Leader of Cuban revolution embraced communism, defied US for decades and lived in relative seclusion in his final years.
(Aljazeera) — Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the US, has died aged 90.
Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and current president of Cuba, announced his death on state television in Havana early on Saturday.
The leader of the 1959 revolution, which overthrew the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, defied the US efforts to topple him for five decades, before ill health led him to make way for his brother Raul, 84, in 2006.
In his final years, Fidel lived in relative seclusion, but occasionally wrote opinion pieces or appeared meeting with visiting dignitaries.
Al Jazeera’s Latin America Editor Lucia Newman, reporting from Santiago in Chile, said Castro’s death hardly came as a surprise.
“He has been a larger-than-life figure who inspired a revolutionary movement all over the world, especially in Latin America,” she said.
“As time went by, we heard less and less from Fidel Castro. We all knew he had been ill for a decade and not been seen since August after his birthday, which was celebrated across the country.
“His death is going to have an enormous emotional impact on Cubans. It does really feel like the beginning of the end of the Castro era.”
Many Havana residents reacted with sadness to the news.
“I am very upset. Whatever you want to say, he is a public figure who was respected and loved,” Sariel Valdespino, a student, said.
In contrast, exiled Cubans in Florida celebrated his death in the streets of Miami’s Little Havana.
Videos posted on social media showed people opening bottles of champagne, honking their car horns and banging on pots and pans.
The US government spent more than $1bn trying to kill, undermine or otherwise force Castro from power, but he endured unscathed before old age and disease finally took him.
His supporters in Havana described him as a tireless defender of the poor.
Castro was “a giant of the Third World”, said Agustin Diaz Cartaya, 85, who joined Castro in the 1953 attack in eastern Cuba that launched the revolution.
“No one has done more for the Third World than Fidel Castro.”
What critics said
Critics say Castro drove the country into economic ruin, denied basic freedoms to 11 million Cubans at home and forced more than a million others into exile.
“In 55 years, the Cuban government has not done anything to help the Cuban people in terms of human rights,” said Hector Maseda, 72, a former political prisoner who lives in Havana. “I don’t believe in this regime. I don’t trust it.”
Doubtless, Castro leaves a legacy that will be hotly debated for years to come.
For five decades, he worked to turn the island nation into a place of equality and social justice.
His government produced tens of thousands of doctors and teachers and some of the lowest infant mortality and illiteracy rates in the Western hemisphere.
But Cuba never shook off its dependence on foreign dollars and the state-run economy failed to bring prosperity to most Cubans.
Mexicans pay tribute to Fidel Castro
“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us any more,” Castro admitted in 2010, startling a visiting US journalist.
The US had tried for years to topple the Cuban government. Cuba stumbled along, even after the collapse of its chief sponsor, the former Soviet Union.
The CIA plotted to assassinate Castro using everything from exploding seashells to lethal fungus, American officials cut off almost all trade to Cuba, and they financed dissidents and pro-democracy activists.
But nothing worked during 11 successive administrations, from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama.
On December 17, 2014, Obama announced that the US planned to renew diplomatic ties with Cuba and loosen some trade and travel restrictions.
Obama’s critics were angered, saying he was throwing a lifeline to the socialist government and undermining the work of democracy activists who are regularly arrested and beaten.
Obama pledged to continue supporting democracy activists in Cuba, but said the US embargo had not worked and legislators should lift it.
As part of the deal he struck with Cuba, the US agreed to send three Cuban spies back to the island in exchange for jailed American development worker Alan Gross and Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban agent who spied for the CIA.
People & Power – Cuba for Sale
Source: Al Jazeera News and News Agencies
Fidel Castro and Mengistu Hailemariam
Saturday, August 13, 2016 – Abyot – The Lost Revolution
Today marks the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro, undisputed leader of the Cuban revolution that triumphed in 1959. An analysis of the Cuban revolution is certainly outside the scope of this blog, but Cuba played a central role in the consolidation of Mengistu’s power in 1977 and 1978, so I felt it would not be out of place to note this historical milestone here.
To be completely honest I am deeply conflicted about Fidel. I celebrate the achievements of Castro’s Cuba, a bastion of world revolution separated by only a few short miles of water from the most deadly imperialist power the world has known. Certainly Cuba under Castro’s leadership made some great achievements, along with a few mistakes. Castro’s “Declarations of Havana” speeches from the early 1960s are absolutely canonical examples of brilliant anti-imperialist oratory. But it must be said that Castro’s version of Marxism-Leninism is a deeply revisionist one, and Cuba’s revolutionary praxis has always been tarred by these distortions and especially by its relationship with the Soviet Union. Is Castroism actually a path to socialism? One suspects the diplomatic rapprochement with the United States and the coming inevitable passing of power to a younger generation of Cubans will determine quite a lot on that score.
To be sure, Soviet aid was probably a key factor in the survival of the Cuban revolution; though it came at quite a cost. Cuba became an instrument of Soviet foreign policy. In the instance of Angola, Cuban forces helped defeat the armies of apartheid in the field. But in Ethiopia, Cuba’s stated goal was the defense of a revolution against the foreign, imperialist-backed threat of Somali invasion while the result was not only the defeat of Somalia but the betrayal of the Eritrean independence struggle and the consolidation of a ruthlessly repressive regime. Castro’s rallying to the defense of Mengistu came at the exact moment when Mengistu’s “Red Terror” against his domestic left-wing opponents was at full-swing. The bullet-riddled bodies of young leftists were being left in the streets, and the prisons were full of torture and blood. Among those leftists were those who had been deeply inspired by the Cuban revolution and especially its leading member, the heroic guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara. To me, Castro’s involvement with Mengistu is the bitter stain, frankly, of betrayal.
Here are some excerpts from a fascinating document. The Wilson Center maintains a website of declassified diplomatic documents from the Soviet bloc. Among them is an extensive collection of documents relating to the Ethiopia-Somalia conflict. In part these documents reveal furious efforts behind the scenes to forestall the war between two nominally socialist nations. In the Spring of 1977 Castro himself engaged in shuttle diplomacy, visiting both Mengistu and Somali leader Mohammed Siad Barre. These excerpts are from a transcript of a conversation between Castro and East German leader Erich Honecker that took place in Berlin in April of 1977 reporting on his visit to East Africa. I thought Castro’s appreciation of the events of February where Mengistu eliminated PMAC leader Teferi Benti was absolutely fascinating and revealing. Also, I did not expect to hear Castro explicitly renounce the longstanding Cuban support of the Eritrean struggle, but he pretty much does just that. These words are Fidel Castro’s:
“The next day I flew on to Ethiopia. We had earlier agreed that there would be no great reception for me, since at the time they were still fighting the civil war. Shots constantly rang out. Mengistu took me to the old Imperial Palace and the negotiations began on the spot. I found the information that I already had to be confirmed. We continued our negotiations on the following day. Naturally we had to take extensive security precautions. The Ethiopians had come up with a division, and I had brought a company of Cuban soldiers with me. The day of my arrival there were rumors of a coup. It did not happen….
Mengistu strikes me as a quiet, serious, and sincere leader who is aware of the power of the masses. He is an intellectual personality who showed his wisdom on 3 February. The rightists wanted to do away with the leftists on 3 February. The prelude to this was an exuberant speech by the Ethiopian president in favor of nationalism. Mengistu preempted this coup. He called the meeting of the Revolutionary Council one hour early and had the rightist leaders arrested and shot. A very consequential decision was taken on 3 February in Ethiopia. The political landscape of the country changed, which has enabled them to take steps that were impossible before then. Before it was only possible to support the leftist forces indirectly, now we can do so without any constraints….
Above all we must do something for Mengistu. Already we are collecting old weapons in Cuba for Ethiopia, principally French, Belgian and Czech hand-held weapons. About 45,000 men must be supplied with weapons. We are going to send military advisers to train the Ethiopian militia in weapons-use. There are many people in Ethiopia who are qualified for the army. We are supporting the training of the militia. Meanwhile the situation in Eritrea is difficult. There are also progressive people in the liberation movement, but, objectively,they are playing a reactionary role. The Eritrean separatist movement is being supported by the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Ethiopia has good soldiers and a good military tradition, but they need time to organize their army. Mengistu asked us for 100 trainers for the militia, now he is also asking us for military advisers to build up regular units. Our military advisory group is active at the staff level. The Ethiopians have economic means and the personnel necessary to build up their army. Rumors have been spread lately that the reactionaries will conquer Asmara in two months. The revolution in Ethiopia is of great significance.”