|And yes, Ken did mention him|
Here's a transcript of the interview from this morning's Today
that appears to have really got people talking. It's Ken Livingstone on Fidel Castro.
Reactions to the interview seem to be just as sharply divided as the reactions to the ex-Cuban dictator's demise. I think it's safe to say that the far-Left are not
happy with Mishal Husain.
Mishal Husain: How do you think we should remember him?
Ken Livingstone: I think an absolute giant of the 20th Century. If you had to live in any Latin American country you would have chosen Cuba because your children would have had good education and decent healthcare. Everywhere else in Latin America, small, corrupt elites, dictatorships. It was a beacon of light, I think, to people all over Latin America.
Mishal Husain: "A beacon of light", you say. And yet in his last year in power in 2007 Human Rights Watch said he was "the architect of a repressive machinery constructed over half a century", that under him "Cuban citizens had been systematically deprived of their fundamental rights to free expression, privacy, association of assembly, movement and due process of law"?
Ken Livingstone: Yes, but he was effectively in a war situation. He was constantly living with the threat of being overthrown and other American intervention. There was a completely illegal American block on trade which damaged their economy. And you've got to remember he came to power at the height of the Cold War. And I think, yes, had he...had America taken a different position, allowed him to develop, you might have moved more towards a traditional democracy and much better human rights. But he was living with eight attempts at assassination authorised by American presidents.
Mishal Husain (interrupting): You would really...sorry, you would really dismiss all of that criticism of his record in Cuba by saying he was in a 'war situation' for his entire period in power?
Ken Livingstone: It was...He lived with the constant fear of being over....just...It wasn't just in Cuba. When people elected democratic left-wing governments in Chile, Brazil and in Argentina, America, with its influence over there, militarily had them overthrown and tens of thousands of people killed and tortured afterwards. Basically the whole of that post-war period America wanted to keep control of Latin America so the mineral resources, the wealth, flowed to American corporations and didn't go to the local people.
Mishal Husain: Well, whatever the criticism of US policy in that period - and there are plenty - he was nevertheless someone who had absolute control over his country. He could do anything he wanted to do. In fact, he set up a whole system to make sure that dissent was completely clamped down on. And yet you seem willing to excuse all of that because of...because of what America was doing at that time.
Ken Livingstone: Well, absolutely. The position was...You actually look at the people of Vietnam struggling for their freedom. America killed 3.5 million of them. It was an unbelievably unhappy world to actually...and be trying to assert your independence and your own control over your own economy. And the simple fact is, yes, of course Fidel did things that were wrong but he was living in a world where....
Mishal Husain (interrupting): Go on. What did he do wrong? Talk about what he did that was wrong.
Ken Livingstone: I mean, initially, he wasn't very good on lesbian and gay rights. Erm, but the key things that mattered were that people had a good education, good healthcare and wealth was evenly distributed. He was not living as a billionaire laundering money off into Panamanian bank accounts, or anything like that. He was good for the people.
Mishal Husain (interrupting): OK, so just to be clear. You would rather...you personally would rather live in a country with decent literacy and healthcare than a proper democracy?
Ken Livingstone: Well, if you have a proper democracy you'll get those things. But most of the democracies we've seen in the Third World, not just Latin America, have effectively been fronts for American imperialism and terrible things have been done to people who threaten that.
Mishal Husain (interrupting): Well, no, no, but...I asked you which of those scenarios you would rather have lived in; which you would choose; whether you think it's an acceptable trade-off.
Ken Livingstone: If you'd said to me. 'You're going to live as an ordinary person in Cuba or in Brazil under the dictatorship there I'd have gone for Cuba.
Mishal Husain: Despite the fact that in all the political activity, everything that you've based your career on, would never have been possible in Castro's Cuba?
Ken Livingstone: No. I would have been a supporter of Castro. (Mishal Husain laughs). There was...
Mishal Husain (interrupting): Therefore, you're happy that no one could have had...no one even today can really have...an opposite view, openly?
Ken Livingstone: No. I've been there many times. It's a very open and relaxed society. And the simple fact is I'm sure they will over time move towards something like a traditional West European democracy but it could have happened a lot earlier if you hadn't had, the entire time, the blockade by America, attempts to overthrow the regime, eight assassination attempts authorised by American presidents. If you're doing things like that...I mean, we didn't have a fully functioning democracy during World War II. It was shut down. The general election was cancelled. Anyone expressing support for Hitler was thrown into prison. If you're living in a wartime situation it's not good for democracy.
Mishal Husain (interrupting): You've already...On Cuba...on Cuba...on Cuba - and Castro, because that's what we're talking about today - you've already acknowledged that you are partisan on this. You've been to Cuba as a supporter of the Castros. Let me tell you...give you an independent view. Human Rights Watch last year said, "Today the Cuban government represses dissent, discourages public criticism. Short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics include beatings, public acts of shaming and the termination of employment". This is the country that you're a fan of.
Ken Livingstone: That...and that is happening all over the world. And that's a simple, brutal fact because we're still in a position where American imperialism, hiding itself in a much better way than British imperialism did, continues to undermine anyone that threatens its control of their economic wealth.
Mishal Husain: And, therefore, any...If you follow that logic then any country which says it's facing that sort of oppression from the outside can do anything it likes within its own borders and you wouldn't have a problem with it?
Ken Livingstone: No. I would...I would oppose all of those things. I'd say, "It's time to move towards a proper democracy. You're not under a threat now." I mean, I don't think there's any prospect of an American invasion, even if Trump goes a little bit bonkers....
Mishal Husain (interrupting): So you would, therefore, attack all of this happening today?
Ken Livingstone: I mean, I would argue it's time to move on and put that behind. But throughout all those decades they lived with the fear of being overthrown, and the simple fact of the matter is you can walk down the streets in Havana and talk to people openly and relax in a way that you can't in a lot of brutal dictatorships supported by the West all over the world.
Mishal Husain: But the things that you have...you say you have had a problem with, did you ever put that to the Castros?
Ken Livingstone: No. I mean, I was always dealing with the mayor of Havana. I never met Fidel or his brother Raul. The simple fact is they wanted advice on how you should...how you can develop their own things like that. I think the last time I was there - 2008 - it was one of their sporting events which we were supporting.
Mishal Husain: Hmmm. (Pause). Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, thank you very much for talking to us.