A look at the life and legacy of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, by French author and historian Salim Lamran (adapted from Granma).
A controversial figure in the West, where he was heavily criticized, Fidel Castro was instead admired by the peoples of Latin America and the Third World, who considered him a symbol of resistance to oppression and a champion of the aspirations of the countries of the South to independence, sovereignty and self-determination. A mythical rebel, who has entered the pantheon of the great liberators of the Americas, the former guerrilla of the Sierra Maestra saw his prestige surpass continental borders to become the archetype of anti-imperialism in the twentieth century and the champion of a universal message of emancipation.
Western media, due to its entrenched ideological position and clear condescension toward the peoples of the South, failed to understand the historic significance of Fidel Castro to Cuba, Latin America and the Third World. Since the times of Jose Marti, Cuba’s national hero, no other figure has as powerfully embodied the aspirations of the Cuban people to national sovereignty, economic independence and social justice.
Fidel Castro is a symbol of pride, dignity, resistance and loyalty to principles and his status has surpassed the borders of his homeland to span the entire world. The historic leader of the Cuban Revolution took up arms in favor of the oppressed and reclaimed their right to a decent life. Born into a wealthy family from the east of the country, he gave up his class privileges to defend the voiceless, ignored and abandoned to their fate by the powerful.
Fidel Castro enjoyed historic legitimacy. Arms in hand, he fought against the bloody dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista during the attack on the Moncada barracks in 1953 and during the uprising in the Sierra Maestra from December, 1956, through December, 1958. He triumphed against a brutal military regime endowed with an impressive firepower and backed by the United States. In a context of extreme hostility, he has realized the dream of Jose Marti, of an independent and sovereign Cuba and has led his people on the path to complete and definitive emancipation, in steadfast resistance to the hegemonic pretensions of Washington.
Fidel Castro also enjoyed constitutional legitimacy. Each individual has the right to think what they want about the Cuban electoral system, but Fidel was elected President every five years, from 1976 to 2006. Prior to this, he served as prime minister and not as president of the Republic. Contrary to popular belief, Cuba has had no fewer than four presidents since 1959: Manuel Urrutia from January, 1959, to July, 1959, Osvaldo Dorticos from July, 1959, to 1975, Fidel Castro from 1976 to 2006 and Raul Castro from 2006 to the present.
No leader can remain at the helm of a country for thirty years, in a context of latent war with the United States, without the majority support of the people. Obviously, as in any society, there are the unsatisfied, the disappointed, the critics. The Cuban Revolution, the work of women and men, is by definition imperfect and has never had the intention of establishing itself as an example. But the vast majority of Cubans have huge respect for Fidel Castro and have never cast doubt on his noble intentions. The United States always has been very clear about this. Thus, on April 6, 1960, Lester D. Mallory, deputy assistant secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, recalled in a memorandum to Roy Rubottom Jr., then assistant secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, the standing of the Cuban leader: “The majority of Cubans support Castro... There is no effective political opposition... The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”
Washington followed that advice, as evidenced by the policy of fierce hostility toward the Cubans, with the imposition of extremely severe economic sanctions that remain in place today. But this endeavor was not crowned with success. Indeed, nearly half a century later, Fidel Castro’s popularity remains very much alive. Such was noted by Jonathan D. Farrar, then chief U.S. diplomat in Havana, who continued to emphasize Cubans’ “significant personal admiration for Fidel,” recalling that “It would be a mistake to underestimate... the support the government has especially in poor communities and with some groups of University students.”
Three aspects characterize the figure of Fidel Castro. Firstly, he was the architect of national sovereignty, realizing the dream of the Apostle and National Hero Jose Marti of an independent Cuba and returning dignity to the people of the island. Secondly, he was the social reformer who has positioned himself alongside the poor and oppressed, creating one of the least unjust societies of the Third World. Finally, he was the internationalist who extended a generous hand to those peoples in need, and placed solidarity and integration at the center of Cuba’s foreign policy.