Fidel Castro was no sweetheart, granted, but we helped to motivate and create him. Don’t kid yourself. Read your Chomsky, your I.F. Stone. Hell, any fair-minded historian. Ask Pablo Larrain, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro, Roger Durling, Alfonso Cuaron…any Latin-born filmmaker or film connoisseur who knows whereof he speaks.

Before Castro the U.S. had long regarded Latin America as fertile territory to be exploited. The Monroe Doctrine basically stated that European powers were to leave Latin America alone so we could exploit it for our own interests. The building of the Panama Canal was a constructive trade enabler, but primarily one of many operations that was mostly about serving U.S. interests.

We allied ourselves with Central and South American military regimes all through the 20th Century — i.e., right-leaning frontmen for the oligarchs (i.e., the upper-crust elite), which have always been in league with U.S. interests and the coldly capitalist, market-driven finaglings of the International Monetary Fund. And the lower classes have always had to eat bean dip.

The CIA engineered a coup d’etat in Guatamela in 1954 against a Democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, because he was too independent-minded, not enough of a U.S.-favoring toady. In 1973 we helped engineer a brutal coup against Salvador Allende in Chile for the same reason.

Remember that Havana boardroom scene in The Godfather, Part II in which Batista confers with Michael Corleone and the heads of other U.S. corporate interests (i.e., the “United” Telephone & Telegraph company, United Fruit)? Did you get a feeling from that scene that these were good guys following humanistic impulses?

For all his flaws Fidel Castro was the first strong Latin American leader to assert nativist independence and tell U.S. interests to back off. As Oliver Stone‘s South of the Border explained a few years ago, almost all of South America had elected similar nativist leaders in the 21st Century — the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner (along with her husband and ex-President Nestor Kirchner), Paraguay’s Fernando Lug and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa — a sea change that was partly inspired by Castro.

We tried to oust and assassinate Castro in the ’60s, remember. We enabled him to be an alarmist and, for a time, to rally the Cuban people against us. We gave him the rationale, the fuel to run Cuba with a severe ideological hand — no question. If Castro was a tyrannical asshole, the U.S. provided the abusive influence that led to that mentality.