Throngs of cheering crowds in Miami, United States of America. Strings of mourning farewells in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. These were two different reactions to the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the age of 90 on November 25, 2016.
To say that Castro’s rule was divisive is an understatement. Some censure him unforgivingly as a brutal dictator, while others compassionately hail him as “El Comandante” (The Commander).
Castro’s regime began after the Cuban Revolution. In 1959, the Cuban Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista, providing great hope for a reformed government and a prosperous nation. Fidel Castro took the opportunity to establish his authoritarian rule.
Employing an autocratic military and a police force comparable to the Nazi Schutzstaffel, Castro sought to instill fear into the hearts of Cubans everywhere. For nearly six decades Castro attempted to hide the afflictions that plagued his people, though millions of Cuban exiles and refugees have attested to the horrific consequences of the Castro regime. The nation of Cuba endured lengthy periods of abject economic conditions, demonstrated by the highly volatile GNI per capita and extremely low economic output in terms of GDP.
Fidel Castro coined the nationalist motto “patria o muerte, venceremos” (homeland or death, we will win). He had an influential hand in the case of Elián González, who as a toddler was subjected to an infamous custody battle between two families, one in Cuba and one in the US. Cuba’s victory in the case added to Castro’s highly-calculated public image. According to González, Castro treated him like his own son and González remains one of the most ardent supporters of Castro.
Underneath the image of empathy and kindness was a repressive and veiled system. Castro limited the freedom of press and speech to ensure that his views would not be contradicted in front of his people. Though he projected openness and candor, Castro worked behind the scenes to eliminate all of his political foes.
While years could be spent recounting the horrors of Fidel Castro’s rule, the greatest reparation we can make for the millions of persecuted Cubans is to never forget—never forget the ruthless behavior of Castro’s authoritarian regime and never repeat.