Things to know about Fidel Castro

Things to know about Fidel Castro

Who is this man who has eclipsed Trump?


Fidel Castro 1926 - 2016
Photo: Associated Press
Fidel Castro was a revolutionary legend who overthrew a dictator to seize control of his nation, establishing the first communist state in the west and sparking a tense standoff between Cuba and the United States that would last for decades.

But what did he achieve?

So much. Okay, some random facts:
  • He halved rent for the poor
  • Introduced a work/study programme where students spent half their time studying and the other half working.
  • Gave healthcare to everyone
  • Put an end to racism
  • Took elecriticy to rural towns
  • Diversified the economy into tourism and biotechnology
  • Under him, Cuba was the first nation in the world to meet sustainable development goals
  • He even changed the flavour of the milk kids drank for breakfast

So why all the hate then?

Whne he first came to power he executed thousands of people who he believed were enemies of communism. But he didn't stop there. He continued to silence his critics, many of them were sentenced to death or jailed where they were beaten and tortured. 

Castro had a list of peole he thought would not fit in to the new Cuba. These included homosexuals, Jehova's Witnesses and others. They were sent off to brutal prison work camps where they were tortued and often executed.

Also, not everyone liked the idea of communism, especially the wealthy who had to give up their money and businesses. Many of them fled the country with nothing and ended up in Miami.

How Castro got Cuban kids to drink their milk

That's pretty awful. Did anyone like him?

Yes, lots of people saw Castro as a liberator. He was the man who took communism to the West. He helped poor countries throw off their colonial masters and govern themselves. This is also why much of the West hates him. If you see it in terms of the rich/poor divide, he gave hope to the millions of poor in the world. He also helped them by sending troops, weapons and money to aid their struggles.

“Cuba and Fidel are the symbol of the little guy standing up against the hemispheric giant. People still have this romantic image of Cuba as a symbol of revolution.” said Geoff Thale, programme director at the Washington Office on Latin America.

I heard that the US wanted to have him assassinated, is that true?

Yes it is. The CIA tried more than 500 times to kill Castro. The US also tried to overthrow him when they used Cuban refugees to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. They lost. The US also refused to trade with Cuba, for decades. Only two years ago under US President Barack Obama, did they reestablish diplomatic relations. At first the US scolded other nations who traded with Cuba, but as time wore on, more nations did. Without its closest big neighbour to trade with, Cuba joined forces with the then Soviet Union. He brought the cold war to America's front step.

Uh oh. Then what happened?

So, after the second world war, there was the Korean war, and the US began placing nuclear missiles in Europe. The Soviets were not happy. Then, in October of 1959, Turkey agreed to allow the US to put missiles in its territory. The following year, the USSR and Cuba became friends. In 1961 the missiles were placed in Turkey. 

The following year, then Soviet president Nikita Kruschev asked Cuba to host Soviet missiles. On October 14 a US spy plane took photos of the missiles and two days later, Kennedy was officially informed. The US sent warships to lay siege to Cuba, and forced Castro to get rid of the missiles. It was a very tense two weeks.

But there's no Soviet Union anymore

Yep. The USSR collapsed in 1991 and Cuba was in trouble. Other nations began to trade with it, though. Over time it was pretty much only the US that wouldn't trade with Cuba. It wouldn't allow its citizens to trade and they couldn't even go there on holiday. 

But also, over the next two decades, Castro sent his forces into Africa and Latin America to help locals get their countries back from colonial powers. That brought him into further conflict with the US. During the Vietnam war he sided with the communists, so he is a hero to many people who have gone through struggle.

Who were the Marielitos?

Many people were unhappy under Castro and wanted to leave, but weren't allowed to. We're not saying it was as bad as North Korea, but there was no freedom of movement. In 1980, a group of Cubans tried to leave the country. They went to foreign embassies to ask for help. Castro took his security forces away from the embassy buildings and people flooded in. Then Castro released a lot of criminals and people who were sick and in need of mental care, and said that whoever wanted to could leave the country. 

The harbour was clogged with boats and all counted some 125,000 people left.


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