From one Castro to another; Wisconsin primary...

Behind The News
February 19, 2008 12:35:39 PM PST
It's hard to imagine now, what with nearly 50 years of anti-Castro frenzy that has coursed the American consciousness. But when Castro and his band of guerrillas stormed Havana in 1959 and toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista, he was a fan of the U.S. A big fan.

He liked the Declaration of Independence - quoted it, even -- and there was no question that the man he overthrew was a ruthless leader concerned more about lining his own pockets than taking care of the Cuban people.

The scene in The Godfather II, when Michael Corleone and his brother Fredo flee a New Year's Eve party? That depicts the night Batista knew his reign was over. He fled the country the next day and, the next week, Castro and his Robin Hood band of merry men rolled into Havana.

It's been painted over because of what's happened with Castro and the U.S. since then, but Cuba pre-Castro represented all that was wrong with American Imperialism. Big corporations ruled, swanky tourist resorts flourished, while the people of Cuba suffered. Virtually the entire population was illiterate, had no education and no health care.

Castro changed all that. While Americans have grown accustomed to his vilification, there is no denying that virtually everyone in the country is now literate, virtually everyone is covered by a national health care system, and virtually everyone is guaranteed an education, from kindergarten through college.

The same can hardly be said of the U.S. population.

There are, of course, many problems in Cuba. And Castro turned out to be a far better revolutionary than a chief executive.

The economy is stagnant, and it hasn't kept up with the times. Cuba is still far too dependent on its sugar crop for revenues, and Castro embodies, alas, the classic truism that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Political opposition -- which Castro represented so many years ago -- was not tolerated by the revolutionary turned dictator, and civil rights, especially for gays, were stunted for decades.

I know there are many people who are emotional about Castro; I have several friends whose families left Cuba post-Castro who are counting the days, gleefully, until he dies. And there are still people - mostly older -- who train to this day-- military style with weapons -- in the Everglades of South Florida, trying to stay ready to take over their homeland.

Many experts believe that the U.S. forced Castro into the arms of the Russians way back when. What if the U.S. had not rejected Castro, but instead accepted him and his embrace of socialism? How history would have changed. And would he have become the devil we built him into? Hard to imagine.

But when Pres. Eisenhower rejected Castro, strategically many historians believe we left the struggling leader with little choice but to accept the more-than-willing generosity of the Soviets.

And how unfortunate.

Tonight, Cuba is on the brink of change. Castro, old and ailing, has resigned -- and he's said he will not seek another term as President.

His brother Raul is in charge, but he, too, is older. It is time for a big change in Cuba, and it is time that the United States lift its embargo on the little island. This will happen -- WHEN is the only uncertainty.

We'll have the latest on Castro's decision to step down, tonight at 11. Joe Torres is in Miami's Little Havana for us, and we'll have reaction from Union City, New Jersey, the second largest Cuban community in the country.

Also at 11, we'll have the results from the primaries tonight in Wisconsin. We likely will not have results from Washington State and Hawaii, but we'll have the latest from there. Our political reporter Dave Evans is covering the races for President for us.

And our investigative reporter, Jim Hoffer, takes a troubling look at New York City's Potter's Field -- the largest taxpayer funded cemetery in the world. Why is public access severely restricted? And why are people who are trying to identify a missing loved one - still facing a bureaucratic maze trying to get inside?

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark and Marvell Scott with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.