Fidel Castro: Then, Now, and Forever?

By Brittany Regner

Most of the baby boomer generation In the United States has a soured view of Cuba. They recall moments like the Cuban Missile Crisis where a tyrannous dictator threatened the US way of life: A sentiment that lingers among the younger generations. The Western perspective perhaps stems from the lack of diplomatic relations with the island since 1959. Enforced still today, the US trade embargo against Cuba was enacted in 1960. A string of events beginning in 2013 originated by then US President Barack Obama seemed to carve a new pathway in the US-Cuba relationship.

For limited reasons, U.S. citizens can now visit the island, where residents sing the names of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Raúl Castro. However, for those unfamiliar with the history of island’s liberation, you may be unable to find accurate content due to the U.S. trade embargo. Under the policy, U.S. companies must comply with U.S. export controls. In other words, no Google Earth or Microsoft Messenger, among the many on the blacklist for the country. These control mechanisms censor the information available to U.S. citizens.

For the curious, I offer some curated details on the life and leadership of Fidel Castro.

Photo provided by Brittany Regner

Fidel the Invincible

In the 1950’s, under the American-backed Fulgencio Batista regime in Cuba, the country was effectively run by commissioners of organised crime and flooded with gross inequality. In 1959, Fidel Castro successfully overthrew the Batista regime, accompanied by second-in-command Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He took office with rich promises to give the land back and defend the rights of the poor.

Four months later, he accepted an invitation from the American Society of Newspaper Editors to visit the United States. American reporters tended to favour Fidel, with The New York Times releasing an iconic article titled, Castro Aims Reflect Character of Cubans: He is a Creature of His Country And He Is Followed as a Hero. U.S. President Eisenhower had a much sharper opinion than the media, declining a meeting with Fidel during his visit. The diplomatic relationship between the two spiralled rapidly downward in the following months with Cuba soon becoming close allies with the Soviet Union.

Over the next year, President Eisenhower ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assassinate Fidel Castro. These plans continued, error-prone, over the next fifty-years. According to the tallies of former Cuban counterintelligence chief, Fabian Escalante, there were no less than 634 attempts on the life of Fidel Castro. They recruited ex-love affairs, poisoned his cigars, hired FBI most-wanted-list mafia members, used bio-weaponry, and drugs to destroy his public-perception. However creative, the U.S. could not kill the life or popularity of Fidel.

Photo provided by Brittany Regner

Life under Fidel

During his earlier years in power, Cuba became increasingly dependent on the Soviet Union for economic and military support. Fidel began to create a government run state. U.S. businesses were nationalised without compensation, private-businesses were now government owned, and the amount of land one could possess was limited. The economic options were stricter than under Batista, and many Cubans fled for the United States. Those that stayed were provided with electricity spread throughout the island, full-time employment opportunities, free education and healthcare. For those that disagreed, there were no open elections and Fidel was the self-appointed-for-life President of the island.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba lost their primary trading partner and were overrun with economic woes. Cuba continued to strengthen relationships with other countries as the U.S. continued to tighten the decades-old embargo. The United States was becoming part of a smaller list of countries that did not acknowledge the achievements in Cuba.

An Adorned Power

It seems Fidel was loathed as he was beloved. Around the world, Fidel is credited with championing gender equality, state-of-the-art medicine, universal healthcare, eradicating illiteracy, providing a stabilised LGBT community, and innovating foreign aid programs. Consensus around his achievements grew, and so did the plethora of awards he received in his lifetime. He won national service awards such as the Dominica Award of Honour in 2008; The Star of People’s Friendship in 1972, awarded for understanding of relationships between nations and the preservation of peace.

In early 2008, ageing and battling health issues, Fidel Castro stepped down as President. He temporarily passed the torch to his younger brother, Raúl Castro, although promised to stay present as a narrator of ideals. In April 2018, standing President Raúl Castro stepped down, appointing Miguel Díaz-Canel, member of the Communist Party, as President. This marked the first time in over four-decades that the last name Castro does not hold the office.

Photo provided by Brittany Regner

Life After Fidel

On November 25, 2016, Fidel Castro died at the age of 90, just after American citizens began treading on Cuban land. Some predict that without the strength and determination of Fidel, Cuban society will experience more fundamental changes. Others, especially the emotional displays of Cuban citizens, reverberate the words of Fidel, of Che, of Raúl.

The Cuba-U.S. relationship has again weakened under the Trump administration. Time will tell if policies open doors between the two, but for now, the legacy of Fidel remains as intact as the day he left.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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