-By, Sophie Stone
Fidel Castro, dictator of Cuba since 1959, passed away November 25, 2016. Though his brother, Raul Castro, has been in power since around 2003, Fidel’s death marks the end of an era. He has left a highly contested legacy behind him; examination of reactions to his death shows two different sides of Cuban society and a larger struggle between past and future.
Some in Cuba are mourning the loss of a father figure. He’s a man that has been in power for so long and in such total control that he has been woven into the very fabric of Cuban society. Many Cubans are reported to have praised the late dictator. They spoke of the country’s free health care and education systems, as well as the low infant mortality rate and government efforts to combat racism- tying all of these accomplishments to . Despite the many trials of the Castro regime-including famines, sluggish economic development, violence, and restrictive controls on many aspects of life- some in Cuba still regard him as a positive, albeit flawed, influence on the country. Of all his contribution, likely his most important was the nationalist unification of Cuba. He forged a proud national identity by creating a common nemesis- the United States and its trade embargo, as well as the poisonous effects of capitalist society. Betsy K. ’17 commented, “It’s interesting to see how national identity has played a large role in the Cuban people’s relationship with Fidel Castro. It reminds me of our Class V history course Revolutions and Nationalism, where we learned about nationalism in the French revolution”.
Many Cubans that share this more positive viewpoint are of the generation that was young when Castro came to power over fifty years ago. A younger generation of Cubans are more distrustful of the government and open to a more globalized society. They emphasize the negative aspects of Castro’s regime- the human rights abuses, a stagnant economy, and a mass exodus of Cubans. Fidel Castro is credited with saying, “A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.” He was once the revolutionary, playing a key role in the Cuban Revolution by leading a guerrilla war against the President of the time. But now for many in Cuba, his anti-capitalist and anti-globalization sentiments are the past that they struggle against. To some he represents a power of the 20th century whose time has passed.
Raúl Castro, now officially in power, understands the necessity of forging diplomatic and trade ties with the United States. This action would bring an influx of business and capital, but it would also help spread ideas of capitalism. More Cubans have recently been allowed access to internet and many are now getting smartphones. Exposure to the business and ideological practices of the United States would likely result in a shift to a more free-market, capitalist society. Cuba is on track, as of now, to see those kinds of shifts that would make its society more free and potentially, more democratic.