Fidel Castro (1926-2016).
1. A revolutionary. A dictator. Loved and hated. Whatever’s view on Fidel Castro he is definitely a part of history books. What would be your definition of him?
2. And probably a connected question. What is his legacy and how (ir)relevant is his legacy for today’s world?
W. Alejandro Sanchez, International Security Analyst
1. First of all, a geopolitical one: Fidel Castro and his guerrilla fighters successfully overthrew the Batista regime. He would go on to govern his country for over three decades, only to be followed by his brother Raul, who governs to this day.
The Cold War was a period of insurrections throughout Latin America and Castro’s 1959 uprising is notable for one fact: it is one of only two left-leaning (meaning Communist, Socialist, Maoist, Leninist or any other similar ideology) insurrections that were successful in the region. The other one was Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1979. Moreover, Castro managed to outlast and outlive a number of U.S. leaders who were focused on having him removed from power. That is quite the achievement.
Was he a dictator? While there are Cubans who do like him, I would say yes. One of my main issue with Castro was that, in spite of his populist ideas and speeches, he liked power and kept it to himself and a small circle of supporters. In other words, in spite of all his positive actions, like providing education and healthcare for the population, the actual decision making process was the privilege of only a few.
2. Regarding his legacy within Cuba, we will have to see how much President Raul Castro and his successors, in the short and long term, maintain the general objectives that Fidel had. Assuming that Raul does step down from power soon and assuming that in a decade or so, Cuba opens up to the U.S., has a pro-U.S. leadership and gets invaded by McDonald’s and capitalism, then Castro’s ideological legacy will be diminished. If, on the other hand, future Cuban leaders in the post-Castro era genuinely maintain the education, healthcare and other social programs, then yes, Fidel’s legacy will continue.
I cannot speak for the rest of the world in general terms but I am curious if we will see (and we probably will) many young Latin Americans wearing t-shirts with pictures of Fidel Castro, akin to the immortalization of Che Guevara. They will probably choose to remember Castro for the “good” things he did (the social programs and, obviously, standing up to “el imperio”) and not his many faults.
I find myself a bit bewildered. All my life I have grown to anticipate what life would be like after Castro’s death. Now I find myself wondering what do we do now. Castro’s legacy will be symbolic of a revolution not the man. The man was a series of contradictions. Raised by Jesuits, he was anti church. Struggled against a dictatorship only to establish one himself. He rallied against the wealthy to distribute their wealth to the poor only to use the Cuban treasury as his own personal checking account an maintain privileges for himself and his loyalists that the people could only dream for. I fear people will romanticize his legacy as a Robin Hood figure just as the Cuban people did in 1959. The hope that was Fidel never became a reality. He proved to be a killer a thief and a liar. His revolutionary court trial were famous, often reversing court rulings of innocence to begin again because his preconceived notion of justice had not been achieved. No, Castro only positive accomplishment was to give the people a high literacy rate but also told them what the could and could not read.
My father, having been a classmate of Fidel, would say Castro was closer to a Nicolae Ceausescu than anyone else. Castro’s accomplishments will be measured and analyzed from the outside looking in. The real story of his legacy will come one day from the Cuban people who lived within the system whose stories from some future truth commission will settle it once and for all. History may very well remember Fidel Castro but I doubt it will absolve him.
On last comment and simply put, Fidel as a Stalinist. One of only two remaining in the world. Can anyone say anything good about Stalin? Fidel’s legacy will be very similar to his.
Patricio Navia, Professor, Political Science, Universidad Diego Portales, Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies, New York University
I think Fidel Castro is the most important political leader in Latin America in the 20th century. There is a before and after the Cuban revolution. In addition to bringing the cold war to Latin America and redefining U.S. Latin American relations, the Cuban Revolution offered an alternative, a radical alternative to those who sought to bring about social justice and equality to the region. Its disregard for bourgeois democracy inspired many people in Latin America and around the world. Though in the end capitalism was victorious and most Latin American countries ended up embracing market-friendly policies, Fidel Castro remained a hero for many. He was a dictator and the longest serving non-elected leader in Latin America. His revolution inspired people but nobody in the region today would seriously aspire to adopt the economic and political model of the Cuban revolution. Thus, Fidel is much more a leader of a long-gone past than a leader of the present or future.
Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska Omaha
1. He was a significant part of a movement in Cuba that defined the notion of Cuban nationality that fused self-determination, revolution and socialism in the face of a hostile U.S.. Far from a saint, but he also gave hope to people in the Americas and across the world that a country like Cuba could carved its own path in spite of the dictates of the colossus to the north.
2.His legacy is that he and the Cuban revolution spawned the entire academic and political disciplines of comparative analysis insofar as the conditions under which the Cuban revolution took place became the grist of more systematic attempts to understand and analyze how and why government collapse, transform and develop in particular ways. Prior to Fidel, we just assumed that simple structural and functional analysis, along with some overly simplistic historical analogies could explain change in the political world. How very presumptuous of us.
Antoni Kapcia, Professor of Latin American History, Director, Centre for Research on Cuba, University of Nottingham
1. For many Cubans (probably most of them), he was the person whom they most associated with the process which shaped the society and system in which they live, for better or for worse. That is not to say that he was single-handedly responsible either for the Revolution or for decision-making in Cuba – the system was always far more complex than the usual Fidel-focussed attention would have us believe -; it is simply that he towered above everyone else to such an extent that he seemed for many to personify ‘the Revolution’. Hence, he commanded more permanent or long-pasting loyalty than anyone else (apart from Che Guevara), not just from those around him but also, evidently, from millions of Cubans; but, equally, he also aroused much opprobrium among hundreds of thousands of Cubans who chose to leave Cuba, blaming him personally for their plight, and also Cuban-Americans of later generation. He was clearly the most influential and most respected of Cuban leaders since José Martí, and a highly skilled politician, at home and abroad, with an astute sense of how to act at certain points, and of what people wanted; he was always good at gauging Cubans’ feelings and demands, but also proved capable of assessing the global situation accurately. That is why his death has struck a chord outside Cuba as well as among ordinary Cubans.
2. Clearly he was one of the 20th century’s most outstanding leaders, who led a revolution that not only changed Cuba, but changed the western hemisphere, and even other parts of the world, such as southern Africa – and which reshaped the Left across the world too. His image was as important as his achievements, and not just the lasting image of his guerrilla days – his determination to resist US pressure till the end of his life, made him attractive to radicals and nationalists all over the world, and his role in keeping Cuba independent and then in spreading Cuban aid across the developing world cemented his popularity. Few people reshaped the Cold War world and the post-1991 world quite as effectively as he did