Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (born August 13th, 1926 — died November 25th, 2016) was the political leader of Cuba who transformed his country into the first communist experiment in the Western Hemisphere and became a symbol of the communist revolution in Latin America.
After his graduation, Castro began to practice law and became a member of the reformist Cuban People’s Party.
He and his brother Raúl were held and released in a political amnesty in 1955, after having been arrested for organising a rebel force to overthrow Batista’s new dictatorship in 1953 and they seek refuge in Mexico to continue their campaign against the Batista regime. There Fidel Castro coordinated the Cuban exiles into a revolutionary group called the 26th July Movement.
With the help of growing numbers of revolutionary volunteers, Castro’s forces won a string of victories over the Batista government’s demoralized and weakly led armed forces. Castro’s propaganda efforts proved to be particularly effective, and Batista fled the country on January 1st. As the undisputed revolutionary leader, Castro shortly became commander in chief of the armed forces in Cuban provisional government and in February 1959 he became president and thus continued to lead the government.
But once established as The Havana’s leader he began to pursue more radical policies. The early years saw him strengthening ties with the Soviet Union, which represented his main ally for a long time, while he fiercely opposed the United States’ hegemony in Latin America. The strategic position of the small island, the political success of Castro as well as his strong relations with the USSR crumbled the relations with the United States, which decided to interrupt any diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961. In April of the same year the U.S. government secretly equipped thousands of Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro’s government with the infamous Bay of Pigs operation. However, the US operation was contrasted by Castro’s armed forces. Castro’s alliance and friendship with Moscow’s governments unfortunately provoked international frictions, which saw their apex in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. Nevertheless, his risky political strategy brought him to domestic and international success, which divided the Western World. He survived to – and thrived on – the brinkmanship of his foreign policy.
Domestically Castro revolutionised all the aspects of Cuba’s political, economic, and cultural life. The Cuban leader defended such actions claiming “revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction”. Thanks to his presidency Cuba developed a remarkable system of healthcare and education, increasing life expectancy and literacy rates, which are only comparable to those of richer countries. He vastly expanded the country’s social services, extending them to all classes of society on an equal basis. Educational and health services were made available to Cubans free of charge, and every citizen was guaranteed employment. Castro also supported the implementation of a new constitution in 1976, which created the Cuban National Assembly and so he became president of that body’s State Council. In 2010 Havana sent 1,200 doctors to Haiti to fight cholera after the earthquake.
However, many Cubans did not share his vision or supported his policies and so they left the island. Consequently, by the end of the last century, more than 20% of 14 millions Cubans worldwide lived outside the country.
Castro resigned in 2008, forced by a serious illness that caused his departure from politics.
In death as in life, Castro’s figure is still dividing opinions, even among national leaders who were expected to participate to his state funerals. For some commenters he is a revolutionary hero who stood up against the US hegemony in Latin America. For others his revolutionary ideas and government imposition threatened the world order in more than one occasion. In conclusion, even it is difficult to draw an evaluation of his life, it is worth remembering the good policies he implemented in The Havana while taking into consideration the fact that the communist revolution dies with him.