Fidel Castro during a visit to Washington, United States, April 1959. © Wikimedia
Loved by many and hated by countless, nobody could stay indifferent to the charismatic Fidel Castro. With 90 years old, the central figure of the Cuban Revolution who challenged the United States left this world amid tears and celebrations.
Saturday morning, November 26, Cuban President Raul Castro announced the passing of his brother and revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro Ruz. The strongman’s resilience saw its limits before the impossibility of jinking death.
In fact, to understand this hardliner is to understand the fight for an ideal. Castro represented the opposition to imperialism and the refusal of capitalist ideas. Influenced by the philosophy of Marx and Lenin, the revolutionary leader rejected all forms of foreign meddling while he embraced socialist ideas of redistribution and nationalisations. In the middle of the Cold War, a popular communist neighboring the United States was amongst the biggest nightmares of the US government leaded by then President Eisenhower.
After successfully ousting dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, during the Cuban Revolution, Castro assumed political and military power becoming Cuba’s Prime Minister, a position he hold until 1976. He became President of the Cuban island on that same year until he stepped down in 2008, opening the way for his brother Raul Castro. In total, 49 years of power shaped the life of this controversial man, whose obstinacy and fierce ideology made Cuba a unique country in the world.
Fidel becomes Prime Minister, 1959. © Wikimedia
However, Fidel’s commitment to the ideals of the Communist Party deeply clashed with the upper class of the Cuban society. With a Communist leading the country their property was threatened. Hence, many Cubans found a safe port in Miami, in the United States, where they could protect their wealth. This segment of the Cuban population was presumably capable of affording healthcare and quality education during Baptista’s rule, a basic right that was neglected for most Cubans. Not surprisingly, the exiled Cuban-Americans celebrated Fidel’s death with flags and parades.
A man with trust issues
Castro was a wise man with substantial trust issues. After all, he saw the development of several coup d’états undertaken by the US authorities that destabilised his closest neighbors. He vehemently refused to surrender to a capitalism system, which he considered “repugnant, filthy and gross” and the underlying reason for “war, hypocrisy and competition”. During his time in power, Fidel witnessed the commitment and agility of the United States in their numerous attempts to democratically overthrow elected leaders. Supported by vigorous smear campaigns, the Yankees teed up political momentums in their “backyard” strategically aiming at deposing leaders from Guatemala, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, to name but a few. Castro was attentive to such actions as he was conscious he could be the next target.
The (failed) Bay of Pigs Invasion
While Castro was holding strong on his island, the US decided to change their tactics and in 1960 they reinforced a commercial embargo on Cuba in an attempt to impoverish an already feeble country. In 1961, an endeavor to overthrow the Cuban government was orchestrated by the CIA with the support from counter-revolutionary forces. Known as Operation Mongoose, this flopped attempt to undermine Castro’s regime will remain forever as the greatest defeat - and perhaps frustration - in the history of US authorities. This is one of the reasons why the US have always been so hostile towards Fidel and Cuba. In addition, they inflicted their defeat and irritation on their own people, building up and spreading a hilarious propaganda virus during the Cold War.
As a consequence of the failed coup, extra fuel was added to the US activities that continuously tried to dismantle what they perceived as a threat to a capitalist and free market based-system. Indeed, the CIA was said to have attempted over 600 assassinations to eliminate Castro, such tenacity mirrors the fear that Fidel’s popularity posed to his enemies. In October 1962, as the tension between the blocks was rising, the revolutionary leader saw himself at the center of a nuclear crisis when Soviet missiles were placed on Cuban soil as a reaction to US missiles deployed in Italy and Turkey. This marked the closest ever moment in history that full-scale nuclear war was regarded as imminent. When in 2015 US President Barack Obama visited Cuba in a historical effort for reconciliation between the two countries, Fidel said: "I don't trust the policy of the United States… but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts.”
Fidel’s social legacy
Indeed, almost five decades of power often label this great revolutionary as a dictator. However, the remarkable feature of this man was the peculiarity in the way he handled such an ever-growing greed, an insatiable thirst commonly consuming and corrupting whoever owns it.
The singularity of Fidel’s regime was the way it balanced the most essential needs of its people by using the country’s national resources to invest in healthcare and education for all Cubans. The electricity and telecommunications companies were nationalised on the island in a move that certainly disturbed many capitalists who longed for more investments and more capital. Yet, the Cuban system was made for the people and I believe there is little debate over whether this social system is highly attributed to Fidel’s footprint. According to the UN children’s agency – UNICEF – the rate literacy for the Cuban youth stands at 100% as does its adult literacy rate. If one talks about equity, one must think of the functionality of Castro’s administration.
In my view, Fidel’s private life is of no concern to the public domain and therefore family rows or romantic adventures that the charismatic leader pursued in life have no relevance whatsoever as to the legacy he left behind.
Hasta Siempre, Fidel
Certainly amongst the most divisive leaders in History, Fidel Castro guaranteed a seat in History. His fierce rejection to capitulate together with his determination in safeguarding Cuba’s sovereignty made of Castro the true cold war hero. At a national level, the majority of the Cuban people have always kept their faith in Fidel and look upon their strongman as Cuba’s true liberator. Indeed, when a leader has the approval of his/her own people, what is the legitimacy of outsiders to preach and smear?
Nevertheless, up until today, we haven’t found the perfect regime or system, even though great writers have produced pieces of literature about that utopic world where we all want to live. But it does not exist and Castro’s regime was not perfect. Yet, it focused on achievable goals and was capable to provide welfare to its people. Fidel, the true and lasting resistant, remained loyal to his principles and successfully steered a “people-oriented” regime rather a market-oriented one. Castro may have died, but his legacy will live forever.
Hasta siempre, Comandante!
Castro's speech about Angola. © Youtube