While Fidel Castro left office officially in 2008 his indomitable spirit remained a driving force to the social and political machine of Cuba. His death in November 2016 saw the end of an individual who was intricately woven into the very fabric of Cuba. While national grief flowed he was a divisive figure. In equal measure (perhaps more so with certain global leaders) his death was met with a degree pragmatic grief or out-right venom. He was for many a dictator with a long history of human rights transgressions-his apparent treatment of the ‘maricones’ just one of those transgressions.
Whether you see him as a freedom fighting Marxists standing strong against the West or you see him as maniacal dictator who held his people under a violent iron fist-he was of course one of the most colourful and long standing leaders of the modern era.
In this piece, #itchysilk writer Flying Saucer takes a brief look at Castro’s life and asks what is the legacy of Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz and further seeks to explore the Castro who was for many a beacon of; strength, resilience, power and freedom?
Fidel Castro was a charismatic yet certainly flawed leader whose vision for Cuba and for developing countries saw him at odds with many Western countries. Along with another revolutionary Che Guevara he was the proverbial thorn in the side of the West ergo America -Guevara’s physical battle however ended in 1967-his image however has continued the revolutionary spirit.
Fidel Castro became president of Cuba in January 1959, overthrowing the U.S backed Batista Regime. This overthrow ended 60 years of subjugation (some might say) by America. The Batista overthrow was the first notable event that clearly stated that Castro was not going to be the lap dog of U.S. On the contrary he was going to defy, challenge and place Cuba’s needs above any rules or orders put on Cuba by the U.S. He brought in sweeping reforms- expropriated large estates, banned religion (due to religion’s history of subversive oppression) set up schools, clinics and nationalised all foreign enterprise-it is a testament to Castro that Cuba’s health system remains one of the best in the modern era with a founding principle that good healthcare is a fundamental need.
Post his reforms he still attempted to establish friendly relations with the U.S.-his efforts were ultimately snubbed by President Eisenhower who found Castro’s deviance deeply unsettling-an attitude that was ultimately carried on by the following (and doomed) President John F Kennedy. In the face of the snub he found a sympathiser in the shape of Russia who were at the time a superpower of equal standing to the US. This relationship intensified the already poor relationship between Cuba and U.S. and in shades of the political climate now, Cuba became a battle ground for a much bigger, more global and potentially more frightening conclusion. Their [U.S.] attempts to oust Castro (‘oust’ being a euphemism for assassinate) were legendary but he survived over 600 attempts and far from cower it seemed to fuel Castro.
The potentially flammable global climate evidently caught fire when Soviet missiles were found on the island. This incensed JFK who sent a freight to Cuba to remove this base-this was apparently the closest the world came to nuclear war in what has notoriously become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis/ The October Crisis (1962). While nuclear war never materialised, for Cuba JFK ordered a total economic embargo on Cuba that would be maintained for over five decades. What was significant about the Cuban Missile Crisis is yet again Castro defied the U.S. and rather than buckle under intense and severe embargoes which followed, Cuba ergo Castro was resolute and never yielded despite the sever impact it was having on the country.
It was perhaps this deviance that saw swathes of the Western media demonise Castro and purport that he was a threat to the West and therefore global peace (the usual rhetoric). But this was not necessarily the case-his threat was a conscious decision not to acquiesce to the demands/orders that the West ergo U.S. were attempting to enforce. Looked another way, Castro ended colonial oppression in Cuba and contributed significantly to the cause of freedom internationally.
Castro over the years of resolute indifference to the power of America became an enemy but it was precisely his indifference that made him a beacon, an example to other third world revolutionaries. He became a by proxy hero and his support in places like Vietnam, Angola and South Africa only helped to further his appeal. On his release from Robben Island some twenty-seven years later, Nelson Mandela (who at one point was also seen as a terrorist) pointed to Castro and Cuba for their support to him and South Africa when he was incarcerated. He gave further historical support to liberations in Mozambique, Ethiopia and Algeria. He inspired many Latin American revolutions and in more recent times served as mentor to both Hugo Chavez (1954-2013) and Evo Morales. His staunch resolute leadership of Cuba (despite many failings which are inevitable) became the template for countries to break free from the chains of foreign policies and subversive political machinations. The main charge against him ‘he killed his own people’ has been levelled against leaders who resist hegemony once too often. Post Iraq and Libya, we easily perceive the rank hypocrisy and meaninglessness of this bullying accusation bandied around by right wing journos and politicians who support death row and other forms of Western barbarity.
In 2006, ill health lead him to hand over power to his brother Raul although his presence remained in Cuba until his death last November. Indeed, it is in his death that we will see how Cuba will fare. While his brother undoubtedly will continue, the ideas expounded by Castro it’s clear that to an extent his ideology maybe on the wane. On a more global standing however the loss for certain countries maybe more felt. Despite assassination attempts, embargoes and a plethora of other political tools at the West’s disposal, they were never able to bring Castro to his knees begging for their help and support. Indeed, without the bargaining chips of added financial support, military protection, aide and so forth the West did not have leverage with Castro and he knew it and was therefore free from their power. Currently we now look to other leaders of countries who can deploy the same resoluteness against the hegemony of the West to bring about a possible more level playing field.
In the wake of Castro’s passing, last year various news channels ran pieces speculating on Cuba’s future. Predictably, there were no glowing reports in the Western media. Fox News focused negatively on Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba. It also homed in on Trump’s wish to reverse Obama’s opening to Cuba. The interviewee compared Cuba post Castro to East Germany and absurdly states that ‘the regime’ is ‘not popular’ and that Cubans have been waiting for Castro’s passing for the past 58 years. CNN, CBS and the BBC were more balanced in their reporting and did address the question of what is to come for Cuba. CBS like Fox commented on Obama’s statement but also commented on the sombre mood in the streets of the island. Like CNN, CBS compared this grief with the celebrations of Cuban exiles in Miami. The BBC, interviewing a handful of young people for its think piece, contrasting the views of Xiunelly a young entrepreneur who hoped to one day run her own software company and who was sceptical about her future in Cuba with those of medical student Laura who was fully committed to continuing the revolution. Laura’s views that little would change following Fidel’s passing were echoed by 2 unnamed factory workers, a man and a woman who are interviewed in the CNN piece. The man says that there is no desire for change among his co-workers- the woman that ‘Castro’s way will carry on because ‘this is how we raise our children’.
Castro was a divisive figure and it is clear there is and will be much to criticise him for but we can also celebrate and commemorate him. He left an unprecedented legacy for Cuba, Communism and the modern world. He showed that a small number can have a huge impact against an oppressive regime. He rejected Yankee imperialism and remained committed to his youthful idealism throughout his life. He was a true beacon of dissent for the modern World as well as a shining light going forward.