Fidel Castro’s death at on 25th of November has been met with mixed emotions from both sides of the political spectrum. Social media has been rife with condemnation of a man acknowledged as a dictator, a murderer and a revolutionary, but also with comments regarding his cavalier attitudes toward American imperialism & aggression. Some are hailing him, others are deriding him.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke reverently of him, whilst acknowledging his ‘flaws’ – Which include murder and torture. It is clear that the left today still hold Castro in high regard – Much to my amazement, as he epitomises all that the left does not stand for; Totalitarianism, violence and control of speech, thought & expressionism.
Without going too deeply into my own political or personal beliefs on this matter, it would be wise to cast our gaze upon both sides of the debate – and believe me, there are many talking points.
Castro has long been hailed as the poster boy of socialism.The man that rose to prominence during the height of the Cold War for his defiance against American capitalism, his near complete destruction of the mafia elements at work in Cuba, his alliances with the Soviet Union, his promotion of revolutionary tactics in Latin America and finally his outspoken stance on African Apartheid regimes.
There is no denying that he leaves an enormous legacy in 20th century politics. The United States’ efforts to undermine and control Central & South American still continue to this day, with Venezuela being a prime example. During the height of the Cold War, in such a tumultuous political atmosphere, Castro threw an almighty spanner into the works, and as such, was hailed for his efforts to oppose such blatant warmongering and interference. This is a position on which I agree with him.
Whilst western nations such as the United States and, my home country, the United Kingdom stood by idly as the apartheid regimes of Southern Africa ripped themselves to pieces, Castro made his voice heard loud and clear. There is no denying his support for these oppressed people’s made a lasting impact. But whilst he supposedly championed for the rights of others globally, he was imprisoning, torturing and murdering political opponents and civil rights activists.
Hundreds were arrested, tortured and killed during Castro’s early years – An issue he later claimed to regret. Hundreds fled and to this day, crackdowns on protests and dissidents still continues.
In fact, during 2015 Human Rights Day, over 100 ‘dissidents’ were arrested after clashes with police erupted on the streets of Havana. A clear sign that the regime still maintains a firm grip upon the people and the spreading of information.
Amnesty International has a dedicated page for Cuba, in which it claims:
“Despite increasingly open diplomatic relations, severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and movement continued. Thousands of cases of harassment of government critics and arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported.”
Further information can be found on the Amnesty International website:
Thousands left Cuba in during Castro’s time as Cuban premier. That one would risk life and limb to leave a supposed socialist utopia, free from american capitalist meddling, shows that all was not well – Many of those who escaped, and their families were celebrating on the streets of Florida upon hearing the news.
One could argue that the 50-year long embargo – imposed upon Cuba by the west – led to the extreme measures taken by the Castro regime, along with the numerous attempts on his life. This was a nation under siege, and Castro reacted in the only way possible, through force, both internally, and by encouraging the same dissidence throughout Latin America.
It is unwise to castigate Castro for his reaction to internal opposition as morally corrupt or extreme, when compared to the actions of supposed western ‘democratic’ nations of the time, which were water cannoning black protesters, imprisoning homosexuals and implementing crippling economic sanctions upon large portions of their own populace.
Cuba’s great victories, despite its struggles, come in the form of social care. Cuba’s healthcare system is exemplary when considering the pressure it has been put under by lack of funding and supplies. In fact, Cuban life expectancy is comparable to other western nations, despite such obvious hindrances to its infrastructure.
Cuban medical excellency is to such an extent, that the National Health Service sent a delegation of over 100 medical experts to observe the work of Cuba’s healthcare service, which focuses heavily on local, community-based engagement on a budget paling in comparison to our own.
In the early years of the revolution, the Literacy Campaign sought to bring Cubans up to 20th century education levels. Today, Cuban youth and adult literacy levels stand at 100% – a truly remarkable achievement. Additionally, when compared to other Latin American nations with more favourable ties to the United States, it speaks volumes. Mexico’s youth literacy rate sits at 98.5%, and adult literacy sits at 93.5%.
Since 2008, Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, has manned the helm of the Cuban government, and with this, we have seen better inroads toward a more internationally welcomed Cuba. The death of Fidel has led to calls for the trade embargo against the nation to be lifted, with Francoise Hollande the most recent outspoken individual.
This could lead to a greater period of prosperity for Cuba and its people, however the question must be asked; Can the regime deal with an increasingly open, transparent and outspoken world? Social media has proven to us in the early stages of the 21st century, that secretive, controlling regimes often buckle under the pressure of free-flowing information and news. Furthermore, with Donald Trump the incumbent POTUS, there could be further strains with Latin America in the near future.
Ultimately, Fidel Castro will be remembered as both a hero and a villain to many. His championing of the anti-imperialist cause will remain in the hearts of many around the world, but for those that were affected by, or fled the regime, he will likely be remembered as a murderer and tyrannical dictator. Thousands died globally due to the tit for tat meddling of both the United States and Cuban governments, and let us not forget that Fidel Castro’s insatiable need to oppose the US brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Fidel Castro was a giant of 20th century history and politics, and his legacy is one that will be remembered for many good and bad reasons. His once great rival, John F Kennedy, speaking of Castro, said:
“They promised individual liberty and free elections. They promised an end to harsh police-state tactics. They promised a better life for a people long oppressed by both economic and political tyranny. But in the two years since that revolution swept Fidel Castro into power, those promises have all been broken.”
These comments stand the test of time, as often men and causes that seek to liberate the people tend to become no different from those from whom they stole the mantel.