See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

‘History Will Absolve Me': Fidel Castro Dies at 90

Fidel Castro meets cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Havana in 1961. Creative Commons.

Fidel Castro meets cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Havana in 1961. Creative Commons.

The founder of the Cuban Revolution and president of Cuba for almost 50 years, Fidel Castro, died on the night of Friday, November 25, in Havana. He was 90 years old.

After Castro and the guerrilla movement he began forming in 1952 made several  attempts at destabilizing the increasingly repressive Cuban government, “El Comandante” (The Commander), as he was called by many, stormed the presidential palace on New Year's Day in 1959, defeating longtime US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

He ruled Cuba under a one-party system until he stepped away from power in 2008 allowing brother Raul Castro to succeed him as President of the Republic.

In Latin America and beyond, Fidel has held an almost mythical status for leftist revolutionary movements for over half a century. Since his 1959 inaugural speech in which a white dove perched upon his shoulder, parallels between Fidel and religious leaders have inspired believers and historians alike. He has become a figure of legend, arguably as much for those who revere him as for those who reject his legitimacy as a leader.

Billboard in Cuba. Photo by Jim Snapper. (CC BY 2.0)

Billboard in Cuba: “TO FIGHT AGAINST THE IMPOSSIBLE AND WIN.” Photo by Jim Snapper. (CC BY 2.0)

Under Fidel's rule, Cuba became the first country in post-colonial Latin America to refuse economic aid from the United States and unequivocally defy its political agenda in the region. In the 1960s and '70s, Cuba became a leader in universal education and healthcare systems, women's rights, and in providing medical relief in the aftermaths of natural disasters in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Under Fidel's command, Cuba also provided significant military support for anti-colonial and socialist uprisings in countries including Angola, Nicaragua and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Simultaneous to the radical innovations of the Cuban revolution, the Castro government's endemic state censorship, jailing and persecution of dissidents, anti-LGBT policies and hypercentralized economic model were equally prominent features of his rule.

Castro was also known for his fiery, passionate and very long speeches. In one of his most famous addresses, he challenged his critics: “Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me.”

Cuba suffered the consequences of a punitive and controversial US-imposed economic embargo from the 1960s, a policy that became a prominent weapon in the political and ideological arsenals of both the US and Cuban governments. For decades, Cuban government and intelligence agencies have routinely thwarted US government efforts to infiltrate or overthrow the Castro government.

After the fall of Soviet Union in 1989 the island entered what was called “The Special Period in Times of Peace,” in which the sudden lack of support from the USSR brought severe economic hardship to the country. Economic reforms of the 1990s generated more opportunity for industries such as tourism to take hold. For some Cubans this represented a breach of the socialist contract of the Revolution; for others, it was a necessary step to preventing the country from going into a complete economic meltdown.

US President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro normalized diplomatic relations in 2014, but the embargo can only be officially ended by the US Congress where the Republican party controls a majority of seats.

The Cuban government has announced nine days of national mourning and a series of tributes.

Revered and despised in perhaps equal measure, what few would contest is Fidel Castro's status as a towering figure in modern world history.

  • Pingback: ‘History Will Absolve Me': Fidel Castro Dies at 90 | Freedom, Justice, Equality News()

  • Roberto Fiad

    “History Will Absolve him?” It depends on who wrote the history and history can be revised. Will the truth absolve him? That depends too. Did he accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior? History, well, history can neither condemn nor absolve. If he repented to Jesus, then he’ll be absolved. If he died without repenting, then he’ll spend eternity as a cursed human spirit. Will Communist history absolve him, will Howard Zinn’s People’s History absolve him? Sure both sets of history will. But then, so what?

  • Eugene Cherny

    The only good communist dictator is a dead communist dictator. Wish i had opportunity to spit on his grave. Castro now has the opportunity to explain his actions to a higher authority, which may not absolve him as readily as the fashionable left.

  • Allen Thomas

    I notice that no one seems to mention conditions in Cuba previous to the revolution that put Castro in power. It was typical of Latin America; a tiny fraction of the population owned and controlled the country while the vast majority teetered on the edge of starvation. It was the US’ brothel.
    The people cheering Castro’s demise are, for the most part, descendants of those Cubans who lost their positions of wealth and power and finally found themselves being mistreated and degraded in their turn. No sympathy for them here. Most of them deserved that and more.
    Fidel Castro was a remarkable man in many respects, certainly much more so than any leader we’ve had here in the US in living memory.

  • Pingback: The Caribbean Says Goodbye to the Force Behind the Cuban Revolution · Global Voices @soynadieorg | Soynadie Photo Press()

Our work building bridges across cultures, languages and perspectives is more urgent than ever before.

Learn more about Global Voices »

Donate now

Close