by Domenic DeMasi / Log Social Media Manager
Over 600 assassination attempts and countless cigars later, former Cuban President and socialist revolutionary Fidel Castro passed away at the age of 90 on November 26th. Castro, who was equally praised as he was vilified, was no doubt one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. While many in the West celebrated the death of a “ruthless tyrant”, the Global South mourned the death of a “liberator of the oppressed”.
In 1959, the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro succeeded in overthrowing the US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and then established a new socialist system for the country. Ruling for the next 47 years as Cuba’s President, Castro helped vastly improve the living conditions of the long exploited Cuban people. Castro radically transformed Cuba by almost completely eradicating illiteracy, unemployment, and homelessness, and providing free education and healthcare to the Cuban people. Because of these efforts, Cuba has some of the best trained doctors and medical professionals in the world, which helps explain
why the country has “an infant mortality rate of 4.2 per thousand births”, which is a lower rate than the United States, according to the Huffington Post. Another significant triumph, noted by Common Dreams, was when “the World Wildlife Fund, a leading global environmental organization, determined that Cuba was the only country in the world to have achieved sustainable development”.
Fidel Castro’s efforts to defeat imperialism and improve the lives of working people didn’t stop at Cuba’s borders, however. He launched countless international humanitarian and military initiatives to assist other countries struggling in the fight against imperialism and capitalism. Cuba’s very first internationalist mission was in 1961 by “providing assistance to Algeria’s National Liberation Front fighting against French colonialism”, which helped Algeria gain its independence just a year later after fighting a long and bitter eight-year war, reported TeleSur. Not long after Angola won its independence from Portugal in 1975, civil war broke out and apartheid South Africa invaded in an attempt to topple the Marxist government there. Desperate for assistance, Cuba aided the MPLA government against the right-wing counterrevolutionaries, UNITA and FNLA, and the racist South African armed forces. During Cuba’s 15-year operation, TeleSur reports that “more than 2,000 Cubans died defending Angolan independence and the freedom and right of self-determination of the peoples of southern Africa”. Cuban military assistance in Angola was crucial for the collapse of the apartheid regime.
Cuba also supported anti-Zionist struggles in the Middle East providing military assistance to Arab forces fighting against Israel in both the War Of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. Furthermore, as Middle East Eye reports, “Cuba also sent military advisers to the coastal enclave of Dhofar to aid Marxist-Leninist militants in their fight against the Omani sultanate, and armed and trained the Polisario Front in its struggle in Western Sahara against Morocco”. In Latin America, the country provided military support to several leftist movements inspired by the Cuban Revolution such as Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Front For National Liberation in Nicaragua.
But Cuba has not only sent fighters and weapons to assist countries abroad, they have also sent thousands of doctors and aid workers to combat diseases, illiteracy, and poverty. For example, according to TeleSur, after providing military support to Angola, “Cuba continued to assist Angola with teaching programs like “Yes, I can,” which has taught more than a million Angolans how to read and write, as well as provided medical and exchange programs.” Cuba has never stopped providing this medical and educational assistance to countries throughout the Third World. “Currently, nearly 30,000 Cuban medical staff are working in over 60 countries around the world” according to the Huffington Post.
It cannot be forgotten however, that Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution did have some major flaws. Human Rights Watch recently released a report describing the repression political opponents have endured in Cuba, stating that “thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms”. The human rights watchdog also reported that “under Fidel Castro, the Cuban government refused to recognize the legitimacy of Cuban human rights organizations, alternative political parties, independent labor unions, or a free press”. However, given the well-documented history of the CIA’s covert operations in Latin America that have been responsible for the removal of democratically elected socialist leaders like Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954 and Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why the Cuban government has behaved this way. Castro’s fears of a coup were certainly legitimized by the CIA’s botched Bay Of Pigs invasion in 1961.
These criticisms however, while legitimate, are constantly utilized by the United States and other Western governments to discredit the achievements of the Cuban Revolution. As Common Dreams notes “the U.S. government criticizes civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding Cubans’ superior access to universal housing, health care, education and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal-pay rates”. The repressive nature of Castro’s Cuba certainly needs to change, and hopefully Fidel’s death may begin a new chapter in the Revolution that sparks such a change, but these criticisms made by the US government by no means indicate that the US is a human rights champion. If the US truly stood for human rights in Cuba, they wouldn’t have supported the dictatorship there prior to the revolution. In fact, after the Cuban Revolution, while the US continued its relentless political and economic assault on Cuba, it was supporting dictators with far worse human rights records across the globe, in Indonesia, Congo, Chile, Nicaragua, Chad, Brazil, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the list goes on.
What makes Fidel Castro the exception? It certainly wasn’t because he oversaw a repressive government as they so claim. It should be obvious that the United States only stands to defend human rights where it is convenient. What made Fidel Castro universally loathed in the US was his ability to defy the American Empire. It was because he was the first Latin American leader to defeat American imperialism. It was because he was the first Latin American leader to serve the interests of his people and not the interests of the United States or big business. It was because his success inspired other national liberation movements across the world to follow in his footsteps. Once people understand this, they can understand the true reasons why the US and the West despised Fidel Castro.
Now just one question remains: Will history absolve him?