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And the age of revolution died with him.
Loved and respected by many, hated by some, there is no questioning that Fidel played a pivotal role in shaping the world in which we currently live.
François Hollande, president of France, called him a “towering figure of the 20th Century”. And so he was.
At least in the halls of American power. For more than 50 years, Fidel was the bane of Washington’s reach and influence in Latin America. Despite numerous attempts to dislodge him – dozens of assassination attempts and failed beach landings, Fidel and his revolution outlasted 10 presidents.
They condemned him, lambasted his Communist/Marxist ideology, urged his people to rise up and slapped sanctions upon sanctions on the island but to no avail. Many of them are long gone and buried, and their vitriol with them.
Theorists may ultimately argue that Washington’s inability – or unwillingness – to look past the loss of its holdings in Cuba due to Fidel’s nationalization drive helped solidify the charismatic leader firmly in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.
By 1963, and following the fiasco of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-Communist Cubans living in Florida, it seemed the US would bear the brunt of its power to dislodge Fidel. The Soviet Union thought it a sound policy to protect his independence by deploying nuclear missiles to the island.
The world came close to a nuclear confrontation until both Soviet and US leaders reached an agreement: the missiles were withdrawn and the US would not invade Cuba.
Ultimately, it wasn’t US policy or presidential threats or the assassin’s bullet that brought Fidel down – it was the inescapability of old age – and in that el commandante is likely to continue to influence emerging nations around the world.
Place in history
In 1953, Fidel stood in court following a failed uprising and said that history would ultimately absolve him.
Sixty-three years later upon hearing of his death, US President Barack Obama said that “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him”.
To his credit, and much too Fidel’s, Obama was the first US president that significantly moved past the enmity of the past and restored relations between Havana and Washington. They reopened embassies last year amid much media fanfare although many of Washington’s restrictions and sanctions remain in place.
For many around the world, such as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Fidel was a great friend. As a strong supporter of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of countries, many of which were fending off neo-colonialism, Fidel became close with India’s leaders.
Indian media now recalls how he gave a very surprised Indira Ghandi, the late Prime Minister, a bear hug at the 1983 NAM summit hosted by India.
He rushed to the aid of countries particularly in Africa, such as Algeria (then free from French colonialism) and Angola, emerging from the yoke of imperialism and oligarchy, and still struggling under the weight of Western influenced globalization and conglomeration.
He sent tens of thousands of troops, military experts, doctors and teachers to aid Angola in its fight for independence when it was invaded by then Apartheid South Africa. Eventually, Cuban influence in Africa helped Namibia gain independence.
He was also very close with Africa’s ‘towering’ icon of freedom Nelson Mandela. The two could have been ideological twins, both reared in their strong anti-colonialist, pro-independence zeal for their own countries as well as others.
Fidel’s successful revolution inspired Madiba. Madiba’s convictions despite imprisonment would in turn inspire Fidel.
During the dual sanctions imposed on Iraq and Iran in the 1990s, Fidel maintained his friendship with both countries, boosting trade and technology ties with Baghdad and Tehran much to the ire of Western nations such as the UK and US.
Despite the debilitating sanctions regimen, which wiped out Iraq’s pharmaceutical industry, Cuba made sure to supply the country with its advanced medical expertise as well as much-needed medicines.
Fidel was inevitably bound to be a mentor to such socialist revolutionaries as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, amid countless others who believe they are standing up to Washington-influenced hegemony in Latin America.
He would come to rely on Venezuela’s riches (back when oil was over $110 a barrel) to help sustain him through the past 20 years; his main benefactor the USSR had faded into oblivion and was replaced with a weakened, and impoverished Russia at the time.
He also opened up the island to foreign tourists – while Americans could not visit, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have seized on the warm relations between Havana and Ottawa and visited Cuba.
Those who knew Fidel well will remember his powerful oratory skills, imbued from his childhood and on display until shortly before his death. With his arms waving before him, his impassioned speeches reportedly could last for 12 hours.
At the end, Cubans in the country and beyond will remember the enigmatic leader both as beloved revolutionary icon and as a dictator.
In Miami, the Cuban-American heartland, many have been celebrating Fidel’s death. Those attending street parties and drinking champagne supported President-elect Donald Trump because of his hardline position on Cuba.
“Fidel Castro is dead!” Trump tweeted on Saturday before calling him a brutal dictator.