Dear Castro Apologists: Your Ethical Relativism Is Inexcusable

There was not a single reason to be surprised at Fidel Castro’s death: he had been sick for a long time already. A reason to stand in awe were certain reactions to his departure, ranging from Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau praising Castro for being a ‘remarkable leader’ to EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker who tweeted that the Cuban dictator was ‘a hero for many’.

As a libertarian, there are certain things you get confronted with constantly, ranging from “Zimbabwe must be your dream country“, over “who will build the roads?” to Pinochet. Ah yes, Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean military dictator whose iron fist held his country hostage from 1973 to 1990. Pinochet’s rise to power was supported through the US-backed coup d’état on September 11, 1973. His legacy is that of unspeakable horror: the Chilean Army death squad Caravana de la Muerte (‘Caravan of Death’) terrorised the population in order to suffocate political opposition. Pinochet is responsible for the deaths of over 3,000 people, as well as for disappearing journalists and the torture of over 25,000.

Pinochet is also known for effective free-market reforms: he privatised numerous state-companies as well as social security and got rid of tariffs. The so-called ‘Miracle of Chile’ made the country more prosperous as ever before. By 1990, GDP had risen by 40%, all while neighbouring South American economies were stagnating: Chile was observing its largest economic boom in history.

As much as I would like to see Pinochet’s market reforms to be implemented and economic freedom to thrive, praising his success in the light of his brutality is fundamentally immoral. Some libertarians are equally guilty of this line of argument: in a 2006 article, written on the occasion of the death of Pinochet, the Mises Institute relativises Pinochet’s terror:

“On Sunday, December 10, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile died, at the age of 91. General Pinochet deserves to be remembered for having rescued his country from becoming the second Soviet satellite in the Western hemisphere, after Castro’s Cuba, and, like the Soviet Union, and Cuba under Castro, a totalitarian dictatorship.”

The article continues to explain the dictatorship of Pinochet as a necessary evil against communism and praising his free-market inspirations. Yet, tyranny cannot be relativised. Switching a totalitarian dictatorship for another on is not a defence of liberty. In contrary, it is this very state-induced pragmatism that leads to the rise of fascism in the first place. If we were to accept the utilitarian premise that the 1973 coup provided Chile with more economic and personal liberty, then where do we do draw the line for the moral foundation for non-interventionism?


The apologists of recently deceased Fidel Castro need to face the same dilemma: achieving peace and prosperity through perpetual war and destruction are immoral. I have left the argument to others whether or not Cuban literacy rates, healthcare performance and overall happiness are indeed what many leftists make them to be. Their dispute is irrelevant:

Fidel Castro is responsible for the execution of hundreds, the imprisonment of thousands and the displacement of millions. His policies have led to food shortages and innovative stagnation. The attempt to ‘understand’ Castro, by that by the media or politicians such as Trudeau or Juncker, are an attempt to ethically relativise his murderous legacy, to contextualise it in time and space. Yet the context will always be that state violence, as is the initiation of force committed by individuals, is morally inexcusable.

Pictures are Creative Commons.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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