On Mandela and Fidel Castro

Friday, December 6, 2013
We've received some criticism for previously failing to mention the friendship of Nelson Mandela with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The fact remains Nelson Mandela felt gratitude toward Fidel Castro. That was unfortunate, for Fidel Castro is the anti-thesis of everything that Mandela represents.

But there's an important lesson here.

During Mandela's time in prison, rather than standing unequivocally against the repressive apartheid regime in South Africa, the U.S. mistakenly chose a policy of "constructive engagement" with his jailers.

This culminated in 1986, when the U.S. Congress found it necessary to override President Reagan's unfortunate veto of strong sanctions toward South Africa.

As all victims of dictatorships know, such lack of solidarity is extraordinarily demoralizing. And as we always warn those who seek to unconditionally embrace tyrants -- their victims never forget.

Needless to say, a policy of strong sanctions proved to be the right path.

But Fidel Castro astutely took this opening to portray himself as a champion and supporter of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Hypocritically, of course, as Castro himself heads an undemocratic, apartheid regime.

However, to Castro's chagrin, upon being democratically-elected as President of South Africa, Mandela rejected everything Castro stood for.

Mandela could have taken the path of Castro or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. He could have become ruler-for-life, confiscated the nation's vast wealth and made it his personal fiefdom.

Yet, Mandela chose the path of human rights, free markets and representative democracy. Moreover, he refused to serve more than one-term.

There is no greater test of a man than when he is given power.

Mandela passed that test.

And Cuba's Mandela, whether currently organizing a protest on the streets of Havana or sitting in a cell in Castro's infamous Combinado del Este political prison, has taken note.