To understand Fidel one must look at the living conditions before and after he came to power in Cuba. In pre-revolutionary Cuba poverty, hunger, and illiteracy were the norm. The island was under control of the brutal, U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. There were as many as 11,500 women resorting to sex work in Havana just to survive. The entire island was essentially run by various mafia families who often bribed government officials to turn the other cheek at rampant crime and illegal activity- even worse still there were strong links between organized crime families and Batista’s regime. Gambling and Sex Work were the major tourist industries in pre-industrial Cuba. It was widely considered the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. On top of all this was crippling poverty that was systematically maintained by U.S. imperialist policies.
John F. Kennedy even admitted this saying,
“At the beginning of 1959 United States companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands—almost all the cattle ranches—90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions—80 percent of the utilities—practically all the oil industry—and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports.”
Earlier he is even quoted condemning US support of the Batista regime saying,
“Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years … and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state—destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror. Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista—hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend—at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.”
Once the revolution took over he cautiously praised it saying,
“I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.”
Before the revolution Fidel looked to his countries people in despair, their suffering systematically created and maintained by US imperialistic policies which were brutally enforced by their puppet dictator. Fidel’s response to this was just. After a failed coup Fidel was arrested and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment where he and his comrades founded the “26th of July” revolutionary movement. He was let out of prison by Batista due to public outcry and in order to maintain a good image among the people. After several violent protests Batista ordered a crackdown on dissent. Because of this Fidel and Raul left for Mexico to evade arrest. This is where he met Ernesto Che Guevara.
Little over a year later Fidel, Raul, Che, and a total of 81 armed revolutionaries set sail from Mexico to Cuba aboard the infamous Granma vessel. The small group of revolutionaries would later grow to the thousands. Over the next three years the revolutionaries waged relentless guerrilla warfare against the Batista regime. Fidel was widely seen by the people as both a liberator and a hero. The government responded in this time to the revolutionaries with mass arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings. Thousands of innocent people were killed by the Batista regime in this time. When Fidel initially took to power those who killed and tortured innocents in that time were killed. As Fidel himself said, “We are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers and they deserve it.” Of course there are those who condemn Che and Fidel for killing people, but tell me, in what revolution has there not been killings? If we held George Washington to the same standard we could say that he too was a murderer. By the time Fidel took power, Batista had already fled with a whopping $300,000,000 US dollars.
After establishing a provisional government Fidel worked tirelessly to begin construction of a new socialist state. He first passed the “First agrarian reform law” which limited the amount of land one could own, forbade foreigners from owning land and entitled 200,000 peasants for the first time to the land they worked. Fidel’s focus was on social programs- even at the temporary expense of the economy. In the first 30 months of his coming to power more classrooms opened than in the previous 30 years. Health care was nationalized and expanded, this included Universal vaccination of all children which led to a massive decline in infant mortality. In his first 6 months over 600 miles of road were constructed while another 300 million was spent on water and sanitation projects to provide the people with clean running water and sewage systems. In an effort to abolish homelessness over 800 houses per month were built for the first few years of his rule, along with the construction of day-care and elderly centers.
The workers, peasants and students which made up the majority of the population were almost unanimously in support of Castro while the upper classes and capitalists were typically very cautious of his reign, causing many to flee to America once they realized that he was a socialist. Castro was not popular among the capitalist class, they felt that Castro had stolen from them in giving the peasants the land they tilled day and night. As a result many Cuban-Americans and their descendants, particularly in Florida but also all over America are bitter towards Castro and towards Socialist Cuba. The CIA in particular had already begun recruiting exiles and mafia members to overthrow Castro’s regime at this time. President Eisenhower agreed to overthrow the government and an economic blockade was issued which still exists to cripple Cuba’s economy to this day. In retaliation all privately run US businesses were seized by the state and nationalized.Before 1959 the official literacy rate for Cuba was between 60% and 76%. Fidel issued a massive year long literacy campaign which was considered to be a massive success, by 1986 literacy was at around 100%, actually higher then that of the US. Infant mortality is still even lower than it is the US today.
There was of course the failed bay of pigs invasion, among others in which the CIA attempted to overthrow and kill Castro. In total Castro survived 638 CIA assassination attempts, breaking a world record. The CIA was so desperate as to create the infamous CIA ‘Operation Northwoods’ in which the US planned a series of homeland terrorist attacks in order to blame Cuba and provoke war, but luckily never enacted by President Kennedy. The US was desperate to destroy Cuba by any means necessary. As a result the political climate inside Cuba is tense. While a majority no doubt supported and continue to support Castro, the CIA was and continues to attempt to infiltrate the country and turn the people against Fidel. Even recently it was revealed that the US government created ZunZuneo, a social media app similar to Twitter used by Cuban citizens which was used to attempt to radicalize the Cuban people against the government. While I am critical of Castro’s use of political repression, it is partially justified given the United State’s countless attempts at turning the Cuban people against the government by any means necessary. In essence it is a problem created largely by external pressure on account of the US government which continues to inspire the people to counter-revolution. If the US is truly so critical as to criticize them for human rights violations it would agree to back down and mind its own damned business- to lift the blockade and agree to never interfere with matters of the Cuban government ever again. Only then could Cuba cautiously lift the veil of political repression away confident that the US wasn’t going to use it to attempt once again to destroy Socialist Cuba from the inside.
Despite US economic blockades Cuba flourished under the rule of Castro. The lives of Cubans as well as those of the poor and oppressed all over the world were greatly improved thanks to Fidel. Cuba’s medical services are largely considered to be world-renowned in their innovation and openness to treat people from all over the world. Thanks to Fidel over 10 million people in Latin America and all over the world now have the ability to read and write. Cuba was always willing to offer military assistance to countries in their various liberation struggles. South Africa’s liberation was aided by Cuban troops, a military move so vital that the use of nuclear weapons was considered. Fidel Castro made many mistakes as I will be one of the first to admit- as I am very critical of how authoritative his regime was in not allowing any real political dissent outside of the election room. HOWEVER Cuba made enormous progress under his rule. Most of the people would still be illiterate, hungry and without access to basic medical care without him. He made mistakes sure but his achievements FAR outweigh his mistakes. I have no doubt that if Cuba didn’t have it’s revolution it would be 10x worse off than it is now. I am VERY critical of 20th century communism (Marxism-Leninism) for it’s typically authoritarian nature, however it’s success in transforming the most backward countries in the world into world superpowers is undeniable- and in Cuba particular it is worthy of critical but nonetheless full hearted praise. Though Fidel is dead he will continue to live on in the hearts of those who wish to make the world a better place. Hasta Siempre, Comandante
“Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me” -Fidel Castro