• Fidel Castro

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    09 December 2016

    His ashes are borne in the red and blue of the flag – glimpsed in silence down a four mile route - the reverse of the trek that he himself had trod 57 years before, in another life when he overthrew Fulgencio Battista to seize for himself and communism the leadership of Cuba. Lining the route was not obligatory but it was firmly encouraged. Raised photographs atop lowered heads - others more interested in snatching a souvenir snap on an iPhone – a little peck of something bigger. Many mourning – many not so sure. Fidel Castro will be one of those figures that history takes a while to catch up with. He will be best assessed with the distance of time. There are many who will instinctively argue that this figure whilst not without merit was a dictator who oppressed free speech, locked up opponents and gays. He almost snuffed out my own little life when, in 1962, he brought the world to the brink of a nuclear exchange during the stand off between Kennedy and Khrushchev over the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba. But there are the other sides to Castro – there are the other sides to all of us after all. Here was a humble man who drew for himself no riches or ornaments of power. He ate with his staff, wore a plain pseudo battle dress khaki suit - on the basis that it was practical with many pockets and conducted himself with immense respect for others. His revolution was to overthrow Batista – whose government after all had overseen huge inequality and much discrimination of its own. A rich, educated elite milked the system whilst the rest wallowed in ignorance and poverty. It could also be said that he was plucky and right to stand up to the United States; the US after all had missiles in Turkey close to the Russian border so why should the USSR not be permitted to have similar in America’s own backyard – in little Cuba just 70 sparkling miles across the waters from Miami? And did not Castro with his defiance and bravery - it is reckoned he survived around 600 assassination attempts – just show that the little guy should not always be pushed around or bullied? Later after the missiles, Cuba was to forge a place in medical research, to provide universal healthcare and vastly improved education for her people. And there was Castro’s support for the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. These are the soft strokes that historians will apply. But on balance and for now I will not miss him. Revolutions may sometimes be necessary to remove those who rule without consent but in my view they have to give something important back in return – democracy. And Castro alas wasn’t up for that – in the end no matter how romantic or heroic his life’s struggles he was still the embodiment of the one party state.