Fidel Castro R.I.P.

Written by  //  November 26, 2016  //  Americas, Geopolitics  //  No comments

Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90

fidel-castroMr. Castro’s defiance of American power made him a beacon of resistance in Latin America and elsewhere, and his bushy beard, long Cuban cigar and green fatigues became universal symbols of rebellion.Mr. Castro’s understanding of the power of images, especially on television, helped him retain the loyalty of many Cubans even during the harshest periods of deprivation and isolation when he routinely blamed America and its embargo for many of Cuba’s ills. And his mastery of words in thousands of speeches, often lasting hours, imbued many Cubans with his own hatred of the United States by keeping them on constant watch for an invasion — military, economic or ideological — from the north.
(NYT) Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died on Friday. He was 90.
In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when a serious illness felled him. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.
Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.
He dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.
A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting: “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.
Most people in the crowd had no idea what Mr. Castro planned for Cuba. A master of image and myth, Mr. Castro believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland, an indispensable force with authority from on high to control Cuba and its people.
He wielded power like a tyrant, controlling every aspect of the island’s existence. He was Cuba’s “Máximo Lider.” From atop a Cuban Army tank, he directed his country’s defense at the Bay of Pigs. Countless details fell to him, from selecting the color of uniforms that Cuban soldiers wore in Angola to overseeing a program to produce a superbreed of milk cows. He personally set the goals for sugar harvests. He personally sent countless men to prison.
But it was more than repression and fear that kept him and his totalitarian government in power for so long. He had both admirers and detractors in Cuba and around the world. Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms; many others hailed him as the crowds did that first night, as a revolutionary hero for the ages.

A personal footnote
Our great friend,  New York Times foreign correspondent and author Tad Szulc, wrote Fidel: A Critical Portrait. Tad is credited with breaking the story of the Bay of Pigs invasion. (Tad Szulc, 74, Dies; Times Correspondent Who Uncovered Bay of Pigs Imbroglio)
“Never before has any biographer had such close access to Fidel Castro as did Tad Szulc. The outcome of a long, direct relationship, this riveting portrait reveals astonishing and exclusive information about Cuba, the revolution, and the notorious, larger-than-life leader who has ruled his country with an iron fist for more than forty years.
Only Tad Szulc could bring Fidel to such vivid life–the loves and losses of the man, the devious tactics of the conspirator, the triumphs and defeats of the revolutionary leader who challenged an American president and brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster.
From Jesuit schools to jungle hideouts and the Palace of the Revolution, here is Fidel…The Untold Story.” Amazon

Postscript: Fidel Castro, 1926-2016

(The New Yorker) Fidel Castro has died. Few political leaders of modern times have been as iconic or as enduring as the Cuban revolutionary, who had turned ninety in August. He had been formally retired since 2008—he had handed power over to his younger brother Raúl two years before, after falling seriously ill—but he had ruled as Cuba’s jefe máximo for no less than forty-nine years, and he remained Cuba’s undisputed revolutionary patriarch until his death.
Fidel had been frail for some time. His last public appearance, in April, at the Cuban Communist Party Congress that was convened shortly after President Obama’s historic trip to Havana, had the air of a final leave-taking. In his address, a short, shaky speech in which he struggled to pronounce his words, Fidel mentioned his upcoming birthday and said that “soon I’ll be like all the others.” Many of the Communist Party delegates present wept as they listened to him. …
Fidel was at the center stage of world events for an extraordinary sweep of time. He seized power in the age of Dwight Eisenhower and remained there until George W. Bush’s second term in office. He has died in the waning days of the Presidency of Barack Obama, the first American President in all that time to travel to Havana, an event that took place after he and Raúl negotiated a diplomatic breakthrough in 2014. Fidel did not meet with Obama when he came to Cuba, and the American President’s visit was, in a real sense, final proof that Fidel’s era had truly ended. …
In a column he published shortly after Obama’s visit, Fidel questioned the breeziness of Obama’s appeal to Cubans to “forget the past and look to the future.” He ranted about how Cuba’s past was rife with episodes of American-inspired or -conducted acts of violence, ones that could not be forgotten. He added, pridefully, that Cuba’s revolution had little to learn from the Yankees, and no need of their charity, either. “We don’t need the Empire to give us anything,” he wrote. The effect of Fidel’s grumbling helped foster an official Cuban backlash to Obama’s outreach.
Fidel’s death has come just eight weeks before Donald Trump assumes the U.S. Presidency. Among other things, Trump has promised conservative Cuban-Americans in Miami that he will roll back Obama’s policy initiatives with Cuba, which are aimed at forging closer links through increased American tourism and business deals. Critics of Obama’s approach argue that such blandishments have merely helped shore up a repugnant communist regime. If Trump goes through with his promises, the two countries will likely return to the wary, indefinite standoff that had defined their relationship ever since Fidel launched his socialist revolution and made Cuba a front-line state in the Cold War. Whatever happens to the fragile new U.S.-Cuban relationship, it is a noteworthy irony that its main skeptics were led by Fidel, on the one hand, and by his archenemies in Miami on the other.

Jeremy Kinsman: Fidel’s death a reminder of the special Canada-Cuba bond
Trudeau’s unabashed praise of the late Cuban leader reflects a special relationship between the two countries — one that needs reinforcing as Cuba faces a period of great change.
(Open Canada) Canadians have always been welcome in Cuba. Now our friendship needs to support the success of their transition. The regime has cautiously softened and lightened its grip, releasing political prisoners of conscience, but is wary about the pace and extent of change. We need to hope that as Cubans choose to build their democratic potential, they will manage to retain their civility and communitarian engagement as their island opens up to influences from outside, both liberating and damaging.
As Cubans look toward el Norte they will find that Canadians have much to offer, including the example of a working and inclusive democracy whose image is less tarnished than others in the neighbourhood. In return, we can discover the merits of partnership with one of the world’s most wonderful peoples.

Justin Trudeau’s Statement On Fidel Castro Criticized By Politicians
The prime minister is facing criticism at home and abroad for his statement expressing “deep sorrow” about the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.
Justin Trudeau, who recently returned from a diplomatic visit to Cuba, made the statement early Saturday after the announcement that Castro had died at the age of 90
Trudeau acknowledged the late president was a “controversial figure,” but remembered him as a “larger-than-life leader,” who made significant improvements to Cuba’s education and health-care systems.
“A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation,” Trudeau said.
“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend,” he added.

In Havana, Castro’s Death Lays Bare a Generation Gap
With the departure of Cuba’s epic revolutionary in green fatigues, at the age of 90, the residents of Havana have not erupted so much as moved into their own emotional corners. All over this city on Saturday, indifference and relief stood side by side with sorrow and surprise as the conflicts that characterized Fidel Castro in life continued to reverberate after his death.

World leaders reacted to Fidel Castro’s death. Condolences varied greatly in tone. Canada’s Justin Trudeau and India’s Narendra Modi called Castro a friend and mourned his loss, while other leaders, like Barack Obama, were more circumspect, and US president-elect Donald Trump launched a full-on tirade against his dictatorship.

In the interest of publishing (highly) dissenting opinion
Trudeau’s turn from cool to laughing stock
Terry Glavin on how Justin Trudeau’s lament for the dictator Fidel Castro confirmed every lampoon of the prime minister’s foreign-policy vacuity
(Maclean’s) It was Trudeau’s maudlin panegyric on the death of Fidel Castro that kicked it off, and there is a strangely operatic quality to the sequence of events that brings us to this juncture. When Trudeau made his public debut in fashionable society 16 years ago, with his “Je t’aime, papa!” encomium at the gala funeral of his father in Montreal, Fidel Castro himself was there among the celebrities, as an honorary pallbearer, lending a kind of radical frisson to the event. Now it’s all come full circle.
Times have changed, and the Trudeau family’s bonds with the Castro family, first cultivated while Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and carefully nurtured during the years that followed, now seem somehow unhygienic. Greasy, even. Definitely not cool.
“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest-serving president,” Trudeau’s statement begins, going on to celebrate Castro as a “larger than life” personality who served his people. He was “a legendary revolutionary and orator” whose people loved him, and who worked wonders for Cuban education and health care.
A “controversial figure,” sure, but: “I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother, President Raúl Castro, during my recent visit to Cuba. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
And so, from far-off Antananarivo, Madagascar, where he was attending the 80-government gathering of La Francophonie, Trudeau’s lament for the last of the Cold War dictators ended up confirming every wicked caricature of his own vacuity and every lampoon of the Trudeau government’s foreign-policy lack of seriousness.
Twitter lit up with hilarious mockeries under the hashtag #trudeaueulogies. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wanted to know whether Trudeau’s statement came from a parody account. The impeccably liberal Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine, called Trudeau’s praise of Castro “a sad statement for the leader of a democracy to make.”

MORE: #TrudeauEulogies trends after controversial Castro statement

Whether or not Trudeau saw any of this coming, he didn’t appear to notice that he was delivering a speech to La Francophonie delegates in Madagascar that emphasized justice for lesbian, gay and transgender people, while from the other side of his mouth he was praising the legacy of a caudillo who spent the first decade of his rule rounding up gay people for “re-education” in labour camps. Homosexuals were irredeemably bourgeois maricones and agents of imperialism, Castro once explained.
To be perfectly fair, Trudeau did allow that Castro was a “controversial figure,” and nothing in his remarks was as explicit as the minor classic in the genre of dictator-worship that his brother Alexandre composed for the Toronto Star 10 years ago. Alexandre described Castro as “something of a superman. . . an expert on genetics, on automobile combustion engines, on stock markets. On everything.” As for the Cuban people: “They do occasionally complain, often as an adolescent might complain about a too strict and demanding father.”
This kind of Disco Generation stupidity about Castro has been commonplace in establishment circles in Canada since Pierre’s time, and neither Alexandre’s gringo-splaining nor Justin’s aptitude for eulogy are sufficient to gloss over the many things Cubans have every right to complain about.
Any political activity outside the Communist Party of Cuba is a criminal offence. Political dissent of any kind is a criminal offence. Dissidents are spied on, harassed and roughed up by the Castros’ neighbourhood vigilante committees. Freedom of movement is non-existent. Last year, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented 8,616 cases of politically motivated arbitrary arrest. For all our Prime Minister’s accolades about Cuba’s health care system, basic medicines are scarce to non-existent. For all the claims about high literacy rates, Cubans are allowed to read only what the Castro crime family allows.
Raul Castro’s son Alejandro is the regime’s intelligence chief. His son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, runs the Cuban military’s business operations, which now account for 60 per cent of the Cuban economy. The Castro regime owns and control the Cuban news media, which is adept at keeping Cubans in the dark. It wasn’t until 1999, for instance, that Cubans were permitted to know the details of Fidel’s family life: five sons they’d never heard of, all in their thirties.
Independent publications are classified as “enemy propaganda.” Citizen journalists are harassed and persecuted as American spies. Reporters Without Borders ranks Cuba at 171 out of 180 countries in press freedom, worse than Iran, worse than Saudi Arabia, worse than Zimbabwe.
So fine, let’s overlook the 5,600 Cubans Fidel Castro executed by firing squad, the 1,200 known to have been liquidated in extrajudicial murders, the tens of thousands dispatched to forced labour camps, or the fifth of the Cuban population that was either driven into the sea or fled the country in terror.
What is not so easy to overlook is that Fidel and Raúl Castro reneged on their promise of a return to constitutional democracy and early elections following the overthrow of the tyrant Fulgencio Batista. The Castros betrayed the revolutionary democrats and patriots who poured into Havana with them on that glorious January day in 1959. The Castros waged war on them in the Escambray Mountains until their final defeat in 1965, four full years after John F. Kennedy’s half-baked Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
After he solidified his base in Cuba’s Stalinist party–which had been allied with Batista, Castro’s apologists tend to conveniently forget, until the final months of 1958–Fidel Castro delivered Cuba to Moscow as a Soviet satrapy. He then pushed Russia to the brink of nuclear war with the United States in the terrifying 13-day Missile Crisis of 1962.
For all the parochial Canadian susceptibility to the propaganda myth that pits a shabby-bearded rebel in olive fatigues against the imperialist American hegemon, by the time he died on Friday night Castro was one of the richest men in Latin America. Ten years ago, when he was handing the presidency to Raúl, Forbes magazine calculated that Fidel’s personal wealth was already nearly a billion dollars.
In his twilight years, Castro was enjoying himself at his gaudy 30-hectare Punto Cero estate in Havana’s suburban Jaimanitas district, or occasionally retreating to his private yacht, or to his beachside house in Cayo Piedra, or to his house at La Caleta del Rosario with its private marina, or to his duck-hunting chalet at La Deseada.
Fidel Castro was not merely the “controversial figure” of Justin Trudeau’s encomium. He was first and foremost a traitor to the Cuban revolution. On that count alone, Castro’s death should not be mourned. It should be celebrated, loudly and happily.

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