The news of the death of Fidel Castro spread all across the world on Saturday morning. The demise of the former President of Cuba shocked many in different ways. His legacy is both celebrated and frowned upon, and now that he is gone, people wonder what will change in his country.
The reactions surrounding his death have been very divided. In Miami, Cuban-Americans celebrated the news of his death in the streets until late hours.
However, in Cuba people mourned. To many, Castro was a trustworthy figure and even the “father” of the country. His ashes have now begun a four-day-long journey from Havana to Santiago, where thousands of Cubans await to say goodbye.
With both sides of the story, people in different countries are coming to terms with two big questions: who was Fidel Castro? And how will his death affect the future of Cuba?
Fidel Castro – Villain or Hero?
Fidel Castro, who was in power for over 30 years (1976 – 2008), was the leader of the first, and only, socialist revolution in the Western Hemisphere. He was one of the most controversial political figures of the last century in Latin America.
Many regard Castro as a vile dictator who oppressed Cuba for decades. The lack of sympathy and even tolerance that he had for opposition in his country gave him this label.
Dr. Emily Morris is a Development Economist specialising in Latin America and the Caribbean, at University College London. She says: “A lot of people didn’t like the way the country was going and they left. He was nationalising businesses all over the place throughout the 1960´. Clearly, anyone with a business wanted to get out. There are also his political opponents, some of them who have spent time in prison, who moved to Miami as well. It is not surprising that they are celebrating.”
However, Fidel Castro did accomplish many good things for Cuba. The levels of education in the country, all the way to higher education, combined with one of the best healthcare systems in the continent have given Cuba a good reputation worldwide.
Life expectancy in Cuba has been increasing during the past years. The latest records by the World Health Organisation show that the life expectancy in Cuba is 79 years, approximately, whereas the average in the Americas is shortly less than 80 years.
The country’s education system has also gone up since the Cuban Revolution. UNESCO records show that from 2000 to 2015, only Cuba reached the desired levels in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“A very important thing is the idea that he freed Cuba from being controlled by the United States, which is a funny idea considering that they suffered very, very badly from the disruption to bilateral economic relations,” says Dr. Morris. “He gave people a sense of Cuba as an independent country, even though for many years they were dependent of the Soviet Union. He symbolises, for them, Cuban sovereignty.”
What does Castro’s death mean for Cuba?
Fidel Castro was no longer particularly active in the government since around 2008. In 2006, he became very ill and temporarily made his brother, Raul, the President. However, in 2008, his health forced him to give up the power permanently.
Kevin Middlebrook, Professor of Latin American Politics at the Institute of the Americas at University College London, says: “The change for Cuba will be very gradual. There are many groups with a lot of power that like the current regime and want to keep things as they are. His brother, Raul, has very similar ideas to those of Fidel, and it seems like he is going to be in power for some more time.”
In regards to the recently improved relations with the U.S, Dr. Middlebrook says: “I think that Trump will try to undo the openings by President Obama. This is partially to support the Cuban-Americans in Florida. However, we need to remember that Trump is a businessman. With that mentality, it would be more convenient for people like him to remain open to trade and agreements.”
Many specialists seem to agree on this. Dr. Emily Morris says:
“I don’t think that his death changes much in regards to the relations with the U.S. as much as the new Trump government does. Trump surrounds himself with people that push him to undo everything that Obama did in relation to Cuba.”
The death of Fidel Castro with the combination of the Trump presidency brings a lot of uncertainty to Cubans regarding/about their relationship with the United States. Many of the Cubans that remain in the country still doubt the benefits of such relation, improved over the recent years through cooperation between Castro and Obama. However, with the new administration, this newborn friendship may now be at risk.