Fidel Castro’s death at age 90 Friday was a moment for millions of Cuban Americans to both celebrate and mourn. Celebrate because the brutal dictator they and their families fled from had finally died; mourn family members who could not wait out Castro’s life in hopes of returning to their homeland.
Whether it was cozying up to the Soviet Union, backing Angolan leftists or exporting his revolution to Venezuela and other Latin American countries, Castro influenced United States policy for more than 60 years. The economic embargo imposed by President John Kennedy in 1962 is still in place today. Cuban migrants get preferential treatment if they make it to the United States.
President Barack Obama visited Cuba earlier this year, marking the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries. President-elect Donald Trump warns that could be reversed if Cuba doesn’t make progress on human rights and release political prisoners and fugitives from U.S. law.
Although Castro transferred power to his brother Raúl in 2006, Fidel was still a larger-than-life influence. Now that his life is over, how will generations of Cubans who knew no other leader go forward?
Fidel Castro Knew the ‘Cuban Model’ Couldn’t Last Forever
Jeffrey Goldberg – The Atlantic
Fidel reveled in his half-century confrontation with America, and, he knew, I believed, that it would be more difficult for Cuba to resist battalions of Yankee capitalist hoteliers and an invasion fleet of Fort Lauderdale-based cruise ships than it was to defeat the hapless landing party at the Bay of Pigs.
A couple years ago, on a road trip to the colonial city of Trinidad from Havana, I took my family on a detour to Playa Giron, the beach on the Bay of Pigs where the American-led invasion ended in catastrophe for the CIA and for the Cuban exiles it trained. Near the beach was a beat-up shop that sold, like most stores in Cuba, very little. This one stocked mainly Che Guevara T-shirts, and, oddly enough, Pringles and Coke. One of my daughters saw the stacks and stacks of Pringles and drew the appropriate conclusion about the inevitability of American capitalism. “Look,” she said, “we won.”…
His self-awareness evinced itself most notably during a discussion about the relevance of Cuban revolutionary socialism. I had asked him if he believed that the Cuban model was still something worth exporting. He answered, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”
If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2016
Fidel Was Hell
Javier Corrales – Foreign Policy
Castro’s long rule meant that he had plenty of time and opportunity to bring prosperity to his country — to get development right, so to speak. But instead, he left Cuba worse than when he first took over, at least relatively speaking. Before his rule, Cuba was one of the richest countries in the Americas. But by the 1980s, it was already among the poorest….
His penchant for imprisonment had no rival in the Americas. By the early 1960s, Cuba had between 40,000 and 60,000 political prisoners. To put this number in perspective, Batista held no more than 1,600 inmates when he was overthrown.
The imprisonment was supplemented by relentless coercion. Under Castro, the Cuban state used all the repressive tactics associated with 20th-century totalitarianism. Estimates of killings under his rule range from 6,000 to 17,000. He allowed no private employers, private schools, private institutions, private journalism, or independent NGOs of any kind.
Fidel: What’s in a Name?
Jennifer Lambe – The National Interest
His name itself was totemic….Fidel Castro was a man who bore an entire universe of meaning on his shoulders. Meaning, of course, that he had heaped there himself in conflating the island’s destiny with his own personalistic rule, an equation perfectly captured in the literal translation of his name— “Fidel,” which in Spanish means “faithful.”…
How disorienting it was at the time to depart a city (Miami) where Fidel’s name was thrown around with great fury, pain, and abandon, only to reach another city (Havana) where it was rarely uttered aloud….Gradually, however, I began to hear his name on the island, too: first uttered surreptitiously and even defiantly but then matter-of-factly, as the aura once attached to it began to evaporate. Fidel Castro became a person, mortal, just like any other, as Cubans more openly raised questions about the legacies of his leadership and its implications for their futures.
Fidel Castro’s Unusual Gift to History
Editorial Board – The Christian Science Monitor
Castro’s autocracy – which he handed over to his brother, Raúl – has steadily become an anomaly. The notion that one person can lead brilliantly for decades, without correction by the people, began to erode during the 20th century with the defeat of fascist dictatorships in 1945 and later the fall of the Berlin Wall….
The Castro brothers were able to govern for so long in part because the United States often took actions against their rule that allowed them to rally the people against a common enemy. By opening ties with Cuba in 2015, President Obama hoped to end that dynamic. And in a visit to the island, he called on the Cuban people “to choose their government in free elections.” When that happens, the most likely historical fact worth noting about the Castro era may simply be its longevity.
Castro’s Death Will Right-Size Cuba
Mac Margolis – Bloomberg View
For a man who had been reported dead so many times before, and whose vision of the world had shrunk long ago to the size of a t-shirt, Fidel Castro triggered a remarkable commotion when he died this weekend at age 90. Nowhere were the paeans more heartfelt than in Latin America….
What’s harder to explain is how the reverence has endured. From Chile to Costa Rica, Latin Americans have made their choice. With some flagrant exceptions — autocratic Venezuela, Nicaragua — never has the region been so democratic….
“Cuba is the black hole in the Americas,” Eric Farnsworth, of the Council of the Americas once told me. “It sucks up all the attention in the hemisphere.” One of the opportunities in Fidel Castro’s passing could be to help restore a much needed sense of proportion to hemispheric affairs. That’s a resizing I welcome.
Death Took our Loved Ones First
Liz Balmaseda – Miami Herald
The city where my family’s exile story began and ended erupted Friday in a clamoring of pots and pans over the death of Fidel Castro….trigger(ing) a memory 33 years old: the sight of a Champagne bottle tucked into the back of my aunt’s refrigerator in her Havana kitchen, ready “for when he falls.”…
But always another decade or two would grind by. And actual deaths happened, so many of them….
As I grieve my loved ones, it helps me to think of Cuba in this way: It’s an island, just an island. The rest of it recedes into the background and it all feels rather muted. Perhaps this is why not even the clanging of pots in the Miami streets registers as noise. It’s as silent as the cork on that old Champagne bottle in my aunt’s refrigerator.
I don’t know what ever became of it. My aunt died in the early 1990s without ever opening it.