Ever since my studies (FYI Latin American Studies) our motto has been: “Visit Cuba before Fidel Castro dies”. Not because we were a fan of his regime per se, but because there was something intriguing about the man behind the regime. The quintessential rebel against what Capitalism stands for. The last vestige of Communism.
The End of an Era. What happens now to Fidel’s Legacy?
In our history class at University, we theorized how it would work, or not, a Communist society. We also discussed what would happen to his legacy (leaving out if what he did was right or wrong) in case Fidel Castro died. But after years gone by it almost seemed like he never would.
I’m not sure how it felt in Cuba, or in Miami for that matter, but here in this cold frog country, as we so lovingly refer to Holland, there wasn’t a boom. Nothing felt different when we heard the news that he had died . I’m not even sure why I was expecting that it would feel bigger, more epic. Like the end of an ERA.
El comandante Fidel Castro dies at 90, and I, and many with me, are stuck wondering what this means for Cuba. Since I’m going to Cuba, the Caribbean island has been at the forefront of my mind for months. After years of theorizing in history class, the question on what this means for Cuba has left me intrigued.
Differing View points of Fidel Castro’s Legacy
Watching the news, you hear different sides. El Comandante’s death has been celebrated and lamented at the same time. Cubans that have left Cuba, because of the lack of freedom, were celebrating, while the Cubans in Cuba (although probably not all of them) are lining up the streets to say good bye to their leader. And I think that shows how the subject of Fidel Castro is not as clear cut as some believe, but most certainly controversial.
Many, who live in a free world see the late el Comandante as a dictator who suppressed basic civil rights.
What about the good things Fidel Castro has introduced into the world?
One of my former colleagues at Leiden University, who lived in Cuba for a few years, at first, very much viewed Fidel in the light of the dictator. Recently on Facebook, however, he commented that if you compare the regime from El Comandante to other non-democratic regimes he did bring some good, like literacy and a basic health care system that other countries use as well.
An example of the good health care system was given by another former colleague at CEDLA (the Centre for Education and Documentation of Latin American – I know it’s a mouth full). When Castro died she told us how the Cuban health care system helped her father, who needed specialized surgery unavailable to them in Surinam.
Again if you look at poverty, my colleague from Leiden added, there is no structural violence against the poor. That doesn’t mean that people in Cuba aren’t poor. However, compared to other Latin American countries the difference between rich and poor isn’t as big.
To illustrate, in Brazil for example, you can have a super fancy condominium, on one side of the street, with gates and guards to keep out the poor living on the other side of the street. That said, Cuba’s inequality* has reportedly been growing, also as a result of tourism. Unfortunatly, reliable data is difficult to find.
So the picture isn’t quite as black-and-white, if you look at it from a broader perspective.
Change has been upon Cuba for a while
Whatever way you look at it, Fidel’s brother Raúl has been bringing the regime to modernity in a slow fashion. He has been opening up the economy bit by bit. So change has been upon Cuba for a while now. I do hope that this brings change for the better for the Cubans. I hope that it brings them more freedom without erasing what the country stands for. Because, at this moment, Cuba will be facing a whole new challenge.
Namely, how to deal with the 3 million American tourists expected to flood the island on top of the tourist already visiting? What will this mean for the Cuban way of life? I think about that in another post “Now is the time to go the Cuba … BEFORE it loses its Authenticity”
In just 10 days, I will be seeing it all for myself. I hope you will join me on this journey.
*Ginicoeficient 1999: Cuba: 39 -; 2013 no data; Brazil, 2013: 54.7. Where 0 means absolute equality and 100 absolute inequality.