Infamous Cuban dictator Fidel Castro passed away last Friday at the age of 90, and his death has caused a mixture of emotions throughout the world. Many world leaders are offering condolences and mourning the loss of the former dictator while others are gathering in celebration for the end of one life marks a beginning of newfound freedom in the lives of others. However, an emotion that is hard to deny in the wake of the passing is a sense of confusion.
In the five-plus decades Castro ruled over Cuba, he established both a devout fan base as well as countless detractors that rejected him. In the news, this dichotomy is easy to see. The New York Times’ obituary puts it simply:
“[Castro’s] legacy in Cuba and elsewhere has been a mixed record of social progress and abject poverty, of racial equality and political persecution, of medical advances and a degree of misery comparable to the conditions that existed in Cuba when he entered Havana as a victorious guerrilla commander in 1959,” the Times said.
That was something Castro’s supporters admired in him. He was seen as a true revolutionary through and through, as well as warrior for those living in poverty.
After the announcement of Castro’s passing, leaders from all corners of the globe expressed their condolences for Castro’s family as well as their personal grief, some even referring to Castro as a personal friend. The people of Cuba have also expressed their sorrow for the passing, having entered a nine-day mourning process to grieve the loss of their former leader.
Across the world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Fidel Castro was one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century. India mourns the loss of a great friend.” Closer to home, Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that “Fidel Castro was a friend of Mexico, promoting bilateral relations based on respect, dialogue and solidarity.”
But with all the expressions of sorrow, it seems many people have forgotten that Fidel Castro was a self-obsessed man who ruled with an iron fist. And though he led the revolution that toppled the abusive regime of Fulgencio Batista, Castro eventually proved to be little more than a reincarnation of his predecessor.
Throughout his reign, Castro used authoritarian tactics to maintain his power. Human Rights Watch, in a damning piece published the day after his death, outlined the myriad ways in which he violated human rights, quashed dissent and imposed draconian punishment on his opposition. Castro’s repression, the group claimed, “was codified in law and enforced by security forces, groups of civilian sympathizers tied to the state, and a judiciary that lacked independence. Such
abusive practices generated a pervasive climate of fear in Cuba, which hindered the exercise of fundamental rights, and pressured Cubans to show their allegiance to the state while discouraging criticism.”
Castro’s Cuba is not without its accomplishments, however. Today, the country boasts nearly universal adult literacy, according to the United Nations Human Development Index, as well as universal healthcare and lower rates of homicide, suicide and incarceration than the United States. This progress, along with his revolutionary roots, can easily make him an iconic leftist figure, used to prop up endorsements of socialism.
At the end of the day, Castro is perhaps no more a martyr as he is a demon. He was human, just like the rest of us, and we recognize his success just as much as his failure. Ruling a country for decades doesn’t come without at least some oppression of the masses, but at the same time, his victories in public health and education can’t be brushed aside.
History is complicated, people are complicated, and Castro was complicated. We should take care to remember him as he was, not the way we want him to be.
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