It’s been one week since the world learned of the death of one of history’s most recognizable figures. Few 20th century leaders have been subject to the type of love or hate relationship enjoyed by the late Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz. Similar to his controversial life choices, his death became a disputable topic.
There is little doubt that several human rights were violated during Castro’s time as head of the Cuban government. Both his supporters and detractors agree on this on varying levels. The division, however, rests in the conservative’s denial of key motives and outcomes of the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
In a region defined by social inequality since the vicious conquest by Spanish invaders in the 15th century, Castro’s revolution gave hope to other Latin American nations looking to free themselves from U.S. imperialism. The Cuban Revolution forced Latin Americans to re-examine their own political and social realities. Complacent attitudes regarding decades of blatant social oppression at the hands of U.S.-backed oligarchs ended with Castro’s success.
In countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua the Cuban Revolution was an important factor in uniting the poor and marginalized against severe repression. Of course, the effects of the Cuban Revolution were most evident in Cuba. Castro’s improvements to the island nation’s health and education systems, despite a crippling U.S. 1962 trade embargo, are recognized and respected worldwide. His detractors, however, vilify and reduce Castro to nothing more than a narcissistic power-hungry dictator.
Castro’s death has caused mixed reactions. Some expressed sadness – others, in poor taste, celebrated in the streets – some were simply indifferent.
Prime Minister Trudeau joined the millions worldwide that were saddened by the news of Castro’s passing. The Prime Minister’s November 26th statement, one that described Castro as a “legendary revolutionary” who exercised “tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people” was both thoughtful and historically accurate.
Nonetheless, Trudeau’s statement has been heavily criticized by right-wing conservatives on both sides of the border. Most notably U.S. politicians Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (both of whom lost the U.S. Republican nomination to Donald Trump) have been especially vocal of their disapproval of the Prime Minister’s comments. For those familiar with the history of the hemisphere however, the rants by politicians that idolize Ronald Reagan (a man considered by many in Latin America to be guilty of numerous crimes against humanity) have little merit.
As Canadians we must be cautious of not falling into the trappings of self-inflicted hypocrisy.
For the conservatives that continue to condemn Castro and his revolution: Perhaps they should refrain then from conveniently enjoying the relatively low cost of vacationing in Cuba – an inadvertent after-effect of the revolution.
For the liberals that expressed concern over Castro’s death mainly out of worry that this may improve Cuba-U.S. relations and thus, “ruin” their “authentic” Cuban experience: Perhaps they should remember that if Castro’s death has any effects on international politics, the improvement of the limitations suffered daily by the Cuban people outweighs their desires to take photos of themselves next to a 1950s Chevrolet convertible.
Lost in this incomplete and erroneous manipulation of history is the mention of Cuba’s long-standing humanitarian commitment to its hemispheric neighbours, for instance. Most recently, Cuba was the first country to send doctors and medical supplies to Haiti in response to the 2010 earthquake.
Fidel Castro and the history of the Cuban situation is complex. The future of Cuba and its people is uncertain. What is plain and clear however is what Fidel Castro meant to revolutionaries all over the world. Without doubt, he was Comandante to us all. Fidel, as he was affectionately referred to, was a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of injustice, corruption, and inequality.
- Marcelo Eduardo Herrera is a graduate student in the anthropology department at Western.
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