Fidel Castro has died and leaves a legacy of love and hate

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Most people over the age of 60 can remember with varying amounts of clarity the fear that gripped America in the fall of 1962. For years children in the U.S. were taught to hide under their desks in case of a nuclear attack, as if that would shield them from the destruction. We were bombarded daily with reminders of the evil Soviet Union and its satellite nations, like Cuba.

And then this happened: in what turned out to be the ultimate “October Surprise,” U.S. U-2 spy plane reconnaissance of Cuba showed the Soviet Union was building nuclear missile sites on the island, just 90 miles from U.S. soil. It was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world ever came to all out nuclear war, Mutually Assured Destruction — better known as MAD.

Primarily between the United States and the Soviet Union, the incident also included the government of Cuba, which for all intents and purposes belonged to Fidel Castro. Part of the deal that got the Soviets to remove the missiles from Cuba was a guarantee that the U.S. would not try to invade, or support an invasion, of Cuba.

In 1959 the revolutionary Castro took control of the island nation, forcing out the U.S. mobster-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro quickly aligned himself and his nation to the Soviet Union and in 1961 the United States began a campaign to rid the world of Castro, from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, to covert assassination attempts and the 54-year long Cuban Embargo.

Through all of it Castro survived and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 he continued to control the nation. Since taking power on that New Year’s Eve — December 31, 1958 — Fidel Castro has outlived six U.S. presidents and remained in control of Cuba over the administrations of nine presidents. Fidel Castro was the last of the Cold War leaders and he remained in power by giving his citizens what they needed, in terms of education and health care, but ruled them with an iron fist.

Fidel Castro was one of the brutal dictators to arise in the 20th Century. Dissidents and opponents were routinely jailed and tortured, not for information, but just as punishment for disagreeing with the dictator.

For decades Cuban citizens would flee Cuba, headed for the shores of Southern Florida, braving the often-hostile waters of the Atlantic Ocean in over-crowded small vessels that were ill suited for long ocean voyages — or even short ones for that matter. And the distance was closer to 200 miles.

The rule was: if the refugees set foot on land they could stay in America. If the U.S. Coast Guard caught them while they were still at sea, they would be sent back to Cuba, to face the brutality of the Fidel Castro regime. The late Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández made the crossing with members of his family. He jumped into the water to save his mother who had fallen overboard. After one of his failed attempts to escape Cuba, Fernández was jailed.

  • He died earlier this year in a boating accident.

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are of Cuban descent. Both ran for president this year, failing against Donald Trump. Rubio’s parents immigrated to the U.S. legally in 1956. Cruz, whose father was born in Cuba, immigrated to the U.S. in 1957 to attend the University of Texas-Austin and then applied for political asylum after Castro came to power.

Over five decades of Cuban refugees coming to America, primarily in the Miami, FL area, created a strong block of voters that opposed any softening of sanctions against the Castro regime. Florida is often a key state in presidential politics and the Cuban vote is a tough constituency for Florida’s politicians. That small block of voters (as compared to the entire U.S. population) is why the Cuban Embargo stayed in place until President Obama made the decision to end it last year. In August 2015 Secretary of State John Kerry was in Havana to open the U.S. Embassy after 54 years.

For at least the past 10 years Fidel’s brother Raul has ruled Cuba, the old dictator to frail to carry on any official duties, although he would occasionally speak to his followers to continue the revolution. Raul’s regime was and is Fidel’s regime and whatever rhetoric Fidel had against the U.S. has continued under Raul Castro. Cuban life has not changed in that regard. And it probably won’t either, as long as Raul Castro remains at the top of the political class in Cuba.

But now the man who brought down the government, who led his small nation against the U.S. for 55 years, the face of everything we hate about communism, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, is now dead.

Contrary to popular belief, Fidel wasn’t universally hated in Cuba. Many Cubans appreciate the great health care system and very good education every Cuban receives. The previous regime was every bit as brutal — maybe more so — as the Castro regime. The worst brutality of the Batiste Regime being the enforced disparity between the economic classes: the “Haves” had so much and the “Have Nots” had so little.

It was the seed of the hatred Castro and his followers had for the U.S. and the American companies — including the Mafia — that supported the Batista regime so they could reap huge profits from Cuban resources, including a tourist industry that was taken over by the same mobsters that started Las Vegas nearly 70 years ago.

Cuba is where the term “The Ugly American” was born in 1948, a description of the average American tourist who went to Cuba and disrespected the people with an arrogance unparalleled by other tourists to the island nation. And the Batista Regime supported it because they received so much money from the Americans as a result of the their collaboration.

The wealth flowing into Cuba went into the bank accounts of the ruling class and the few oligarchs that ran the business of Cuba.

It was the hatred against this regime that Fidel Castro used to fuel his rise to power in the 1950s. It is why Fidel Castro remained popular in Cuba and around Latin America. He represented a challenge to everything the people of the Caribbean region and Central and South America hated about their own totalitarian governments, which were often supported — and even propped up — by the U.S. “Yankee Go Home!” was a cry often heard by American diplomats when visiting South American nations ruled by brutal dictators. Fidel Castro was the remedy for their own brutal realities.

In countries like Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador and even Nicaragua, before the Sandinistas took over and aligned with Castro’s Cuba. They tortured and murdered dissidents by the hundreds of thousands in some cases, supported by the U.S.

On the other hand there are the millions of people in Latin America, inside and outside of Cuba, who hate Fidel Castro and his regime because of its brand of brutal totalitarianism, which in many ways resembles the brutality of the former regime.

The death of Fidel Castro is a big deal to a lot of people in this hemisphere, be they of Hispanic or European descent. It’s a big deal to a lot of nations around the world, especially in Africa, where the Cuban government conducted a lot of humanitarian work — along with its military assistance.

The lasting effects of Fidel Castro will be felt in this country for decades, for as long as the government of Cuba remains as it is. For as long as there are people that remember Castro and hate him — or revere him.

The great truth about Fidel Castro is that he not only outlived the Cold War, he outlived the Cuban Embargo. Begun in January 1961 by President Dwight Eisenhower, it was meant to force the Cubans to either change their ways or their government. If anything it emboldened Castro to continue on, supported for 30 years by the Soviet Union.

For years many cigar smokers — many of whom supported the embargo — either clandestinely ordered their Cuban cigars through Canada or traveled to Mexico, Tijuana for those of us here in California, to get them. One of the quaint and laughable results of the Cuban Embargo. I once even had my sister use the “lade things” in her purse to hide some cigars because the customs wouldn’t search there. But usually they were in my socks or just carried nonchalantly in bags with legitimate Mexican goods.

There was another time one of my sisters absolutely forbid me from taking her teenage son to Tijuana without adult supervision. But it had nothing to do with Cuba or its cigars … a different story

Fidel Castro survived all of that and will now get a national funeral few world leaders receive. Love him or hate him, Castro was one of the most powerful and influential leaders of the late 20th Century. The history between Castro and the U.S. is much larger and far more detailed than this little blog could post, from the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, to the Elián González incident of the 1990s. There were American hijackers who commandeered aircraft and had them flown to Cuba. Castro returned them and their passengers. Castro’s support of terrorist/liberation organizations from Europe to the Middle East — and his government’s many humanitarian policies. There is a lot of history packed into the reign of Fidel Castro.

Born August 13, 1928. Died November 25, 2016, we would normally say “Rest In Peace,” but there are millions who hope he burns in Hell. That is the lasting legacy of Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz.

Top photo: Fidel Castro at the U.N. General Assembly in 1960 (Wikipedia)