Fidel Castro Dead at 90

by Meteor Blades –

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Tracey Eaton at Al Jazeera writes

Fidel Castro, a titan of the Cold War who defied 11 American presidents and thrust Cuba onto the world stage, is dead at age 90.

Cuban state-run television said the former long-time president died at 7pm local time on [Friday]. Castro’s brother and current president, Raul Castro, confirmed the news.

The US government spent more than $1bn trying to kill, undermine or otherwise force Castro from power, but he endured unscathed before old age and disease finally took him.

 

Rory Carroll at The Guardian:

As in life, Castro was deeply divisive in death. The announcement of his death was greeted by thousands online with celebration and condemnation of the “cruel dictator” and his repressive regime.

Others mourned the passing of “a fighter of US imperialism” and a “charismatic icon”.

In Miami, home to the largest diaspora of expatriate Cubans, people took to the streets celebrating his death, singing, dancing, and waving Cuban flags.

The Communist party and state apparatus has prepared for this moment since July 2006 when Castro underwent emergency intestinal surgery and ceded power to his brother, Raúl, who remains in charge.

Part of my commentary on Castro in April 2015:

There’s still plenty to criticize about the repressive regime put into place by the Castro brothers and their allies more than half a century ago, particularly the treatment of dissidents. And there are serious human rights violations. But while it sometimes almost seems as if Fidel is immortal, both he and brother Raúl will soon be gone from the scene. For the U.S. to continue enforcing policies that seek to keep Cuba a pariah are utterly out of step with reality. Washington has full diplomatic relations with nations equally or more repressive than Cuba.

In recent years, in fact, Cuba has often been a force for good internationally. It’s been a sponsor of peace talks between revolutionaries and the government of Colombia to resolve their decades-long war. The Spanish government has thanked Cuba for its help in talks with Basque separatists that Cuba once supported with arms. Cuba has coordinated with the United States on a variety of issues: immigration, aviation security, money-laundering. Its efforts in Africa to curtail Ebola are a model for other nations.

A little perspective is needed.

At the time Cuba was placed on the list of state sponsors of terror 33 years ago, the United States was supporting the terrorist contras in Nicaragua, one of whose techniques was attacking rural clinics set up by the Sandinista revolutionaries to bring basic health care to people who had never seen a doctor. Our government secretly sold arms to Iran and used some of the proceeds to provide direct assistance to the contras against the express prohibition of Congress.

The CIA created torture manuals in 1963 and 1983 for use by its murderous allies throughout Latin America.

In December 1982, President Ronald Reagan met with the genocidal president-general of Guatemala, Efraín Rios Montt, called him “totally dedicated to democracy” and added that his government had been “getting a bum rap” on human rights. Shortly thereafter, Reagan lifted the ban on military sales to Guatemala. This, in spite of the evidence that the Guatemalan military Rios Montt commanded was terrorizing Maya Indians as part of its counter-insurgency efforts. The death toll from those attacks against unarmed and mostly politically unaffiliated civilians would eventually reach at least 100,000.

The list goes on and on. But there was a great big blank space on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

For more than five decades, Fidel Castro’s unique blend of what Spanish speakers call caudillismo and a fierce nationalist form of communism did more than any other factor to shape U.S. foreign policy throughout Latin America. Since the time of the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary, the Caribbean has been seen as a U.S. “lake,” Latin America as “our backyard.” Out of this mindset grew an interventionism that brooked no meddlers from Europe and no objections from the peoples of the countries the U.S. chose to bring under its “protection.” While the U.S. did not create all the dictators of Latin America, it nurtured many of them.

The coming of Castro, who soon linked himself to America’s No. 1 foe in the Cold War, exacerbated the older policy of backing thugs like the Somozas in Nicaragua, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and Batista in Cuba, men who were said by FDR’s men to be sons of bitches, but “our” sons of bitches. That expression of pre-World War II realpolitik summarized quite well what would become, 50 years later, the Kirkpatrick Doctrine—in essence, a policy of support for “our” bad guys as less evil than letting “their” bad guys gain power.

Since the fiasco at the 1961 Bay of Pigs and the nuclear close-call of 1962, Castro has overshadowed all of U.S. policy in Latin America. From the hemispheric Alliance for Progress to the counter-insurgent “low-intensity conflicts” in Bolivia and Colombia, from support for the generals of Brazil, Argentina and Chile to the trumped-up invasions of the Dominican Republic and Grenada, from the one-sided slaughters in Guatemala to the full-scale civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, U.S. policy throughout the region has been, ultimately, mostly about Fidel.

His ties to the USSR, which led Cuba into the disastrous, Cold War-inflamed Angolan civil war as well as behind-the-scenes counsel and arms for revolutionaries in this hemisphere, gave impetus to those who—pressed by Cuban exiles—sought to keep him in a box all these years.

Ruthless, erudite, confident, Castro in his dotage is now an anachronism. But even with his healthier but aged brother now in charge, he is the Castro whose presence had continued to shape all but the fringes of U.S. policy toward Cuba until Obama began moving in another direction.

A voracious reader, Castro always credited the power of great ideas. Yet he allowed nothing but the most tepid challenges to his own thoughts on practically every matter of consequence. Many of the best and brightest Cubans no longer live in Cuba as a consequence. The mildest dissent risks harassment or prison. Sadly, even the greatest gains of the revolution—education and medicine—are in tatters. And, while a hefty proportion of Cubans still revere Castro, there is no doubt that the population is eager for something new, not necessarily repudiating the revolution, but moving beyond the brittle, backward autocracy now in place.

Cuba is on the cusp of change and it is appropriate that U.S. policy change, too. Obama is taking the right steps. Time for Congress to follow up by dumping the obsolete and hypocritical embargo. But, for now, the majority of senators and representatives are too cowardly to take that action.

 

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos