The Legacy of Fidel Castro

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Meg Kneafsey
Member since January 21, 2016
  • 4 Posts
  • Age 23

Castro visiting the US in 1959

Castro visiting the US in 1959

On the 25th of November 2016, the 90-year-old Fidel Castro passed away. For millennials like myself, the significance of this figure is not immediately apparent. In a world of constant international change and an increased focus on the Middle East, Cuba to many of us is just a Caribbean island.

However, Castro was one of the political leaders who rightly or wrongly defined the 20th century. From his part in the Cuban Missile Crisis to a continuing symbol of Marxism, the life of Castro deserves recognition.

And yet how should we recognise such a divisive figure? World leaders have been weighing in since his death with a huge contrast in reactions. US President-Elect Donald Trump was quick to describe Castro as a ‘brutal dictator’. This is not unexpected however, as the United States frequently tried to undermine Cuba, one of the last remaining posts of communism so very close to its borders. Only Obama’s administration constructively began repairing ties between the two nations. Conversely there has been ‘deep sympathy’ across several African states, where Castro often represented post-colonial struggles and was particularly honoured for his support of the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Described as a tireless defender of the poor and being part of a greater revolution that put Cuba on the world stage as well as creating spaces for other formerly controlled nations, leading to grand stations like "No one has done more for the Third World than Fidel Castro."

A quick analysis then, could suggest that Castro is a champion of the Left and a challenge to the Right. A fight against the oppressive superpowers and giving voices to the people. Indeed, hearing Trump criticise anything, for many millennials, is an indication that we should support it!

Yet we should be careful to reduce Castro to such simple scrutiny. Although figures suggest that in Castro’s strive to make Cuba a place of equality and social justice, his government successfully produced tens of thousands of doctors and teachers as well as achieving some of the lowest infant mortality and illiteracy rates in the Western hemisphere. Although Cuba never successfully shook off depending on foreign dollars and the state-run economy did not bring prosperity for all, Castro supporters would suggest that this is the fault of globalisation and the strong influence of capitalism.

Indeed, Castro’s motives are laudable but a one-party state, no matter how well-intentioned, is a dangerous route to follow. It allowed Castro to rule without fear of unpopular policies and implement his socially conservative views on morality.

More so, we should not judge our political leaders on how they treat their supporters but how they treat their opponents. He was deeply criticised worldwide for human rights abuse, particularly of jailed journalists. Even today, Castro’s totalitarianism regime means it is difficult to truly know how Cubans are reacting to his death. Internet-use is limited, and many fear repercussions for potentially negative views.

Fidel Castro will be analysed in greater detail throughout this century. Although his appeal is likely to be critiqued most harshly by those of the Right, it is important that those of us who praise certain aspects of his character or policies, separate them from praise of his overall leadership. To do so otherwise would be disrespectful to those who have suffered under Castro’s long and controversial authority.

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