The death of a rebellious, revolutionary icon often results in mixed feelings experienced by the public. Fidel Castro, Cuba’s longest-serving leader, died of natural causes on November 25th, 2016. The Cuban government, led by Fidel Castro’s younger brother Raul, declared nine days of mourning. On November 29th, crowds of people gathered for a rally organized in Havana’s Revolution Square to commemorate Fidel Castro. Some arrived as part of government-organized groups, but others came because they wanted to give thanks and pay their respects to the man who ruled the country for almost five decades since 1959. Castro’s death has forced Cubans to think about what kind of future they want for their island, and has left many wondering if continuing his policies will be best for the nation.
In the absence of direct popular elections, Castro and his younger brother Raul have ruled Cuba with an iron fist. In his reign, Castro aided revolutionaries from Nicaragua to Angola, supported leftists such as Chile’s Salvador Allende and Grenada’s Maurice Bishop, fomented unrest against hard-line conservatives in Venezuela and Argentina, and kept allies in power in Mozambique.
His supporters say he returned Cuba to the people during the revolution, and praise him for some of his social programs, such as public health and education. Castro’s critics, many of whom emigrated to Miami after the revolution, call him a dictator and therefore celebrated his death. To a certain extent, Cubans lack basic freedoms, but as long as they do not challenge the government, they enjoy a degree of public safety and social security that is rare in Latin America.
Raul Castro, 85, will take over the position and states he plans to step down from the presidency in 2018. The successor after the Castros in 2018 will face an anxious Cuba with expectations that are contradictory and maybe even impossible to meet. There is a deep desire for more freedom and prosperity, but a lot of Cubans state they are not welcome to an upheaval that would turn the island into another violent, disorganized Latin American country.
Regardless, what Fidel Castro achieved for a country of a poor social order has not been achieved by the leader of any other poor nation. Both his supporters and detractors recognize his tremendous dedication for the Cuban people. However, a rebellious and contradictory figure in life, Castro and his legacy will likely remain mixed for many years after his passing.