11/28/16 | Ben Gustafson | Regular Correspondent
On the Surface
Fidel Castro, former President of Cuba, died at age 90 on Friday. Castro shaped Cuba into a communist-state that was at odds with the United States for decades, and served longer than any non-royal leader in the 20th century. By appealing to the masses, providing employment and benefits, and promoting relative stability, Castro consolidated and retained power. Despite delegating authority to his more liberal brother Raul in recent years, Fidel’s death will still have important implications. And even though Cuba’s one-party status probably won’t change, Raul’s administration may now have the freedom to institute necessary reforms.
Passing and Reactions
Late in the evening on November 25, President Raul Castro announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro on state-television. Fidel’s death will be followed by nine official days of mourning. In Cuba, emotions varied from indifference, to sorrow, to surprise. Some Cubans embrace the nationalism that Castro’s regime fostered, and many are proud that he shaped their cultural identity. Supporters are also grateful for the high job security, free healthcare, and free education that Fidel’s administration endorsed. On the other hand, although few Cubans openly criticize the regime, many still resent Castro for limiting many basic freedoms that nearby nations enjoy.
In America reactions were much more clear cut, and many anti-Castro exiles in Miami’s “Little Havana” took to the streets in celebration after hearing the news.
In 1953, Fidel, his brother Raul, and a small army of rebels organized an attack against former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. The offensive was a failure and ended in Fidel’s imprisonment, but this was just the beginning of Castro’s revolution. “Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me,” said Fidel famously during his trial. After being released from prison, Fidel and Raul reignited their campaign, this time with the help of Argentine Marxist Ernesto Guevara. The fierce guerrilla war that ensued decisively ended Batista’s reign in 1959.
In the following months, Fidel was sworn in as prime minister to widespread popular support. Two years later, he swore allegiance to the Soviet Union and openly embraced its communist ideals.
Soon thereafter he began a decades-long conflict with the United States by nationalizing American-owned assets and companies and prompting a retaliatory economic embargo. Hostilities didn’t stop there, in 1961 President JFK orchestrated the Bay of Pigs Invasion and a year later Castro helped facilitate the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Reform and the Future
After falling ill in 2006, Fidel Castro began to pass power to his brother Raul. While maintaining the basic tenets of the revolution, Raul promoted limited fiscal liberalization. In 2011, Raul mandated that 500,000 state jobs be eliminated and allowed more Cubans to run independent businesses and expanded real estate accessibility. Fidel has voiced his concerns with his brother’s reforms and maintains that Cuba should not become a market socialist nation like China or Vietnam. In his final public appearance, Fidel insisted, “the ideas of Cuban communists will endure.”
Most recently, Raul worked with the Obama administration to resume formal diplomatic relations. The deal set aside five decades of hostility between the nations. In March, when Obama visited Havana, Fidel showed that his distaste for these changes, saying, “every one of us was at risk of a heart attack while listening to those words of the president of the United States.”
Fidel’s passing removes the largest obstacle for Raul’s reform efforts at a time when the country is in dire need of change. For years Venezuela funneled aid to Cuba economy, but Venezuela’s recent economic collapse has brought this to an end. Currently, Cuba’s economy is growing at less than half of its officially forecasted rate. Steps to alleviate these woes may be more likely now that Fidel Castro is out of the picture.
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Mosbergen, Dominique. “Fidel Castro Dead: Cuban Revolutionary Leader Dies at 90.” Huffington Post. N.p., 26 Nov. 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
News, BBC. “Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Leader of Revolution, Dies at 90.” BBC News. N.p., 27 Nov. 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.