The passing of an ancient Latin American dictator came far too late for the thousands of his brutalized, jailed or murdered victims. At age 90, Communist Fidel Castro has been lionized for decades by a small but influential minority in willful denial of his evil doctrines and methods. His too-long-postponed demise gives us an opportunity to speak ill of the dead.

The whiskered, military-garbed object of the left’s pathetic affections lied, schemed and killed his way to power in one of the most prosperous and least oppressed countries in Latin America. Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar twice ruled Cuba — first in 1933-44 with an efficient government and again in 1952-59 as a dictator. His misdeeds, while hardly excusable, paled in comparison to the unparalleled cruelty of his bloody successor.

Castro’s romanticized image was first crafted by a New York Times reporter who portrayed him as the George Washington of Cuba and an “agrarian reformer.” Had Herbert L. Mathews examined Fidel’s background he might have told his readers that Castro’s devotion to communism dated back to his student days in 1948.

Like other tyrants, Castro seduced the left-wing press into swallowing his faux credentials as a credible alternative to Batista while hiding the telling facts about his real agenda. President Dwight Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations barely a year after Castro took power in 1959.

For at least two years the fiction was maintained that Castro was neither a communist nor a Soviet puppet. This was the seedbed for both old and new leftists that Castro should be kept in power and the American government prevented from removing the evil. That Castro finally admitted the truth did nothing to shake the left’s faith.

Reams of mindless published cant and hours of annoying chatter were the consequence. I was an undergraduate in those days, sitting in the cafeteria or elsewhere on campus and being subjected to Castro worship. Of course, it could be found also among the professoriate.

Following the left’s “long march” through American institutions, worship of Fidel Castro ultimately became sacred writ among leading men and women in the government, academia, the mass media and Hollywood.

This trend reached its zenith in the presidential administration of Barack Obama, who lately reversed 60 years of American opposition to Castro’s tyranny by doing everything within his power to end Cuba’s “isolation” and our government’s economic sanctions against it.

The ostensible reason for this radical break in policy was that isolation and sanctions “don’t work.” But Franklin Roosevelt’s recognition of the Soviet Union and Jimmy Carter’s similar action toward Red China did nothing to mitigate the evils of those regimes — and will not in the present case either.

The real reason for changing our policy toward Cuban communism, of course, is sympathy with its allegedly worthy goals and pro-forma objection to its vicious methods of achieving them. The Castro brothers, former president Fidel and current president Raoul, released some political prisoners, but promptly arrested more in an in-your-face gesture to Obama.

After all, doesn’t Cuba have the best health care system in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world? That, at least, was what Michael Moore and Oliver Stone tried strenuously to make us believe. That’s true only if you’re part of the governing elite, or a friendly tourist.

At Castro’s passing, leading Democrat politicians have sung his praises, such as Jimmy Carter and John Kerry. But for sheer vacuity, nothing can compare to the remarks of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.

“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’."

For years, such gush for a tyrant has been passed off as misplaced idealism. That is bunk. Anyone who shows such admiration for a man who made life miserable for millions of his fellow creatures is demonstrating where his real sympathies lie.

Self-governing republics get in the way of murderous utopias. We must speak truth to power. Any citizen, in or out of government, who can speak only good of an oppressive ruler tells you two things: he admires the tyrant and wishes the same power for himself.

Does that qualify as “giving aid and comfort” to the enemy? It does, if it is understood that communists are our enemy. I believe that those who cannot see that are truly traitors. They deserve our contempt.

Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow Community College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at rhreeb@verizon.net