He was a dictator who overthrew a dictator, and the followers who idolized Fidel Castro saw him sometimes as the savior of Cuba, who would replace the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista after Batista’s hurried 1959 departure to exile, with a government for the people — the poor, oppressed people of an island nation 90 miles off the southern coast of the United States.
But Fidel Castro, whose death at 90 was announced by his successor and brother, Raul, was no Founding Father. In half a century of rule, he oppressed his own people, killed thousands who dared to disagree with some of his communist policies, put tens of thousands of others in prison, held on to socialism and communism even as those outdated philosophies failed and failed miserably to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans.
The people knew better, once the initial days of Castro’s takeover wore away. Many thousands were so sick of oppression and poverty and so hopeful for better lives for their children that they risked their lives, daily, in risky escapes over rough water. So many died. But others came to the United States and built successful lives for themselves and their families.
Fidel Castro’s legacy to them was not that he was what leaders should be — inspirational, uplifting, supportive — but because his cruelty and deadly hand inspired them to get away.
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And his country was evidence of his own failure, with dire poverty and hopelessness. Economic embargoes hurt Cuba, though Castro eventually opened the way for other countries, except for the United States. Only recently has President Obama moved to restore relations with Cuba. That should continue.
It’s true that there have been crises, and that Castro’s “hosting” of Soviet missles brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962 under the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But Cuban exiles and their descendants have done many positive things after reaching American shores, and it has not been the Cuban people plotting to harm Americans or their country. Evidenced by their celebrations following Castro’s death, the people of that island nation have felt and resented the heavy boot of oppression for virtually the whole length of Castro’s rule.
Some perhaps will speak now of Castro’s personal magnetism, of his alleged “glamor” as a symbol of his times, or even discuss his improvement in the Cuban health care system and in education. But he was in sum a ruthless, violent man, a bad actor on the world stage.