Tag Archives: Fidel Castro

On the death of Cuba’s Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro died, age 90, in November, 2016. Above, People look at a picture of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro during the opening of the exhibition "Fidel" in Havana, Cuba, August 12, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Fidel Castro died, age 90, in November, 2016. Above, People look at a picture of Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro during the opening of the exhibition “Fidel” in Havana, Cuba, August 12, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
November, 2016

I first went to Cuba in 1995, on a magazine assignment. Before I left a good friend, who travelled widely on government business, said it was the only Latin American country she knew where no children begged in the streets. I kept her comment in mind as I read up on the criticism of Cuba’s human rights and economic record.

At the airport at Holguin I encountered armed guards, enforcing Cuba’s then-rule against bringing in magazines, books or newspapers. Buildings everywhere were riddled with bullet holes, mementoes of the revolution. People were thin and food –- which mostly consisted of rice and beans — was scant, following the collapse of its ally the U.S.S.R. Cuba’s air roiled with black oily exhaust belching from ancient vehicles; taking public transit required clambering into the back of a dump truck.  Once in Santiago, a tour guide noted matter-of-factly that Cuba used firing squads for capital punishment.

But my friend was right: there was not a beggar to be seen. Children dressed in sparkling white walked to school in lines. Almost all of the adults I met had post-secondary education; my assigned driver had a PhD in anthropology and was married to a physician. Everyone had health care. Though Cubans were poor, no one I saw was downcast to the point of being broken. I still can’t say the same of other places I’ve been in the Americas — including the U.S.

Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution has had mixed results. But as with most things in life, it’s not all good nor all bad. Cuba ranks 67th in the UN Human Development Index. Had Castro not revolted against the American corporate pirates who were then raping and ransacking the country, would it now rival perhaps Haiti (163), Nicaragua (125) or Honduras (131)?

My driver in 1995 said he hoped Cuba would change, open up to the world, allow him to travel. He was tired of being poor and hungry, he said. Then he frowned, and added, “But we have to be careful. We don’t want to lose what we’ve gained.”

Those gains — by a small, isolated, and impoverished country — are revealed in an adult literacy rate of 99.8 %, and statistics that put the far wealthier United States to shame in areas like infant mortality (Cuba’s rate of 4, compared to 6 in the US); life expectancy (Cubans live to 79.1 years, Americans 78.8 years. Sources: UNICEF CubaUNICEF U.S.)

Such are the things I’ve kept in mind, in the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s death this month, while listening to modern critics of Cuba’s human rights and economic record.

©  Deborah Jones 2016

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Related works on F&O about Cuba and Fidel Castro include: two essays by International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe — Fidel Castro and the Defeat of South African’s Apartheid, and  Castro and Trudeau, Kindred Spirits.  Dispatches: Fidel Castro, dead at 90. A Life in Photos; with Fidel Castro, Facts and Quotes. Analysis by academic Mark Beeson, Fidel Castro: Anachronism, Achiever, With Tarnished Legacy.

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Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for republishing.)

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Castro and Trudeau, Kindred Spirits

Cuba's Fidel Castro with Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian Prime Minister. Duncan Cameron, Library and Archives Canada.

Cuba’s Fidel Castro with Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian Prime Minister. Duncan Cameron, Library and Archives Canada.

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 3, 2016

Pierre Trudeau and Fidel Castro were brothers under the skin.

It is no wonder they became life-long friends, for each could see a reflection of himself in the other. That didn’t, however, stop Castro as Cuban president lying purposefully to Canadian prime minister Trudeau if he thought it politically expedient to do so.

The similarity in the backgrounds of the two men is compelling. Both came from nouveau-riche families, and grew up in climates of privilege and entitlement. However, both had distant relationships with their fathers, which may well have contributed to the youthful rebellion and embrace of left-wing politics by both men.

Trudeau’s father came from a typical Quebec rural family that worked the farm that had been handed down for several generations. But Charles-Emile Trudeau was ambitious and hard-working; he managed to acquire a garage and then a chain of service stations in Montreal. In his memoirs, Trudeau recounts that the family became wealthy at the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s when his father sold his service-station empire and invested in mining companies, an amusement park and the Montreal Royals baseball team.

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Then Cuban President Fidel Castro acknowledges the applause of the audience while standing underneath an image of late revolutionary hero Ernesto Che Guevara, during the inauguration of games involving mainly Cuban and Venezuelan athletes in Havana in this June 17, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo

Then Cuban President Fidel Castro acknowledges the applause of the audience while standing underneath an image of late revolutionary hero Ernesto Che Guevara, during the inauguration of games involving mainly Cuban and Venezuelan athletes in Havana in this June 17, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo

Trudeau’s memories of his father are of brief encounters over the boy’s homework in the evenings before Charles-Emile returned to his office at the garage. During the long summer holidays, Pierre Trudeau, his mother and siblings would stay at the family cabin at Lac Tremblant, where his father, usually accompanied by a bevy of friends, would descend for boisterous weekends, often featuring vibrant political discussions – Charles-Emile was a devout Conservative.

Castro’s father, Angel Castro y Argiz, was an immigrant to Cuba from Galicia in northwestern Spain. He acquired a sugar-cane farm, Las Manacas, at Biran, inland from Santiago de Cuba in the island’s south, where Fidel’s ashes are to be kept. Fidel was the child of a household servant, Lina Ruz Gonzalez. After the dissolution of his marriage, Angel Castro took Lina first as his mistress and then married her.

Both Trudeau and Castro spent their formative teenage years at private Jesuit high schools. The Jesuits are primarily a missionary order, with a questing spirit wedded to a culture of discipline, austerity, and intellectual certainty that can border on arrogance among those lacking the antidote of Christian humility.

As politicians, both Castro and Trudeau displayed absolute certainty about the kind of political dispensations they considered best for the citizens of their countries. And both proceeded — though with far more bitter consequences for Cubans than for Canadians – knowing full well the rules would not apply to themselves.

Castro and Trudeau were politically active in high-school and university years. Both were rebellious, espoused left-wing causes, and took law degrees at university.

Trudeau got his law degree at the Université de Montréal. Castro started studying law in 1945 at the University of Havana, where he quickly became involved in radical and frequently violent left-wing politics. His charisma blossomed early and he was soon set on course as a revolutionary leader. He got involved in plans for a revolution in the Dominican Republic in 1947 and then attempts to overthrow the government of Colombia in 1948.

Trudeau’s rebellion was more modest. Like many Quebecois, he was unclear what the war against fascism in Europe had to do with French Canadians. He campaigned in a by-election in 1942 for the anti-conscription candidate Jean Drapeau, later mayor of Montreal. After Trudeau’s own conscription in 1943, he joined the Officer Training Corps, but got himself expelled for lack of discipline.

After the Second World War, Trudeau burnished his academic credentials with degrees from Harvard, where his master’s dissertation was on Marxism and Christianity, followed by studies at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris. He capped his academic endeavours by starting a doctorate (which he never finished), tutored by the socialist economist Harold Laski at the London School of Economics.

Trudeau’s early political involvement in Canada was decidedly left-wing. He gained a reputation as a labour lawyer campaigning for workers’ rights and through the 1950s supported the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor of the New Democratic Party. But when he decided to get involved full-time in federal politics, he opted to join the Liberal Party, arguing that the CCF had no chance of gaining power, and therefore no hope of implementing its policies.

Castro, too, was pragmatic when need be. In his book, Memoirs, Trudeau recalls an official visit to Cuba in 1976 as prime minister, accompanied by wife Margaret and baby Michel. They spent a day with Castro at a small cottage on an island and Trudeau recounts a conversation about Cuba’s military involvement in the Angolan civil war.

Trudeau put it to Castro that he was meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. Was this not akin to the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, Trudeau asked. Castro said his soldiers and airmen were merely supporting the legitimate government against right-wing rebels backed by South Africa and the U.S.

Castro told Trudeau how many troops he had in Angola, and said they would not be there long. When Trudeau got back to Ottawa, officials told him the Cuban military contingent in Cuba was much larger than Castro had said, and (as will be shown in the accompanying story) it was there for the long haul. As a result, Trudeau cut off all development aid to Cuba.

“I did not meet Castro again until many years later, so I don’t know what his reaction was to our tough policy. But I’m sure he didn’t like it,” Trudeau wrote.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

See alsoFidel Castro and the Defeat of South African’s Apartheid, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Many people questioned it then and continue to question it now, but Nelson Mandela had no doubt that Fidel Castro played a central and critical role in the defeat of apartheid in South Africa.

Related stories in F&O:

Fidel Castro, Dead at 90: A Life in Photos, by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta  Report/Photo essay

Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied U.S. efforts to topple him, died Nov. 25, 2016. He was 90. A towering figure of the second half of the 20th Century, Castro stuck to his ideology beyond the collapse of Soviet communism and remained widely respected in parts of the world that had struggled against colonial rule.

Fidel Castro, The Facts, compiled by Reuters

Cuban revolutionary and its former president Fidel Castro died, age 90, on Friday November 26.  Following are some facts about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and quotes from his friends and foes.

Fidel Castro: Anachronism and Achiever, With Tarnished Legacy, by Mark Beeson   Analysis

Twentieth-century political icons don’t get much bigger than Fidel Castro. His death will reignite debates about his place in history and the revolutionary ideas he epitomised.

Generals in mufti still control BurmaJONATHAN MANTHORPE: International AffairsApril, 2015

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Fidel Castro: The Facts

By Reuters
November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro attends manoeuvres during the anniversary of his and his fellow revolutionaries arrival on the yacht Granma, November 1976. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

See also: F&O’s report, Fidel Castro, Dead at 90: A Life in Photos, and an analysis, Fidel Castro: Anachronism and Achiever, With Tarnished Legacy. Above, Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied U.S. efforts to topple him, died Nov. 25, 2016. He was 90. A towering figure of the second half of the 20th Century, Castro stuck to his ideology beyond the collapse of Soviet communism and remained widely respected in parts of the world that had struggled against colonial rule. Fidel Castro attends manoeuvres during the anniversary of his and his fellow revolutionaries arrival on the yacht Granma, November 1976. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

Cuban revolutionary and its former president Fidel Castro died, age 90, on Friday November 26.  Following are some facts about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and quotes from his friends and foes.

* Fidel Castro led Cuba for five decades and was the world’s third longest-serving head of state, after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and the King of Thailand. He temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul in July 2006 after undergoing intestinal surgery. The handover of power became official in 2008.

* In his last years, Castro occasionally appeared in public and in videos and pictures usually meeting with guests. He wrote hundreds of columns for the official media. Stooped and walking with difficulty, Castro was seen in public twice in 2012 and twice in 2013. He was seen in public on Jan. 8, 2014, at the opening of a cultural centre, though photos of visiting dignitaries at the Castro home appeared after that.

* Castro holds the record for the longest speech ever delivered to the United Nations: 4 hours and 29 minutes, on Sept. 26, 1960, according to the U.N. website. One of his longest speeches on record lasted 7 hours and 30 minutes on Feb. 24, 1998, after the national assembly re-elected him to a five-year term as president.

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* Castro claimed he survived 634 attempts or plots to assassinate him, mainly masterminded by the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S.-based exile organizations. They may have included poison pills, a toxic cigar, exploding mollusks, and a chemically tainted diving suit. Another alleged plan involved giving him powder that would make his beard fall out and so undermine his popularity.

* Despite the plots, a U.S.-backed exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs and five decades of economic sanctions, Castro outlasted nine U.S. presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, stepping down while George W. Bush was in office.

* Castro used to chomp on Cuban cigars but gave them up in 1985. Years later he summed up the harm of smoking tobacco by saying: “The best thing you can do with this box of cigars is give them to your enemy.”

* Time Magazine in 2012 named Castro as one of the 100 most influential personalities of all time.

* Castro had nine children from five women. His eldest son Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, who is the image of his father and is known as Fidelito, is a Soviet-trained nuclear scientist born in 1949 out of his brief marriage to Mirta Diaz-Balart. Daughter Alina Fernandez, the result of an affair with a Havana socialite when Castro was underground in the 1950s, escaped from Cuba disguised as a tourist in 1993 and is a vocal critic. Castro has five sons with his common-law wife since the 1960s, Dalia Soto del Valle. He also has a son and a daughter born to two other women with whom he had affairs before coming to power.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Marc Frank and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Quotes about Fidel Casto, from Friends and Foes

 

Fidel Castro relaxes in a swimming pool during a visit to Romania, May 28, 1972. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

Fidel Castro relaxes in a swimming pool during a visit to Romania, May 28, 1972. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied U.S. efforts to topple him, has died, Cuban television said. He was 90.

Here are some comments on Castro from his friends and foes over the years.

“Castro is not just another Latin American dictator, a petty tyrant bent merely on personal power and gain. His ambitions extend far beyond his own shores.” – Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, from “The Quotable Mr. Kennedy,” edited by Gerald C. Gardner, 1962.

“Fidel, for me, is a grand master. A wise man should never die; a man like Fidel will never die, because he will always be part of the people.” – Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in a January 2007 speech.

“Fidel Castro had Americans murdered illegally, and that was wrong, too. And I’m proud that we have a blockade against people who kill innocent Americans.” – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, in 1996, after Cuba killed four U.S. citizens when it shot down two civilian planes belonging to a Cuban-American group that had agitated against the Castro government and had repeatedly flown into Cuban air space.

“From its earliest days, the Cuban revolution has been a source of inspiration for all those who value freedom. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist and orchestrated campaign to destroy the awesome force of the Cuban revolution. Long live the Cuban Revolution! Long live comrade Fidel Castro!” – Former South African President Nelson Mandela, in a July 1991 speech.

“I remember Herbert Matthews’ reports on Castro before he came to power, calling him a democrat and the hope of Cuba. And to some of you who are really too young to remember this, even people around our country were calling him the George Washington of Cuba, and George rolled over in his grave.” – U.S. President Ronald Reagan, on March 5, 1986.

“Fidel Castro is there to win. His attitude in the face of defeat, even in the most minimal actions of everyday life, would seem to obey a private logic: he does not even admit it, and does not have a minute’s peace until he succeeds in inverting the terms and converting it into victory.” – Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, writing in Granma on the eve of Castro’s 80th birthday.

“The best thing that Fidel Castro left us is the lesson that we don’t want any more Fidel Castros in Cuba. The lesson is that a man like that ends up absorbing the whole nation, ends up seeing himself as the embodiment of the homeland, and ends up simply taking away our nationality. The lesson of Fidel Castro is no more Fidel Castros. Some people admire him, but they admire him for what they think he was, not for who he really was. Staying in power that long is no merit.” – Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, to Reuters in May 2014.

“Whatever we may think of him, he is going to be a great factor in the development of Cuba and very possibly in Latin American affairs generally. He seems to be sincere. He is either incredibly naive about communism or under communist discipline — my guess is the former, and as I have already implied his ideas as to how to run a government or an economy are less developed than those of almost any figure I have met in 50 countries.” – Richard Nixon, who was then the U.S. vice president, in a memorandum following a three-hour meeting with Castro on April 19, 1959.

“On December 18, 1956, Fidel and I were in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, in a place called Cinco Palmas. After our first hug his first question was: ‘How many rifles do you have?’ I answered five. And he said, ‘I have two. That makes seven. Now we can win the war.” – Raul Castro, quoted in the 2009 book “This is Fidel,” by Luis Baez.

“It didn’t take much to prompt me to join any revolution against a tyrant, but Fidel struck me as an extraordinary man … He had exceptional faith that once we left for Cuba (from Mexico) we would arrive. That once we arrived we would fight. And once we fought we would win. I shared his optimism. I had to, to fight, to achieve. Stop crying and fight.” — Ernesto “Che” Guevara, in a letter to his parents, 1955.

“A man of great charisma. He’s brave, Fidel Castro. A politician, with an iron fist. He stays strong. He put his close friend in front of the firing squad. I would have given him a life sentence or expelled him from the country, but he had him shot.” – Former Chilean military dictator General Augusto Pinochet, regarding Castro’s treatment of General Arnaldo Ochoa, executed for treason in July 1989.

“He would tell us to place a canon here, move a tank over there. Where to attack, how to do it, with how many men, et cetera. He had it all at his fingertips. And most of the time he was right.” – Defense Minister Leopoldo Cintra Frias, regarding Fidel’s instructions in the Angola war, in Havana, 1996.

“At a time when almost the entire communist world marches towards democracy, Fidel Castro has gone against public opinion and refuses to accept any kind of change or anything that suggests perestroika or democracy … A profound philosopher, he has made it clear that material things are transient, to such a degree that there are virtually no material things in Cuba.” – Cuban dissident writer Reinaldo Arenas, in an essay written before his death in 1990 and published by Spanish newspaper El Pais in 2006.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Compiled by Daniel Trotta and Nelson Acosta; Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by Kieran Murray and Martin Howell)

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Fidel Castro: Death at 90, and A Life in Photos

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By Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta
November 26, 2016

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro attends the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana April 19, 2011. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro attends the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana April 19, 2011. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

HAVANA (Reuters) – Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied U.S. efforts to topple him, died on Friday. He was 90.

A towering figure of the second half of the 20th Century, Castro stuck to his ideology beyond the collapse of Soviet communism and remained widely respected in parts of the world that had struggled against colonial rule.

He had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006. He formally ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro two years later.

Wearing a green military uniform, a somber Raul Castro, 85, appeared on state television on Friday night to announce his brother’s death.

“At 10.29 at night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died,” he said, without giving a cause of death.

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“Ever onward, to victory,” he said, using the slogan of the Cuban revolution.

Tributes came in from around the world.

Venezuela’s Socialist President Nicolas Maduro said “revolutionaries of the world must follow his legacy,” while Pope Francis said he was grieving and praying for the repose of the professed atheist, whom he met in Cuba last year.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, said “the Chinese people have lost a close comrade and a sincere friend”. U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump said on Twitter: “Fidel Castro is dead!”, without elaborating.

DECADES OF HOSTILITY

Then Cuban President Fidel Castro talks to then Pope John Paul II during the presentation of their delegations at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana in this January 22, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo

Then Cuban President Fidel Castro talks to then Pope John Paul II during the presentation of their delegations at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana in this January 22, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo

Raul Castro, who always glorified his older brother, has nevertheless changed Cuba since taking over by introducing market-style economic reforms and agreeing with the United States in December 2014 to re-establish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility.

It remains unclear if Trump will continue efforts to normalize relations with Cuba or fulfill a campaign promise to close the U.S. embassy in Havana once again.

Fidel Castro himself offered only lukewarm support for the 2014 deal with Washington, raising questions about whether he approved of ending hostilities with his longtime enemy. Some analysts believed his mere presence kept Raul from moving further and faster, while others saw him as either quietly supportive or increasingly irrelevant.

He did not meet Barack Obama when he visited Havana earlier this year, the first time a U.S. president had stepped foot on Cuban soil since 1928.

Days later, Castro wrote a scathing newspaper column condemning Obama’s “honey-coated” words and reminding Cubans of the many U.S. efforts to overthrow and weaken the Communist government.

The news of Castro’s death spread slowly among Friday night revelers on the streets of Havana. One famous club that was still open when word came in quickly closed.

Some residents reacted with sadness to the news.

“I’m very upset. Whatever you want to say, he is a public figure that the whole world respected and loved,” said Havana student Sariel Valdespino.

But in Miami, where many exiles from Castro’s government live, a large crowd waving Cuban flags cheered, danced and banged on pots and pans.

Castro’s body will be cremated, according to his wishes. Cuba declared nine days of mourning, during which time the ashes will be taken to different parts of the country. A burial ceremony will be held on Dec. 4.

The bearded Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and ruled Cuba for 49 years with a mix of charisma and iron will, creating a one-party state and becoming a central figure in the Cold War.

He was demonized by the United States and its allies but admired by many leftists around the world, especially socialist revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa.

Nelson Mandela, once freed from prison in 1990, repeatedly thanked Castro for his firm efforts in helping to weaken apartheid.

In April, in a rare public appearance at the Communist Party conference, Fidel Castro shocked party apparatchiks by referring to his own imminent mortality.

“Soon I will be like all the rest. Our turn comes to all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain,” he said.

Castro was last seen by ordinary Cubans in photos showing him engaged in conversation with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang earlier this month.

MILITARY FATIGUES, CIGARS

Fidel Castro dies, age 90. Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo

Fidel Castro dies, age 90. Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo

Transforming Cuba from a playground for rich Americans into a symbol of resistance to Washington, Castro crossed swords with 10 U.S. presidents while in power, and outlasted nine of them.

He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 as well as countless assassination attempts.

His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the United States that brought the world the closest it has been to nuclear war.

Wearing green military fatigues and chomping on cigars for many of his years in power, Castro was famous for long, fist-pounding speeches filled with blistering rhetoric, often aimed at the United States.

At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. But he also created legions of enemies and critics, concentrated among the exiles in Miami who fled his rule and saw him as a ruthless tyrant.

“With Castro’s passing, some of the heat may go out of the antagonism between Cuba and the United States, and between Cuba and Miami, which would be good for everyone,” said William M. LeoGrande, co-author of a book on U.S.-Cuba relations.

Castro’s death — which would once have thrown a question mark over Cuba’s future — seems unlikely to trigger a crisis as Raul Castro is firmly ensconced in power.

In his final years, Fidel Castro no longer held leadership posts. He wrote newspaper commentaries on world affairs and occasionally met foreign leaders but he lived in semi-seclusion.

Still, the passing of the man known to most Cubans as “El Comandante” — the commander — or simply “Fidel” leaves a huge void in the country he dominated for so long. It also underlines the generational change in Cuba’s communist leadership.

Raul Castro vows to step down when his term ends in 2018 and the Communist Party has elevated younger leaders to its Politburo, including 56-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is first vice-president and the heir apparent.

Others in their 50s include Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and economic reform czar Marino Murillo.

The reforms have led to more private enterprise and the lifting of some restrictions on personal freedoms but they aim to strengthen Communist Party rule, not weaken it.

Fidel Castro and PLO leader Yasser Arafat stand together at the airport in Havana during Arafat's first visit to Cuba November 14, 1974. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

Fidel Castro and PLO leader Yasser Arafat stand together at the airport in Havana during Arafat’s first visit to Cuba November 14, 1974. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

REVOLUTIONARY ICON

A Jesuit-educated lawyer, Fidel Castro led the revolution that ousted U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan 1, 1959. Aged 32, he quickly took control of Cuba and sought to transform it into an egalitarian society.

His government improved the living conditions of the very poor, achieved health and literacy levels on a par with rich countries and rid Cuba of a powerful Mafia presence.

But he also tolerated little dissent, jailed opponents, seized private businesses and monopolized the media.

Castro’s opponents labeled him a dictator and hundreds of thousands fled the island.

“The dictator Fidel Castro has died, the cause of many deaths in Cuba, Latin American and Africa,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the island’s largest dissident group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, said on Twitter.

Many dissidents settled in Florida, influencing U.S. policy toward Cuba and plotting Castro’s demise. Some even trained in the Florida swamps for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.

But they could never dislodge him.

Castro claimed he survived or evaded hundreds of assassination attempts, including some conjured up by the CIA.

In 1962, the United States imposed a damaging trade embargo that Castro blamed for most of Cuba’s ills, using it to his advantage to rally patriotic fury.

Over the years, he expanded his influence by sending Cuban troops into far-away wars, including 350,000 to fight in Africa. They provided critical support to a left-wing government in Angola and contributed to the independence of Namibia in a war that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

He also won friends by sending tens of thousands of Cuban doctors abroad to treat the poor and bringing young people from developing countries to train them as physicians

‘HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE ME’

Born on August 13, 1926, in Biran in eastern Cuba, Castro was the son of a Spanish immigrant who became a wealthy landowner.

Angry at social conditions and Batista’s dictatorship, Castro launched his revolution on July 26, 1953, with a failed assault on the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago.

“History will absolve me,” he declared during his trial for the attack.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released in 1955 after a pardon that would come back to haunt Batista.

Castro went into exile in Mexico and prepared a small rebel army to fight Batista. It included Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who became his comrade-in-arms.

In December 1956, Castro and a rag-tag band of 81 followers sailed to Cuba aboard a badly overloaded yacht called “Granma”.

Only 12, including him, his brother and Guevara, escaped a government ambush when they landed in eastern Cuba.

Taking refuge in the rugged Sierra Maestra mountains, they built a guerrilla force of several thousand fighters who, along with urban rebel groups, defeated Batista’s military in just over two years.

Early in his rule, at the height of the Cold War, Castro allied Cuba to the Soviet Union, which protected the Caribbean island and was its principal benefactor for three decades.

The alliance brought in $4 billion worth of aid annually, including everything from oil to guns, but also provoked the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the United States discovered Soviet missiles on the island.

Convinced that the United States was about to invade Cuba, Castro urged the Soviets to launch a nuclear attack.

Cooler heads prevailed. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President John F. Kennedy agreed the Soviets would withdraw the missiles in return for a U.S. promise never to invade Cuba. The United States also secretly agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Cuba's President Fidel Castro stand side by side during Putin's official welcoming ceremony outside Havana's Palace of the Revolution, December 14, 2000.REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Cuba’s President Fidel Castro stand side by side during Putin’s official welcoming ceremony outside Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, December 14, 2000.REUTERS/Jorge Silva

‘SPECIAL PERIOD’

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, an isolated Cuba fell into an economic crisis that lasted for years and was known as the “special period”. Food, transport and basics such as soap were scarce and energy shortages led to frequent and long blackouts.

Castro undertook a series of tentative economic reforms to get through the crisis, including opening up to foreign tourism.

The economy improved when Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who looked up to Castro as a hero, came to the rescue with cheap oil. Aid from communist-run China also helped, but Venezuelan support for Cuba has been scaled down since Chavez’s death in 2013.

Plagued by chronic economic problems, Cuba’s population of 11 million has endured years of hardship, although not the deep poverty, violent crime and government neglect of many other developing countries.

Cubans earn on average the equivalent of $20 a month and struggle to make ends meet even in an economy where education and health care are free and many basic goods and services are heavily subsidized.

For most Cubans, Castro has been the ubiquitous figure of their entire life.

Many still love him and share his faith in a communist future, and even some who abandoned their political belief still view him with respect.

“For everyone in Cuba and outside his death is very sad,” said Havana resident Luis Martinez. “It is very painful news.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Marc Frank; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Kieran Murray and Hugh Lawson)

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Fidel Castro, The Facts, compiled by Reuters

Cuban revolutionary and its former president Fidel Castro died, age 90, on Friday November 26.  Following are some facts about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and quotes from his friends and foes.

Fidel Castro: Anachronism and Achiever, With Tarnished Legacy, by Mark Beeson   Analysis

Twentieth-century political icons don’t get much bigger than Fidel Castro. His death will reignite debates about his place in history and the revolutionary ideas he epitomised.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Fidel Castro: Anachronism and Achiever, With Tarnished Legacy

MARK BEESON
November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro attends manoeuvres during the anniversary of his and his fellow revolutionaries arrival on the yacht Granma, November 1976. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

Fidel Castro attends manoeuvres during the anniversary of his and his fellow revolutionaries arrival on the yacht Granma, November 1976. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

Twentieth-century political icons don’t get much bigger than Fidel Castro. His death will reignite many important and still-unresolved debates about his particular place in history, and about the revolutionary ideas he seemed to epitomise.

For many of my generation, he retained a special place in our collective imagination, however undeserved it may have been in reality. The hopelessly corrupt regime that he, and his even more glamorous co-conspirator Che Guevara, overthrew was the quintessential banana republic. Causes don’t get much more worthy either, it seemed.

The parasitic regime of Fulgencio Batista provided a convenient playground for dissolute Americans escaping the cloying morality of the United States in the 1950s. From the little we knew about Cuba then, Fidel looked to be unambiguously on the right side of history. But this is not the way he will be remembered.

Unlike Che, Fidel lived long enough to see his legacy tarnished, his model overturned, and even relations with his arch-enemy normalised. In such circumstances, the very real achievements of the Castro regime are likely to be forgotten.

The reality is, though, that a dirt-poor third-world country managed to create a very credible medical and education system. True, there may have been some doubts about the curriculum, but key social indicators compared well with other states in the region. As iconoclastic film director Michael Moore took delight in pointing out, Cuba’s medical system was in many ways better than that of the US itself.

Not bad for a country that has laboured under American economic sanctions for more than half a century. Australia might have struggled under such circumstances, too, and we’re the other side of the planet with some formidable domestic advantages. How much more remarkable that the Cubans actually did as well as they have.

Cuba's former president Fidel Castro attends the closing ceremony of the seventh Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana, Cuba, in this handout received April 19, 2016. Omara Garcia/Courtesy of AIN/Handout via REUTERS

Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro attends the closing ceremony of the seventh Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana, Cuba, in this handout received April 19, 2016. Omara Garcia/Courtesy of AIN/Handout via REUTERS

It’s not hard to see why the US loathed Castro and mounted a – at times, comical – series of efforts to assassinate or overthrow him. The abortive, CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, which ended in humiliation for the US, only reinforced Castro’s position and aura among his own people and some of his more starry-eyed foreign admirers.

Even the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, in which the US and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war over the latter’s attempts to place ballistic missiles on Cuban soil, did not dislodge Fidel. It did cement his reputation as the most irritating and enduring affront to American hegemony in the region the US considered its own, however.

In what may prove to have been the last gasp of revolutionary idealism in Latin America, and possibly the world, the so-called Pink Tide that swept through the region in the 1990s and 2000s looked as if it might present yet another challenge to American dominance and the political and economic order it represented.

A succession of leftist leaders in Latin America have come, gone or – in the case of Hugo Chavez’s successor in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro – look to be on their way out. Even in Brazil, former president Lula da Silva’s legacy has been fatally undermined by a major corruption scandal and the dismal performance of the Brazilian economy of late.

Paradoxically enough, however, Cuba’s future might actually be brighter than some of its counterparts in South America. No-one can predict what the incoming Trump regime may do in this context (or any other), but if Fidel’s brother Raul continues to liberalise the economy and improve relations with Cuba’s giant neighbour, it may benefit from much needed inflows of investment and tourists.

Given that we would be pretty much back where we started before Fidel launched the revolution this would be another historical irony. It also begs questions about the ability of “great men of history” to make an enduring difference, and about their long-term legacies.

We now know Mao Zedong was a megalomaniacal monster, despite the popularity of his little Red Book in the heady era of the 1960s. There aren’t too many communists in China these days either, and no-one is planning a return to central planning.

Fidel Castro is consequently an anachronism and symbol of a particular time and place. Socialism remains a dazzlingly attractive idea in theory. Even its biggest admirers would have to concede that the practice hasn’t worked out quite as well.

What Robert Michels famously described as the “iron law of oligarchy” looks more apposite and persuasive than ever, and not just in putative banana republics. The rise of nationalism north of the border provides a sobering illustration of the difficulty of even talking about progressive change in a way that actually resonates with “the masses”, as we used to know them.

As Fidel’s life and times reminds us, actually doing anything transformative about repression and inequality looks as difficult and unlikely as it has ever been.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Mark Beeson is a Professor of International Politics at the University of Western Australia.  Before joining UWA at the beginning of 2015, he was Professor of International Relations at Murdoch University. Previously he taught at the universities of Griffith, Queensland, York (UK) and Birmingham, where he was also head of department. He is co-editor of Contemporary Politics, and the founding editor of Critical Studies of the Asia Pacific (Palgrave).  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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