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Why is the BBC Doing Fidel Castro's Publicity for Him?

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While the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is busy sending in his troops to massacre his own people in the streets and the UN fails to pass any resolution condemning these atrocities, the BBC has decided that of equal news worthiness is a story about another despot, Fidel Castro, publishing his memoirs.

By all accounts the 85 year old former ruler of Cuba has turned out an autobiography running into almost a thousand pages, something that will not surprise anyone who has ever picked up a copy of the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma, each issue of which usually carried not one, but several of Castro's lengthy diatribes.

What is so remarkable about how the BBC reported this event was the way in which Castro was discussed as just any other former world leader might be, as if Jacques Chirac or Bill Clinton had published a glossy coffee table memoir. Indeed, one can't help but feel that a memoir by a Western leader would have come in for a little more critical discussion. But no, Castro was the dictator of a one party Socialist state that employed a repressive and human rights abusing power structure to maintain control. And while the Cuban economy was run into the ground, something anyone who has seen the empty shops in Havana can testify to, Castro busily worked on plans to turn Cuba into a nuclear outpost for the Soviet Union.

The BBC article makes no reference to any of this, nor the huge numbers of Cubans that have risked their lives to escape Castro's Cuba, creating a Cuban Diaspora of roughly a million people, most of whom now live in Miami. Instead, the BBC chose to quote Castro on his support for free education and his solidarity with fellow Latin American authoritarian Hugo Chavez.

It's reporting like this that makes one more inclined to sit up and take note when former BBC news readers such as Michael Buerk and Peter Sissons speak out publicly about the BBC's institutional political bias, with Sisson's claiming that BBC bosses use the Guardian newspaper as 'their bible' in determining the BBC's editorial line.

Yet, in a sense the BBC is simply reflecting a much wider attitude in the West that Cuba is somehow the acceptable or friendly dictatorship. Cuba is fun, we think of the salsa, the rum, the fine cigars and the retro 1950's Cadillac's gliding through Havana's peeling but charming streets. And Cuba is now a popular holiday destination for Westerners who seem unconcerned by the apartheidesque beach system the Communist regime has put in place so that wealthy Westerners can enjoy the best of Cuba's beaches without actually having to share them with the Cuban's themselves. How easily communist Cuba has transformed itself into just another consumer product.

For those on the Left Cuba remains an important beacon of defiance that has held out after communism collapsed just about everywhere else, so continuing to serve as a rallying point for anti-Americanism the world over. Indeed, when Castro handed the reigns of power over to his brother (so putting Cuba alongside North Korea as the only other dynastic Communist state), no less than 65 Labour MPs signed a motion praising Castro for his supposed achievements in health and education. So much for the supposedly ex-socialist credentials of New Labour then.

This ability to idealise a regime such as the one in Cuba while ignoring its well documented human rights abuses is something that we should all find unsettling. Yet Castro seems to have become almost as palatable to Westerners as his terrorist comrade Che Guevara, who despite having been idealised in films such as The Motorcyclist Diaries and 'Che' was ultimately responsible for ordering the execution of large numbers of Cuban's as part of the consolidation of power there. Yet this man's face adorns posters, t-shirts and mugs the world over, making a mint for the capitalist system that he apparently so despised. What he stood for and what he did is of little interest to those who now brandish his image, he has become a symbol of teenage rebellion chic as once again popular culture demonstrates its love of style and apathy for substance.

Like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro makes no secret of his own terrorist origins, calling his memoirs Guerrilla of Time. It is too much to expect the commercial markets to restrain themselves from selling products that fly in the face of moral decency, if a large enough group of people are stupid enough to buy something then business will almost invariably supply it, glad to have found a new niche in the market, no questions asked. Yet from the BBC shouldn't we be able to demand a slightly higher degree of moral fortitude? Sadly the answer would appear to be to the negative and so we should probably now brace ourselves for the BBC providing a fanfare to any forthcoming autobiography by Robert Mugabe. Just don't hold out for any mention of Mugabe's ethnic cleansing of Zimbabwe, his regimes brutal murder and torture of political opposition and the terrible economic hardships his rule has inflicted upon the people there.