By Kelly Gilbert
Cuban leader Fidel Castro, notorious for sparking the Cuban Revolution as well as his tight grip on communism and defying the United States of America for decades, has died at the age of 90.
After his half-century rule over Cuba, Castro passed away from what some believe was poor health on Nov. 25 at 10:29 p.m.
Filled with emotion, Cuban President Raul Castro made his brother’s death known to the public through a Cuban state televised announcement.
“It’s difficult not to be optimistic about the death of a dictator,” said government, politics, and global studies professor, Dr. Steven Michels. “Castro did some good things, undoubtedly, but the net gain was negative. Good leaders do not promise elections, then rule for 50 years.”
Castro’s reign over the island of Cuba, located 90 miles south of Florida, began in 1959 when he led an army of rebels, known as the 26 July army, to victory over U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
His regime did away with Batista, dissolving any trace of American capitalist businesses with it.
Replacing Batista with himself as ruler, Castro wielded power like a tyrant, controlling the government, economy, healthcare and relations with other countries, leaving the 11 million people under his rule economically crippled and living in fear of him.
“Socialism or death” arose as Castro’s rally cry. Despite the Western-style democracy that many other countries were embracing, Castro tightened his grip on communism.
“There was nothing ‘valiant’ in Castro’s communist revolution in Cuba,” said Dr. Gary Rose, professor and chair of the Department of Government, Politics, and Global Studies. “He was a vicious dictator who, in the name of ‘equality,’ oppressed the Cuban people, denied human rights, and tortured those committed to democratic reforms.”
The Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, ravaged any remaining Cuban ties with the United States of America.
“The hostility towards the U.S. was fueled by Castro, which also contributed to U.S. hostility among some Latin American countries and Latin American leaders,” said Rose. “Castro most certainly defied many American presidents over the years, which he relished, and in doing so painted the U.S. as an imperialist nation.”
In 2008, after years of declining health, Fidel Castro resigned as president and in hopes of continuing his communist revolution, he turned power over to his long-time follower and brother, Raul.
It wasn’t until 2016 that President Obama visited Raul Castro in Cuba, the first American president in 88 years to make such a trip to Cuba. The visit symbolized an attempt to mend the broken relationship between the two countries.
Despite steps taken towards a better relationship with Cuba, even in Castro’s death, many Americans have a hard time feeling anything but hopeful.
According to AP Exchange, President-elect Donald Trump called Castro, “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.” He hoped that his death would eventually make way for a “future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”
As for Cubans saddened by the loss, they will be acknowledging Castro’s death with nine days of mourning.
His body has been cremated, and, in an attempt to honor his memory, his ashes will be taken the reverse route he took across the island after seizing power in 1959.
His ashes are expected to arrive in Santiago de Cuba, the birthplace of the revolution he sparked, on Dec. 3. There will be a memorial service held at the city square in his name.
“Castro’s death marks an important turning point in history,” said junior Victoria Hague. “Perhaps his death will lead to better opportunities for the Cuban people that were oppressed by him. And maybe there will be more of a relationship created between the United States and Cuba now. There’s no way to know for sure yet, but I can’t help but think that his death will lead to better things.”
The AP Exchange contributed information to this article.