Fidel Castro, 1926-2016


Without doubt the news of the day is that long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died. From the New York Times:

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90.

His death was announced by Cuban state television.

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

Fidel Castro probably did as much as anybody to influence U. S. foreign policy. Initially, he cozied up to the United States. When that did not result in U. S. support, he turned his attention to the Soviet Union and Cuba remained a close Soviet ally until the Soviet Union’s collapse.

IMO his ideological views have been much exaggerated, as much by him as by his opponents. I don’t believe that he was ever actually a Marxist. His attentions were focused single-mindedly on concentrating power in his own hands. When being a democrat furthered that end he was a democrat; when being a communist did he was a communist. As Castro biographer Georgie Ann Geyer wrote:

“The Cuban regime turns out to be simply the case of a third-world dictator seizing a useful ideology in order to employ its wealth against his enemies,” wrote the columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, whose critical biography of Mr. Castro was published in 1991.

In this view of Mr. Castro, he was above all an old-style Spanish caudillo, one of a long line of Latin American strongmen who endeared themselves to people searching for leaders. The analyst Alvaro Vargas Llosa of the Independent Institute in Washington called him “the ultimate 20th-century caudillo.”

For reasons that eluded me during the 1960s he was quite a media darling, possibly propelled to stardom by red diaper babies in the U. S. Basically, he was just the dictator of an unimportant Latin American country adjacent to the United States.

Cuban troops, presumably acting as Soviet surrogates, were at one time or another fighting in Congo, Ghana, Bolivia, Algeria, Syria, Ethiopia, Angola, the Sinai (during the Yom Kippur War), Namibia (then Southwest Africa), Grenada, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. That gave credence to the idea of the dangers of worldwide communist revolution, something that drove U. S. foreign policy for a half century and remains influential.

More recently his image, the idea of Castro rather than his actuality, has inspired Chavistas in Venezuela and similarly-minded people in Bolivia. If the list of countries in which Fidel Castro has wielded influence sounds like a trail of woe, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

7 comments… add one
  • ...

    Much fun is being had on Twitter mocking well-off white people who are in tears over Fidel’s passing. And it explains the gunshots we heard a couple of houses over in the middle of the night. I thought that family was Puerto Rican, but now I’m guessing Cuban!

  • walt moffett

    A musical number from the Wizard of Oz comes to mind.

    Yet those who expect a great flowering of human rights, liberty, etc may find out the grandchildren of the Revolution actually believe what Castro taught them.

  • There is a generational quality to socialist revolutions and my own private interpretation of the collapse of the Soviet Union is that it was directly related to the end of the old revolutionary leadership. Gorbachev was the first (and last) Soviet premier who hadn’t participated in the Revolution.

    Note, too, that the present cadre of Chinese leaders weren’t revolutionaries, either. I don’t think it’s particularly surprising that Xi is consolidating power in his own hands. He’s trying to forestall the collapse of the regime.

  • I thought that family was Puerto Rican, but now I’m guessing Cuban!

    Now there’s a big difference between Chicago and Orlando. When we hear gunfire at night we don’t conclude it was Cubans.

  • Gray Shambler

    .Tough old bastard, Good riddance.

  • ...

    I thought it might be a Cuban shooting off a few rounds in celebration. (I happened to be awake in a quiet house at the time of the gunfire. There wasn’t any noise before the shots were fired, and none after except for a couple of dogs behind my house going ape. No yelling or other fighting, no squealing tires, nothing. So I thought maybe some celebratory gunfire without any cheering to give it away.) Fidel isn’t as popular down in these parts as he is in places like DC, New York, and Harvard. Down here people hate his guts with fucking gusto, man!

    But it turns out it wasn’t them. They discovered a couple of bullet holes in a back window this evening. They’re a bit freaked out, as you would expect.

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