In a 1985 interview with Playboy magazine, Fidel Castro was asked how he would respond to President Ronald Reagan’s elucidation of him as a military dictator. He asked for a second to think, and said: “If his power includes something as monstrously undemocratic as the ability to order a thermonuclear war, I ask you, who then is more of a dictator, the president of the United States or I.”
Fidel Castro, who governed Cuba for nearly five decades passed away this month at the age of ninety. His reputation as a revolutionist and socialist makes him the symbol of defiance towards western values. Both highly admired and feared by his people, Mr. Castro has left behind a mixed legacy but indeed a provision deeply rooted in Cuban societies and the rest of the world.
The Unresting Revolutionary Journey
Before Mr. Castro’s famous slogan “Socialism or Death” become popular graffiti arts and readdressed by several Latin American leaders, it was his motto as he rallied through the old regime of Batista government in Havana, and ended the three-year guerrilla war, marking a new future landscape of Cuba.
As an energetic student in University of Havana’s law school in 1945, Fidel Castro developed interests in Marxism and was inspired by revolutionary conscience. His sense of radical politics was put into practice when the corruption and downfall of economics urged him to attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba against the corrupt, American-sponsored Batista government. Through six years of prison and exile, Mr. Castro came back to Cuba from Mexico with other rebellions and overthrew the old regime.
His revolutionary journey did not cease though. He established a tough image as the maximum leader and marked the zero ground for Cold War. He pursed communist ideologies, but he never transforms Cuba into a fully communism nation. Although he centralized the economy and demolished the traditional hierarchy or Cuban society, he also established high quality health care system and literacy systems to parallel to those of first-world nations. It was until early 2000s that he was too frail to rule the country with deteriorating conditions that his brother, successor Raúl Castro adopts more loose economic and political policies.
Tense and Uncertain Relationship with U.S
Fidel Castro represented the power in the tug-of-war between Communism and U.S throughout his presidency. He was once considered a leader for Americans to root for featured in articles in The Times, which described him as the well-educated, idealistic person that embraced democracy and social justice. However, his image was turned over when Batista-era officials were convicted and executed by his order. In 1960, Mr. Castro turned to Soviet Union for economic and political assistance as the U.S tightened control over the sugar qouta import from Cuba, which marks the decades of enmity of U.S towards Cuba.
Mr. Castro was said to be the leader that faced the most assassinations from C.I.A, which includes mafia engagement, food poisoning and cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin but eventually failed. However, his hostility and distrust was triggered back in Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961. U.S president John F. Kennedy endorsed a plan to support a CIA plan to aid a dissident militia, the Democratic Revolutionary Front, to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. However, the invasion results in a total failure as U.S government failed to take Cuban air force and counter-invasion techniques. Most rebellions were either killed or captured, with hostages in exchange for economic sources from U.S.
Tension was later fused when the U.S government discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba which could have escalated into a nuclear exchange. Mr. Castro’s alignment with Soviet Union shaped the Cold War beyond world’s superpowers to ideologies between democracy and communism.
However, the situation between U.S and Cuba changed when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced on media about their phone call, which was the first time the two countries engage in conversation in half a century. This year Mr. Obama paid a visit to Cuba in hope to amend the long estranged relationship. His speech addressed leaving behind the ideological battles of the past and was rather well received. The visit opened up a new but uncertainty in discussion between the two nations once in heated tension.
Legacy Across Latin American and Africa
Few might be aware of Fidel Castro’s global influence, but he is popular and well-known in Latin America and Africa. Castro provided support to small Latin American countries push back against institutions such as the World Bank. Other leaders follow his example to establish new regimes. Venezuela president Hugo Chávez adopted his political views and reshaped the country. Mr. Castro’s image as a symbol of revolution inspired his followers to use similar tactics in combat or measures for political control.
He is considered as the hero to African countries. Mr. Castro’s foreign policy includes promoting decolonization and revolutionary politics. Cuba offered military and political support to a series of liberation movements, such as Algeria’s struggle against France, and the success of Guinea Bissau’s victory over Portuguese colonialism. Besides, he brought Cuban doctors, health care technicians and academics into African continent. Mr. Castro also contributed to freedom the South American from race segregation and white minority rule. Mandala expressed his gratitude that Cuba was the first country from other continent to offer support to South America, and he visited Havana when he was freed and further referred to Castro as “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people”.
The Future of Cuba Without its “Father”
Throughout his life time. Fidel Castro received mix views about his political measure. His is referred as the father of Cuba, and he is also the rare leader called by first name by people. Saying “Castro” was considered disloyal in early years, although in later decades Cubans would mean to say it. Often people would mimic his overwhelming presence by bringing a hand to their chins, as if they are stroking a beard.
Although Mr. Castro was criticized of depriving freedom of speech where media is merely the mouthpiece for government, and hindering economic opportunities for the people, he also improves education and health care for many Cubans, and set up the foundation for social security.
As he passed away, the country was in silence, mourning his death. Many didn’t expect the day would come. People in younger generations don’t appeal to the ideologies of communism or Cold War standoffs like the older generations, and many of them take the opportunities they can to immigrate to other countries. The death of Fidel Castro symbolizes the passing of 20th century, and Cuba is undergoing changes and unpredictability. However, his power and impact will last inescapably in Cuba and throughout Latin America.