Fidel Castro: A Life— and Death— In Context

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

Fidel Castro represented the authenticity of Cuban historical aspirations to sovereignty and self-determination.

Among the many tens of thousands of well-wishers to congratulate the newly re-elected President Franklin Roosevelt in November 1940 was a 12-year-old boy writing in halting English. “I like to hear the radio,” the youngster wrote, “and I am very happy, because I hear in it that you will be President for a new period.” The letter was sent from the Colegio de Dolores, the Jesuit boarding school in Santiago de Cuba. The writer was Fidel Castro Ruz, who also added a request to his congratulations. “If you like,” he asked President Roosevelt, “[to] give me a ten dollars bill green american because . . . never I have not seen a ten dollars bill american and I would like to have one of them.”

Can the imagination contemplate the possibility that had 12-year-old Fidel Castro Ruz received a “ten dollars bill green American,” history would have been different? Not plausibly–but it does make for an arresting outcome to ponder.      

On the other hand, outcomes no less plausible have acted to shape much of the history attributed to Fidel Castro. How utterly implausible: a revolution of uncommon breadth and depth in a country that before January 1959 was thought of— if thought of at all— as hardly more than a client state, an American playground: a place of license and loose morality; of prostitutes, pimps, and pornography; of bars and brothels; casinos and cabarets; in a country where the United States, former ambassador Earl E. T. Smith was to acknowledge, “was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba that…the American ambassador was the second most important man in Cuba; sometimes even more important than the President.”

That the government of Fidel Castro expelled the United States, nationalized U.S. property, and aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union— and also survived decades of U.S. efforts at regime change, including one armed invasion, years of covert operations, scores of assassination attempts, and 50 years of withering sanctions. How implausible indeed…

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