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.