Last Friday, I witnessed the internet cry wolf over death of Fidel Castro like it always does. The news on TV soon made me realize this wasn’t the usual false alarm. The infallible communist leader of Cuba was finally dead at the age of 90, after serving a 49-year regime over the small island nation. Twitter, Facebook, and other media sites were flooded with news and reactions. Some world leaders expressed their condolences while some cheered this event. Justin Trudeau referred to Castro as a ‘legendary revolutionary and orator.’ Our own Prime Minister called him an ‘iconic personality of the 20th century’. Donald Trump, on the other hand, kept it simple.
Cubans observed this happening with mixed reactions. Havana mourns their loss but its anti-communist cousin in the US- Little Havana (Miami, Florida), can’t stop partying. It’s easy to deduce that Castro was a man with more enemies than friends. But what built him into a man feared and despised by the United States as well as his own people? The answer is simple: Megalomania.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1926, to a Spanish migrant and his mistress (later wife). As a child, he was said to be bright in sports (propaganda?) and quite mischievous in nature. Growing up, his love for Ernst Hemingway’s work bloomed. It made him wish to be an author in his next incarnation. Speaking of incarnation, his religious views are debated widely as he considered himself as an atheist but also spoke highly of Jesus Christ. Castro’s interest in politics took flight when he got involved in campus activism with his Marxist-Leninist ideologies.
When you talk about leaders throughout history in general, you often take account of their white and grey areas. In the case of Fidel Castro, it was grey and black. Reportedly, his rule brought down the economy and the happiness of the people. Castro-fronted Cuban revolution of 26th July 1959 inspired the masses to rise up against Fulgencio Batista’s oppression. But the people ended up trading one dictatorship for another. Cuba was being descended into its grave.
What followed was a reign of horror and subjugation. Cubans who voiced their opinion against the government were jailed, tortured and murdered. Presently, 900 political prisoners are still enduring the steel bars. 5% of the population was thrown into labour camps and prisons. At the height of Castro’s rule, 3, 615 firing squad executions were carried out in front of his dreaded paredón (the wall). The thought of women and children blown on a boat sends a chill down my spine. His comrade Che Guevara made it transparent how they carried out their trials:
“To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of the paredón.”
So a fair trial was equated as an unnecessary primitive detail, how ridiculous!
To balance this piece, I tried hard to find shreds of evidence that differentiated him from Stalin, Lenin, Mao Zedong, and Kim Il Sung. It’s true his government pushed Cuba to self-sustenance. We’ll also have to acknowledge his fearlessness as he didn’t budge when pointing missiles at the USA. But it wasn’t enough. I had to put him in tier-3 of the world’s cruelest dictators.
Now that his ill-famed watch has finally ended, the people of Cuba are desperate for a change. Miguel Diaz-Canel is set to succeed Fidel Castro. His positive response on press and internet freedom has given Cuba high hopes of spectacular future. A small section believes that Diaz-Canel will be a military puppet, nothing more. It will be interesting to see how this new chapter in the Cuban history unfolds.