Sunday, 18 December 2016

Everyone has their favourite dictator

Our Prime Minister recently ran into a flood of criticism, particularly from conservatives, for his kind words to the Cubans upon the death of their leader of many years, Fidel Castro. The Trudeaus did indeed have a congenial relationship with Castro, but then, even though we all proclaim our commitment to democracy and human rights, everyone has a favourite dictator.

Certainly conservatives do. There was, for example Margaret Thatcher's infamous fondness for Chile's military strongman, General Augusto Pinochet. She loved to have the old monster in for tea whenever he was in the neighbourhood. And then there is the cozy relationship between the Bush family and the Saudis, which has included visits by Saudi royalty to the Bush ranch in Texas. Indeed, the American politicians who criticized Trudeau's sentiments about the Cuban dictator seem completely unbothered about the massive amount of weapons the U.S. peddles to Saudi Arabia, one of the world's fouler dictatorships.

For that matter, Prime Minister Harper's statement upon the death of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz wasn't entirely dissimilar to Trudeau's upon the death of Castro, with the same warm from me and mine to you and yours sentiment.

These attitudes are not unexpected. If a dictator does something one supports it is hardly out of place to express respect for it, if for nothing else. Augusto Pinochet imposed neoliberal economics on his country, something dear to Thatcher's heart. And folks on the left cannot ignore Castro's creation of one of the world's best medical care systems, to say nothing of an excellent education system.

From the contrary perspective, the left is less than impressed by neoliberal economics just as social infrastructure is not always a high priority among conservatives. To each his own. The question is whether or not admiring an achievement or two by a dictator justifies having him over for tea or down to the ranch to hold hands, or effusing kind words upon his demise.

I think not. Keep to the facts, I would say. Save the affection for leaders who deserve it, leaders who build democracy and civil rights. Nonetheless, let us not be too critical of those who flatter their favourite strongmen lest we appear as hypocrites. We all, to our common shame, are guilty of it.

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