Analysis of Fidel Castro's Legacy
Castro began as the charismatic rebel and leader of the M-26-7, fighting against Batista’s cruel regime; a hero in the eyes of the Cubans. Leading a group of young radicals, Castro instituted an attack on the Moncado Barracks to draw national attention to their cause. Though the attack was a failure, it was the beginning of a long and bloody battle fought over Cuba. From 1956 to 1958, Fidel Castro united all of Batista’s opponents under one banner and finally overthrew Batista, taking his place as Cuba’s leader. Later, other South American countries, inspired by the successful rebellion in Cuba, would struggle to overthrow their trammels as well. Cuba’s revolution reinvigorated the Cuban people and provided new hope for equality and freedom for the frustrated Cuban people. After taking control, Castro instituted multiple reforms to better the lives of the average working Cuban. In a huge effort to reduce inequality, the Cuban government nationalized many industries and provided Cubans with either jobs or unemployment compensation. The government’s shift to a socialist path gave the people universal education, free health care, social security, insurance, and sick leave, a marked improvement from Batista’s rule. Castro didn’t stop there. By 1960, the government had instituted multiple social reforms to lower utility rates and housing rents, abolish legal discrimination, and increase wages. In a slew of new laws and regulations, Castro managed to make life easier, even better for the Cuban people. The changes that Cuba’s new, socialist government brought on improved the quality of life of many Cubans, and many look up to him as a great leader and icon of Cuba’s long sought after freedom from oppressors.
However, not all of Castro’s socialist decisions were as applauded and acclaimed; many Cubans despised the communist path that the country was being steered toward. A great cause of animosity was how the new government treated dissenters of their government. Many of Batista’s former officials and supporters were imprisoned and executed without trial, and thousands of Cubans labeled ‘enemies of the revolution’ were tossed into jail. It angered many Cubans that these people had been subject to such inequality. However, this was merely the beginning of the government’s many controversial decisions. Many also objected when the government instituted strict regulations on the people. These rules dictated almost every aspect of the people’s daily lives, including food rations, religion, and occupation. Soon Castro’s government had banned strikes and elections, and censored many artists. All media, including theater, art, literature, music, and cinema, had to support the revolution, greatly limiting freedom of expression. Ironic that a party based on the ideas of Cuban nationalism and freedom would eventually restrain the population itself, isn’t it? Despite their emphasis on Cuba’s “right to control their own destiny”, Cuba under Castro was racked by multiple recessions and failed reforms, such as the “new man” reform created by Che Guevera. During the “Special Period”, Cuba’s peso failed and they were forced to rely on foreign currency. Tourism became a major industry, and Castro’s government treated the tourists much better than they did the Cubans. Cubans were not allowed to go to tourist areas and were told not to get involved with foreigners. The government, impoverished, let Cuban homes crumble, Cuban people go without food and other goods, all so that they could pay off their debt. People unable to survive on the government’s wages turned to crime in the black market to put food on the table, and regularly built boats to try to flee to other countries. Castro’s rule shackled the Cuban population and left them at the mercy of the government, unable to make decisions in their own lives or even to protest against the government’s unyielding hold on the Cuban people.
Fidel Castro will be remembered as Cuba’s liberator and enslaver. His decisions and actions were neither all good or all bad; none can truly judge whether he was an antagonist or a protagonist. One thing remains certain, though; for better or for worse, history will always remember Fidel Castro.