There is no dearth of people who detested Fidel Castro for how he ran his country. But for his supporters Castro was Cuba and Cuba was Castro. Even after his death, he remains as decisive as he was when alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed him as "the symbol of an era" and China's Xi Jinping said, "Comrade Castro will live forever."
US President-elect Donald Trump, however, said Castro had been a "brutal dictator". While ordinary Cubans are mourning his death, some hope that Castro's passing away will allow Cuba to move faster towards a more open and prosperous future under his younger brother President Raul Castro. "Raul wants to do business, that's it.
Fidel was still holed up in the Sierra Maestra," Belkis Bejarano, a 65-year-old homemaker in central Havana, was quoted as saying in a news piece. In Miami, which is home to the largest community of Cuban exiles who fled Castro's rule, euphoric crowds erupted into loud celebration. Castro had faced accusations of brutally suppressing opposition and pursuing policies that crippled the Cuban economy.
The death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro is indeed the end of an era. For half a century, Castro’s iconic presence as the indefatigable revolutionary who stood up against the might of superpower US has been inspiring socialist and communist movements all over the world. His stamina to wage a relentless war against the spread of capitalism as espoused by the US had earned him the poster boy status of resistance and counter attack among the communists across the world.
In a bipolar world during the cold war era, Cuba with a population of 11 million mattered more in world politics than its due share, all thanks to its strategic location – just 90 miles from US state Florida – and the political stance it took against the US. Fidel Castro may have died but the rebel and revolutionary in him live on in the memory and imagination of those who have lived through Castro’s heydays.
But one should not forget that all his adventures in statecraft in his country and the interventions in wars in Africa, Central America, and Asia were bankrolled by the USSR, which also supplied to this Caribbean island nation ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in 1961 after the foiled Bay of Pigs invasion – the US-instigated attempt to invade Cuba by exiled Cubans. The world has never come so close to a nuclear holocaust ever since.
But now with the death of Castro all that could be past. Since he relinquished power in 2006, the Cuban government has allowed private enterprise and brought in free-market reforms. The US trade embargo is on its way out after the historic visit of US President Barack Obama in December 2014 to Cuba.
The two countries are in the process to resume regular diplomatic ties that practically remained suspended for as long as Castro remained alive. And the crucial support of the USSR has long stopped providing a lifeline to the Cuban state. The fiery speeches of Castro which made him famous across the globe increasingly missed substance and failed to find support for communist ideology among the new generation abroad, if not in Cuba.
The socialist and communist approach may have brought in a sense of equitable distribution of resources among the people in Cuba as education and healthcare are made available to everyone without discrimination; but beyond that, lives of ordinary citizens remain trapped in rhetoric and propaganda. Lack of opportunity within the country and heightened cynicism for most part of the globe as state policy do not give ordinary Cubans a chance to think and act freely when it comes to deciding things about their future. For them, the post-Castro era is full of uncertainty as well as hope.