuba exists. The stats for this are plentiful. One third of all tourists to Cuba are from Canada. We’re one of their primary trade partners, and have maintained an embassy in the country since 1945, even during the Revolution. Cuba has both an embassy and two consulates in Canada to manage the extensive touristic and business partnerships between the countries. On a more personal level, Fidel Castro served as a pallbearer for Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s most famous and celebrated Prime Minister of recent years.

Your second argument was that Trudeau’s statement should not be considered as nuanced or balanced, but as a radical eulogy that derives from “the ‘middle ground’ of the mainstream”

Your benchmark for this “middle ground” is Marco Rubio, which is a bad enough start. Rubio and Ted Cruz represent a lobby of Cuban Americans who have wanted Castro’s head on a stake for decades. This is the group that has inhibited any and all negotiation of the Cuban embargo, the normalization of relations, or productive discourse with the Cuban government. This is hardly a “middle ground” on which to evaluate Trudeau’s statement. You admit yourself that many politicians, including Jean-Claude Juncker and Kofi Annan, delivered statements equivalent or even warmer than my Prime Minister. Even Barack Obama’s statement was tellingly neutral. So why can’t we view them as being a middle ground of greater consensus? Why is Trudeau the outlier, as opposed to Cruz, Rubio, and evidently yourself?

Your third argument, simplified, is that Castro is beyond any sort of consideration or viewpoint beyond your own. You call him “a relentless oppressor domestically and a loyal servant to the Soviet regime externally, period”.

But history doesn’t have “periods” in the sense of strict endings. It’s a discourse that operates beyond a strict labelling of a people, an era, or a person. In the words of esteemed scholar Obi-Wan Kenobi, “only a Sith deals in absolutes”.

In his official statement, Barack Obama said that “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him”. My article argued the same thing. Castro was someone who filled people of countless backgrounds with astoundingly diverse emotions, many of which have changed and shifted over time. He’s hardly unique in this. Andrew Jackson expanded the American electorate; he was also a genocidal maniac. Thomas Jefferson was also one of the most important statesmen and writers of his time; he also owned slaves. To reduce any historical figure to an essentialist narrative of good or evil — terms that are rooted more in ideology than historicity — is both vapid and fruitless.

On the subject of ideology, your piece is rife with it. Your defence of the Cuban embargo, your statistics of Fulgencio Batista’s rule which suggest that one dictator (who happened to get his funding from Uncle Sam) is inherently better than another, and your suggestion that « the victims » who we must side with are those who fled Cuba, are all relentless praise of one side, and the rejection of another. If you want victims, you’ll find plenty, and you’ll find them everywhere. Who says the lives of one side have more value than those of another? Your piece obstinately praises the United States at every twist and turn, but ignores or rejects other views, including those of Jeremy Corbyn, Kofi Annan, and most shockingly, Ban-Ki Moon. How does ignoring the statement of the highest chair of the most prominent international organization on the planet serve to give credibility to your argument? In bending over backwards, you’ve lost sight of the ground.

I don’t intend to play the hypocrite. My piece has bias as well. I’m Canadian, so it’s natural I may tend to side with my Prime Minister. I’m situated more to the left than yourself, and that may affect how I view Rubio and Cruz. I was also lucky enough to have an exceptional history teacher back in the day, so you’ll excuse my insistence on proper narrative analysis.

Maybe we just see things differently. But if my piece contends that history shouldn’t be black and white, yours argues that history should have red and white stripes.

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