Much will be written and spoken in the coming days about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro—el caudillo.
The charismatic, bearded rebel leader who led a small group of revolutionaries from the Sierra Maestra mountains in eastern Cuba to the streets of Havana in 1959 has died. He was 90.
I spent decades following Castro’s emergence on the world stage.
He was an inspiration to a number of leftists who eventually rose to power in their own countries. Evo Morales in Bolivia, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the Sandistas in Nicaragua and former Brazilian presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.
Castro promised his people prosperity but provided only poverty. Castro’s came to power by ousting former dictator Fulgencio Batista, but replaced that autocratic government with his own Soviet-backed Maxist-Leninist repressive regime.
Cuba’s wealthy were the first to flee the island and establish new lives in Florida in the early 60s. This first generation of Cuban-Americans held strong conservative and anti-Castro views that promoted a powerful pro-Republican electorate that continues to influence political fortunes in the Sunshine State today.
Later waves of poorer Cubanos would risk the dangerous open seas to flee the misery of their poor island lives for potential prosperity 90 miles away on U.S. shores.
In the 1970s, with the economic support of Russia, Castro embarked on a number of international adventures sending Cuban soldiers to aid revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa.
During the 1970s a popular joke went:
“What is the largest country in the world?
“Cuba. Its capital is in Russia, its army in Africa and its population in the United States.”
But with the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the late 1980 and failure of Marxist ideology around the globe, Castro and Cuba shrank in importance and influence.
Time and truth had overcome the aging caudillo. The dream of a better Cuba replaced by the morning reality of poverty and despair. With Castro’s death, only four Communist nations survive: China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba.
China retains the veneer of communism but with a strong undercoat of capitalistic expansionism. A similar scenario exists in Vietnam. Only North Korea remains entrenched by the delusional dreams of Kim Jong Un.
When an aging Fidel relinquished control to his younger brother, Raúl, there was speculation whether the younger sibling would continue down the nation’s hawkish path or open the island to new opportunities. The picture is mixed.
Although Cuba has welcomed the arrival of foreign visitors and some international corporate investments, change has been slow.
Last year President Obama ended decades of U.S.-Cuban enmity when the American Embassy reopened re-opened last year and diplomatic ties renewed.
It’s unclear exactly how a President Trump will view Cuba or whether Raúl Castro now fully free of his brother’s yoke will move more aggressively pursue greater political and economic liberation. But Raúl himself has pledged to step down in two years.
Both Cuba and the United States are about to open new chapters. It will be fascinating reading.