Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban revolution, died Nov. 25. His death has been received with bittersweet emotions by the Cuban people. Those who escaped his communist regime — one with no civil liberties, no chances of upward mobility and punishment for anyone who disagreed with him — celebrated his death with parades in Miami.
But those who got their land back from U.S. corporations after the Cuban revolution, those who no longer could be legally discriminated against and those who could finally afford education, health and housing are still mourning his death in Havana.
Castro was the type of man to create internment camps for gay people to punish them and create economic growth — these camps were some of the biggest production forces in Cuba — but he also created a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world and one of the best health care systems in the Western Hemisphere.
This is not to say that being a violent dictator who suppresses and denies basic human rights is justified when giving back to the rural margins of Cuba — a group largely forgotten by the Cuban government when it was under the influence of U.S. interests. It is to note the fact that Castro was one of the most controversial leaders of our time, often portrayed as a villain who did no good deed by the U.S.
Since his death, there have been more and more stories about how his dictatorship brought death, sadness and economic downfall. All of these things are true, but when we contextualize these facts, we get a clear picture: The U.S. has as much to do with Cuba’s troubled history as Castro does.
Before Castro’s leading the Cuban revolution and taking the country out of the hands of Fulgencio Batista, Cuba was the playground of rich, white American men and multinational corporations. For decades, the U.S. used and abused Cuba, creating huge economic inequality and political unrest.
Castro took a country that was in shambles and gave it back to the people. Through his actions, he nationalized industry and stripped all corporations of their lands, but did not calculate how that would tank the economy. He also did not foresee a U.S. embargo of Cuba, which deeply hurt the Cuban economy as well. Castro also took away people’s religious freedom and killed opposers in firing squads, but he gave the poor food, education, access to medicine and opportunities to grow.
He was not the best of them, nor was he the worst, and in these next weeks of mourning, the least that can be done is thinking of him as a human.