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Fidel Castro’s ‘destructive’ 60-year reign that unified people but ended in heartbreak | History | News

A lone woman sings. Her voice, a piercing tenor, plays out loud on a compact Havana street. Restaurants are empty, the pebbled pathways abandoned with no one around to hear her.

Except for my wife and I, and a few other tourists, no one was around. Why would they be? It was November 25, 2016, and Fidel Castro had just died.

The country was in mourning. Everything silent. And so to hear something, anything melodic, was an event.

For 49 years, Cuba had followed their leader with poise, and the occasional clash, up until 2008 when he handed over power to his half-brother, Raúl Castro.

Fidel’s story is long and detailed. It all started with a desire to transform Cuba as a child, growing up under Fulgencio Batistia’s military junta. He would later create his own political group, the Movement.

She told Express.co.uk: “Illiteracy was widespread with only two universities in Cuba.

“Now there is well over one hundred… it’s extraordinary really but one thing that’s clear from studying the policies and so on is that it is not a coincidence.

“There is a tendency for people to just think that Cubans are good at this, and good at that, but actually, there was a ‘consequence strategy’ from Fidel’s Revolutionary Government to invest very heavily in health and education. And then keep raising the bar.”

It led to a period in the Eighties when Cuba had one of the highest ratios of scientists to the population, comparable to their rivals in the US, as well as Britain.

The knock-on effect of this could be seen, for example, during the coronavirus pandemic, when Cuba was able to develop a vaccine to protect against COVID-19‘s spread.

The feelgood factor endured through the Eighties, according to Cuban-born Dr Manuel Barcia, Professor of Global History at the University of Leeds.

Barcia

He recalled living in the country during that time and the decade before, in what was “quite a progressive, happy place in spite of the repression of any political views other than the official ones… After the fall of the Iron Curtain it was a whole different ballgame”.

However, Dr Barcia said: “The periodo especial in the mid-Nineties (especially in 93-94) was destructive, and the country has never recovered.

“There’s a reason why Cuba has such a high rate of emigration. People are finding it very hard to prosper and live fulfilling lives there right now.”

Restrictions on leaving Cuba were abolished just over a decade ago. Originally, Cubans had to return within set timeframes, or risk never being allowed back into the country.

Now, they can leave at will, which caused difficulties after the pandemic, as the island attempted to recover from the bruising it received during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fidel’s tenure was often criticised, and when he died, world leaders offered differing responses.

Among those to condemn his time in office was then-US President Donald Trump, who called Fidel a “brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” adding his “legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights”.

Others to offer more warmth in their assessment of the Cuban were the likes of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

After such a length of time, any country would struggle to break out of the mould fitted around it.

Dr Yaffe said that while some things have changed, like the faces of the people in office, generally, the country is as it was under Fidel all those years ago.

“Miguel Díaz-Canel [Cuba’s incumbent President] has a slogan which is, ‘We are continuity’,” she said.

“So what has changed since Fidel? The virtue for Cubans is the virtue of continuing in that line. When Díaz-Canel does things well, it’s perceived that he did it like Fidel.

“The one thing that is noticeably missing and that Cubans complain about it is the way that Fidel talked to people, and the public. How he talked in big rallies. And it’s interesting because outside of Cuba, it was often mocked, called Fidel’s four-hour rants. But actually, the Cuban public really appreciated it.”

Sometimes labelled a dictator, other times a crusader, Fidel’s legacy will no doubt endure and last longer than the pages written about him. But will his like be seen again?

Dr Barcia was adamant the world will see another Fidel. He said: “People everywhere fall for charlatans and populists all the time.

“You only need to look at Trump, [former Brazilian President] Jair Bolsonaro, or if you want a left-wing example, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

“Cuba is no exception: 121 years of independence from Spain have gone like this: seven of US occupation (1898-1902; 1906-09); three of “despelote (1933-36); 38 of democracy (1902-06; 1909-27; 1936-52); and a massive 74 of dictatorships (1927-33; 1952-59; and 1959-2021). Populists leaders are pretty much at the core of this terrible story.”

But for Dr Yaffe, Fidel was an “extraordinary character that history doesn’t throw up very often”.

She continued: “He participated in revolutionary struggles and the Cuban Revolution… there was something about the fact that he had dedicated his life to fighting this battle in the name of the Cuban people, and based on this Moncada programme that he set out, health, housing, human rights, he even talks about access to electricity being a human right in the Fifties. So he was quite incredible.”

“So what has changed since Fidel? The virtue for Cubans is the virtue of continuing in that line. When Díaz-Canel does things well, it’s perceived that he did it like Fidel.

“The one thing that is noticeably missing and that Cubans complain about it is the way that Fidel talked to people, and the public. How he talked in big rallies. And it’s interesting because outside of Cuba, it was often mocked, called Fidel’s four-hour rants. But actually, the Cuban public really appreciated it.”

Sometimes labelled a dictator, other times a crusader, Fidel’s legacy will no doubt endure and last longer than the pages written about him. But will his like be seen again?

Dr Barcia was adamant the world will see another Fidel. He said: “People everywhere fall for charlatans and populists all the time.



*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.