It was an intriguing event — crowds of Cuban-Americans and Cuban exiles gathered early Saturday morning in a neighborhood known as Little Havana in Miami, Florida shortly after finding out the former prime minister of Cuba, Fidel Castro, had died.
Castro, who ruled over Cuba for over five decades and who according to Cuban officials, survived over 600 assassination attempts, died at 90.
The celebration may seem objectionable to those unaware of the Cuban leader’s extensive political career; however, the festivities that have taken place since Saturday are valid in my eyes.
The man was a dictator, an evil man. The revolution and change he promised to bring to the island before taking control of Cuba in 1958 turned out to be yet another one-party dictatorship — gulags and political censorship included.
As reported in an article for CNN titled, “Crowds flood streets of Miami’s Little Havana to cheer Castro’s death” by Laura Smith-Spark and Jose Manuel Rodriguez, people were chanting “freedom” and “libertad” while holding up Cuban flags and banging pots and pans celebrating Castro’s death.
Yet, Castro did have his supporters — mostly citizens of Cuba unaware of the basic rights they are deprived of.
The Cuban population seems divided between those mourning Castro’s death and those taking to the streets to celebrate. Hordes of Castro supporters are, indeed, grateful for the health and educational services that his regime brought to the island nation.
Many give Castro credit for Cuba’s literacy rate which currently stands at an impressive 99.8 percent, according to the website World Atlas.
Others — particularly Cuban-Americans and exiles — understand the great suffering that the island nation endures year after year under the totalitarian regime.
Food shortages in the country are commonplace. As a result of the government’s rationing of food, many Cuban citizens struggle to make basic staples such as eggs and milk last more than a few days.
Castro, who successfully overthrew Fulgencio Batista’s quarter-century dictatorship in 1959, promised to share the country’s wealth with the destitute Cuban population; however, he ended up transforming the Caribbean island nation into the Western Hemisphere’s first communist regime.
To this day, Cuba is essentially a police state — one where citizens have been denied the rights to protest, operate a free press and publicly voice their opinions about widespread problems in the nation.
Cuba has always maintained an authoritarian stance toward political opponents. For instance, during President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in March, at least 50 activists were arrested for protesting against human rights violations made by the government, as reported in article on human rights issues in the country for the Huffington Post by Roque Planas.
Yet, jailing political opponents was merely one of the many brutal policies Fidel Castro established during his president-for-life regime — he also executed thousands.
After overthrowing Batisita’s dictatorship, at least 582 political opponents were killed by firing squads over the course of two years, according to an article detailing Castro’s executions and human rights abuses for The Independent by Lizzie Dearden.
It’s a shame that Castro’s dictatorial government persevered for so long. The man set up a completely intolerant and violent family-run dictatorship, one where people are either jailed or killed if their ideology differs from that of Castro’s.
This is a man who sent homosexuals, priests and people he deemed dangerous to his revolutionary cause to “re-education” camps mirroring those that were established by the Soviet Union.
In the 1960s, Castro admitted to having imprisoned 15,000 political rivals. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that over 125,000 Cubans fled the island, jammed in shrimp boats, attempting to find new life in the United States during the 1980s.
Fidel Castro was definitely a revolutionary, but one mustn’t correlate his revolution to a good cause. Although he was a different dictator than the corrupt Batista — who was known for establishing strong ties to organized crime — he was a dictator nonetheless.
The man successfully deprived Cubans of basic rights while making citizens feel as though they should be grateful for his bringing of economic equality, a “right” to health and free education to the country.
Like Raul Castro, the current president of Cuba, said earlier this year at a press conference: “Do you think there’s any more sacred right than the right to health, so that billions of children don’t die just for the lack of a vaccine or a drug or a medicament? We have many other rights — a right to health, the right to education.”
However, are Cubans “free” now that Fidel has died? The quick answer is no, not with his brother in power.
Raul, who became the Cuban president in 2006 after Fidel fell extremely ill, has been running the show — although his brother’s influence on his decisions has been substantial.
Raul has taken serious steps to better relations between the U.S. and Cuba: recall Obama’s welcomed visit to the island to discuss the future of the two countries’ problematic relationship. Among this discussion, was of course, a strong focus on lifting the current embargo.
Although Raul is surely more pragmatic than his brother Fidel, I’m convinced his goal is to keep the communist regime from toppling and strive toward keeping his totalitarian rule intact.
Cubans have every right to celebrate the death of such a brutal dictator. Although his achievements in providing public services to millions were ambitious, one should not ignore the thousands that Fidel imprisoned, killed and made flee to the U.S.. This man’s legacy is tempered by the political oppression he imposed on the entire island nation.