Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fidel Castro, 1926-2016

So he's finally dead.

I don't know where to begin with this post, because the reaction to Castro's death has devolved into predictable fault lines. People are roasting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's tribute? Condolence message? Colin Kaepernick stepped in it- yet again. (ESPN's Dan Lebetard actually had something interesting to say about it.) There's a range of reaction out there, but I suppose if I have to begin somewhere, it would probably be with my email address.

Many moons ago, in the distant past, I think I went with a Yahoo.com account that was something like boristhatr1983 or some such idiocy. I have no idea if the address still exists or not, but eventually I transitioned over to Hotmail, which I still have and went randomly with fidelmags1979, once again throwing two world leaders that had always fascinated me together with a random yet to well, get what you get. Fidel Castro has always fascinated me for some reason...  I don't know if it was the outlandish assassination attempts the CIA used to try and kill him. I don't know if it was just his sheer capacity for defiance and survival in the face of one of the world's two superpowers ninety miles to the north of him. I can't really place it- I have- or had, a biography on Castro by Tad Szluc kicking around someplace, but I can't seem to find it.

What strikes me though, is this: I think it's possible to recognize the impact that Castro had on 20th Century history without having any illusions about the kind of regime he ran. People seem to be under the impression that it's got to be one or the other- but it can be both. When the future historians sit down to right the history of the 20th Century, Castro will be right in there. Whether history will absolve him, as he predicted, is another question entirely, but what he did- whether you agree with it or not, shook his corner of the world in ways that are still being felt today. Until I got to college- other than finding out how Che Guevara bit the dust, I had no idea that Cuba was so active in exporting it's revolution- I didn't know Cuba had intervened militarily in Angola at all. It's dangerous to get into the prediction business, but I think if you look at the arc of Latin American history you could mark the argument that Castro might turn out to be the most significant historical figure in Latin America since maybe Simon Bolivar.

But let's not have any illusions about the guy either. He was a dictator- he may have been a charming and telegenic one, but he was a dictator and life isn't all that ticklish for people in Cuba, despite the attractive t-shirts they sell* and hipster hang-wringing over the need to visit to Cuba before 'it gets ruined.' You don't think it's a dictatorship? Talk to the Ladies In White. You think he's not a tyrant? I would refer you to the Mariel Boatlift, where he charmingly emptied his prisons and sent all the people therein to Florida. Because that's what good neighbors do. Did we mention the epidemic of blindness in the 90s that affected over 50,000 Cubans due to vitamin deficiencies? The LGBT community down there didn't have an easy time of it- and let's not even talk about racism in his socialist paradise either. Nothing to see here, after all.

He wanted to free Cuba from the influence of the United States. Well, Mission Accomplished. He outlasted ten US Presidents that would have happily seen him overthrown in some form or another- either through more overt means during the Cold War or through gradual economic means in recent decades. That's impressive.

But at the end of the day, he was a Dictator. He's now dead. I'm not going to be particularly upset by that fact.

I just hope that his death means that Cuba is one step closer to the end of their dictatorship.

*One of the delightful ironies of Castro and Che is that their image adorns t-shirts that are brought and sold in capitalist countries across the world. Unless you made that Che t-shirt yourself, you're missing the point of what they were about.

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