by Sotirios Doolen
On Nov. 25, at approximately 10:29 p.m., Fidel Castro died. Castro was the former president and prime minister of Cuba who overthrew the U.S. backed military dictatorship and ruled Cuba with complete power from 1959 to 2006. After falling ill, he handed over power to his brother Raul, who has ruled as President ever since. As a controversial revolutionary and creator of the modern Cuban state, his death has been met with mixed emotions. Here in the United States, the country he defied for more than 50 years, many people rejoiced, especially Cuban Americans, of which many came to America fleeing his dictatorial rule. Others still see him as hero, a defiant figure who refused to give into imperialism, even while his own country deteriorated and its economy tanked.
This mixed sentiment exists also here on campus. Caitlin Shannon (‘19), whose grandparents and mother immigrated from Cuba, described her family’s and her own reactions saying, “I don’t know. It feels weird to celebrate someone’s death, and Raul is still in power so not so sure much is going to change in Cuba proper, but I think it’s symbolic for the Cuban-American people. Castro is the reason for their exile, their struggle, and their suffering so I think a lot of people are happy about it in that sense. My grandparents aren’t celebrating or anything but I can tell they are relieved.” This sentiment of relief is widely shared among the Cuban-American community, many of whom took to the streets on the night his death was announced in order to celebrate.
Another student, João Pinherio (‘19), gave his thoughts on Castro saying, “I think that Fidel Castro was an irreplaceable figure in the long history of liberation of Latin America from imperialist European and North American powers. It is undeniable that he, along with his brother, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and many other Cubans reclaimed Cuba’s right of self-determination as a nation state in 1959. This set an important example for the political Left in Latin America and other places, perhaps not to follow to-the-letter, but to analyze and see what worked and what did not work. For example, Cuba is today a paragon in terms of health and educational systems even after decades of brutal trade sanctions that could have devastated other countries.”
Pinherio continued, “In any case, of course that Castro is and always will be a controversial figure: after all, he was a revolutionary. One cannot revolt without upsetting someone else, therefore, it is not surprising that the political descendants of those targeted by the Cuban Revolution portray him in a negative light.”
In the end, history will judge Fidel Castro accordingly, but no one can deny that he was a giant of the 20th century. How such a small island nation 90 miles off the coast of Florida could project itself so heavily into international politics is a testament to the will of the man who led the country. He was at the center for such important moments in history including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. His death won’t soon be forgotten, both by those who revered him and those who despised him.