Fidel Castro. The Communist dictator of Cuba since 1959. The man whose revolution led to the Cuban Missile Crisis and decades of oppression for the Cuban people. A thorn in the side of the United States when it came to Cold War policy and foreign policy towards Latin America.
He is dead now, having stepped down due to illness and transferring power to his brother Raul several years ago.
Fidel Castro has been glorified by leftists, poked fun of in television and film, and even portrayed as an annoying twit who constantly vents about American imperialism and the struggle for revolution. Aside from the Castro regime, Cuba is also known for its healthcare system, its cigars, and being a tropical paradise. But underneath the surface, the Cuban people have experienced the brutality of living in a Communist nation.
After overthrowing the regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Castro promised free elections, the protection of private property, and good relations with the United States. But within months, Castro had as many as 1,100 men executed, and imprisoned more people than the Batista regime ever did. As was the case with many Communist countries, businesses, farms, and other private property were seized and re-distributed. Castro also began a series of anti-American rhetoric. Such action resulted in the Eisenhower Administration ending diplomatic relations with Cuba. Castro then proclaimed Cuba to be a Communist nation. Thus, the Communist revolution had been achieved in a stealth-like manner once Castro came to power.
It should be noted that in 1958, Cuba actually had the highest standard of living of all of Latin America and even half of Europe. Thus, its poverty situation was not as bad as some people have thought. Under the Castro regime, the standard of living would drop (despite the tourism industry, cigar sales, and Soviet aid). Meanwhile, its healthcare system (praised for being the best in the world) has turned out to be a façade.
The Castro regime would continue to oppress its own people, ranging from counterrevolutionaries to the revolution’s own children. Thousands of people were executed, and many more were imprisoned. The result of such oppression resulted in as many as two million people leaving Cuba, many of whom settled in the United States.
Castro would also attempt to spread the Communist revolution to other countries. Ernesto “Che” Guevara (a protégé of Castro) attempted to bring such revolution to Congo and Bolivia, but failed on both occasions (the latter of which resulted in his execution). Other nations where Castro also attempted to spread Communism include the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Grenada, and Angola. Castro was involved with several terrorist plots, drug smuggling, and is even said to be responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Such was the true legacy of Fidel Castro. Not a leader who wished to end poverty and make Cuba a model nation free of foreign influence, but a dictator who resorted to oppression and terrorism to achieve his goal of revolution.
The question remains: how much longer will Cuba continue to embrace the Communist ideology? Only time will tell.