Saturday, November 26, 2016

My take on the legacy of Fidel Castro, 1926-2016

Fidel Castro (1926-2016)

Born on August 13, 1926, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz has become a political and historical figure of truly mythic proportions not only for Cubans but also across the developing world as an inspiration for the anti-capitalist struggles of the 20th century. Unlike other Latin American dictators, Castro’s iron hand has often been covered by a velvet glove permitting him to rule more often through his extraordinary rhetoric and spellbinding charisma than with brute force and coercion (though he has not hesitated to resort to these when he felt necessary). He has also benefited from the powerful, if often frustrated nationalism of the Cuban people; the U.S. threat to Cuban sovereignty; and the enactment of an ambitious successful program of social justice in Cuba since 1959.

Originally from the town of Birán in the eastern province of Oriente, Castro came of age as the son of the self-made sugar planter and Spanish immigrant Angel Castro. As a young man, Castro studied in private Jesuit schools and excelled both in the classroom and at a wide array of sports, exhibiting a work ethic, fierce competitive streak, and almost egomaniacal confidence that would serve him well in the years to come.

After entering the University of Havana to study law, he became involved in the often violent student-led political activities of the time. Unable to run for congressional office in the cancelled elections of 1952 because of Batista’s coup, Castro organized an unsuccessful raid on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953, after which he delivered his historic “History Will Absolve Me” defense speech at trial. Amnestied from prison in 1955, he regrouped with his guerrilla forces abroad in Mexico. He clandestinely invaded Cuba at the end of 1956, and two years later, marched triumphantly into Havana.

Initially taking on the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in January, 1959, Castro soon became Prime Minister and First Secretary of the Communist Party. He was named President in 1976 with the passage of Cuba’s new Constitution. Until a life-threatening intestinal illness forced him to step down in July 2006, Castro was served as President of the Councils of State and of the Council of Ministers.

While his rule has been characterized by the evisceration of Cuban civil society, the trampling of civil liberties and political freedoms of Cuban citizens, and woeful economic incompetence, Castro has also distinguished himself as a consummate political operator on the world stage, offering aid and inspiration to leftist regimes and emergent Third World nations across the world, many of whose citizens see him as a champion of social justice, a fearless defender of national sovereignty, and a fiery symbol of defiance in the face of U.S. domination.

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