Throughout his life, and after his death, Fidel divided opinions. Fidel Castro was a stubborn figure, an honest one, nonetheless. But right before his death, he was not the energetic revolutionary who defied generations of Presidents. Castro was a man who had the most polarised followers and critics alike, but one aspect which everyone hailed him for was his stand on his beliefs. The bearded comandante might have been considered a tyrant in many ways, greed didn’t even come close. The most luscious conundrum a political figure like Castro brought are, communism and privatisation, presentation and socialism, revolution and government power, people’s rights and dictatorship, freedom of the arts and curbing it. It is difficult to say if his revolution was truly free of ideology and only based on liberté, égalité, fraternité the foundation motto. But the most interesting emblem of the contradiction of his rule was, that he inspired Cubans towards a conscious revolution at the same time condemned it when used to lambaste state authority. He was very vocal against the imperialistic oppressions but maintained his bullish stance on the state oppression, demanding justice and supporting injustice. He talked about imperialism and colonialism, yet did not speak in 1968, against the Warsaw Pact. But to truly understand the man, one has to peel several layers of rhetoric, communism failure, doubtful kaleidoscopic reputation and of course that hipster beard. Yes, his beard is a metaphor for the 21st-century lens. One has to understand the intellectual, societal and political aspirations of a Latin American setting of the previous century, mired in anti-colonialism, know the legend. We can only judge and not indulge in the conditions which made the revolutionary guerrilla leader become perhaps the biggest reason of the cold war.
At a time when democracy was a totally obscure term in the Caribbean, or for that matter in any developing country, Castro won the war against a corrupt and brutal US-backed regime. Castro gave birth to the modern Cuba. Castro shook hands with the USSR, a country far away and dismissed the neighbouring US, and started the revolution which in a way almost led to a nuclear war in the early 1960s. But this man survived. He made Cuba, though materialistically poor buy a rich society. He made the small country punch out of the blockade of the world’s biggest economy.
Yet, after all of this arrived a lineup of human rights violations and handicapped policies, including sham trials of political opponents, and those cannot be excused over the veil of strategic importance and a situational product. The Cuban leader explained prisoners of conscience by saying that revolution is a product of moral convictions and not just legal perceptions. Weapons started getting pointed inwards and power flowed through them. Cultural subversion and their perceived manifestations went punished. From hippies to gays, everybody who went against the grain was put into prisons. Yet, at the same time, arrived an amazing healthcare and education system. Cuba becomes a country with life expectancy and literacy as good as any rich country. Castro became more popular, also due to the foreign policy of helping other third world countries and their battles. His methods towards those struggles, although imperfect, was better than any other western country.
Cuba has undoubtedly the best medical system in the world. From earthquakes to Ebola, their doctors have reached places where no one dares to go. Castro in a way was always a touch dramatic. Before the US army was removed from Vietnam, he visited the country. He even sent expeditionary forces, to save Angola from South African attacks, all across the Atlantic ocean. He fought against apartheid in Africa where he became a liberation idol, so much so that even Nelson Mandela went on to speak against the criticism from the US.
The resignation of Castro incidentally happened a little before Barack Obama became the US president. But the US still could not force his revolution out, nor could the fall of Berlin wall which led to Soviet’s downfall, but only his illness could. But can we call him one of the champions of socialism still? Given the arguments about the abuse of human rights and curbing freedom of expression can be seen on two sides. In order to establish a socialist state, either situation dictated the abuse or they did not. If they did, perhaps Cuba became an example that socialism at the extreme form is unacceptable, and if they did not the methods caused more harm to the idea of socialism. Now, however, basic as it may sound, only a future devoid of Castro, will decide what happens to the US neighbour, which is a hard thing to imagine.
Castro will remain in memory as the revolutionary icon who helped a tiny island to stand against US imperialism, while the others saw a tyrant who crushed human rights. There have been many changes in Cuba after he resigned. Not all of them good. But will history forgive Castro? Will Cuban geography pardon him?