UPDATE: December 5, 2016 – The Russian-made, jeep-like vehicle carrying Fidel’s ashes broke down and had to be manually pushed during his funeral procession on Saturday, December 2nd, according to Breitbart News, Fox News and Daily Mail. Cuba’s current population over 11 million.
By Donna Westfall – December 1, 2016 – With the death of Fidel Castro don’t confuse it with the end of an era, his brother Raul is still in control.
But first, the things he did right. Yes, they are all educated. That deserves a pat on the back because pre-Castro about half were educated. And, their health care is free, but according to Conservative Review, you get what you pay for. Tourists and those in Castro’s employ apparently get good health care. The people don’t, as hospitals are crumbling and doctors are paid minimum wage, many working as cab drivers to make ends meet.
Yes, they have a modicum of freedom, in that they are not followed by secret police or monitored constantly anymore but still realize that there is no guarantee of freedom of speech because they could get beat up and thrown in jail for talking badly about the administration.
Yes, things were better under Fidel Castro than the previous regime, the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. It took nearly six years for the rebels to oust Batista despite the Mafia and US businessmen’s continued support of Batista. In a David vs Goliath scenario, it’s a wonder than Fidel’s forces overtook Batista’s since they were severely outnumbered. But with the 1958 arms embargo by the US, the Cuban air force rapidly deteriorated: it could not repair its airplanes without importing parts from the United States.
Hundreds of Batista-era agents, policemen and soldiers were put on public trial, accused of human rights abuses, war crimes, murder, and torture. Many were executed without due process. Once Batista was gone, Fidel then installed a socialist state which transformed to a Communist state even though he said to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1959, “”I know the world thinks of us, we are Communists, and of course I have said very clear that we are not Communists; very clear.”
During his first decade in power, laws were introduced to provide equality for black Cubans and greater rights for women, but homosexuals were persecuted. There was less corruption and great improvements were made in hygiene and sanitation.
Land ownership which was predominantly foreign was nationalized. Having the government nationalize land including all the land owned by religious organization because the country became atheistic, religious leaders and members of churches were expelled from the country; then he eliminated all private schools and had all schooling under socialist policies.
It’s understandable that he teamed up with Communist Russia in order to trade sugar for oil. When U.S.-owned refineries in Cuba refused to process the oil, Fidel Castro expropriated them, and the United States retaliated by cutting Cuba’s import quota on sugar.
Let’s not forget the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Fidel. January, 1961, out going President Eisenhower broke off relations with Cuba. April 14th, Castro declares Cuba a socialist state. Three days later, 1400 Cuban exiles invade Cuba. They were trained by the CIA and provided with American weapons which was denied by the US. About 400 were killed and 1,000 captured. And that’s what John F. Kennedy inherited with his new presidency.
Needless to say, relations only deteriorated between Cuba and the US until the pivotal point when Cuba agreed to place Russian nuclear missiles 90 miles off the Florida coast.
President Kennedy demanded the missiles be removed. It was at that time that my school friends and I, in Los Angeles , experienced the first real threat of a nuclear war. It was two weeks of tension (October 14, 1962 to October 28, 1962) as we were trained to get under our wooden tables in class as though that could prevent death by nuclear missile strikes.
Later we learned that Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev made a secret agreement and left Fidel out of the negotiations. The missiles were never installed in Cuba in exchange for America agreeing not to invade Cuba.
Naturally, Fidel was infuriated and over time that anger turned to helping supply revolutions in 3rd world countries, which financially harmed Cuba.
So, while education and health care fluorished it was at the expense of civil liberties being whittled away, as labor unions lost the right to strike, independent newspapers were shut down and religious institutions were harassed.
Fidel Castro removed opposition to his rule though executions and imprisonments, as well as through forced immigration. The liberator became the tyrant.
His relationship with Russia changed with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 as they no longer imported 80% of Cuba’s sugar or 40% of their citrus. Plus, Cuba received 13 million tons of oil imports in 1989 from the Soviet Union which dropped to 3 million tons by 1993. Economic hardship ensued with shortages in food and power. In order to survive, rationing and bartering were necessary. Cars and homes deteriorated.
Miami, Florida became Little Havana as more than 1.5 million left Cuba mostly between 1959 and 1980’s; some faced the 90 mile trip across the Atlantic Ocean by boat or in a raft, many not making it.
At the announcement of Fidel’s death on November 26th, thousands in Little Havana started celebrating and continued all weekend including some survivors of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Signs marked, “Roast in Hell, Fidel” were accompanied by people banging pots and pans and waving the American and the Cuban flags. These people want political change on their home island and hope that Trump continues the embargo to keep the pressure on to help foster those changes.
Over the 50 years Fidel Castro was in power
And yes, having the United States embargo against Cuba definitely impacted their country. The thaw between the two countries under Obama’s administration was just that, a thaw.