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Fidel Castro Dies At 90

Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, smokes a cigar during his meeting with two U.S. senators, the first to visit Castro's Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, Sept. 29, 1974.  (AP Photo)

What many thought was impossible occurred last night, Fidel Castro has passed away at the age of 90. It was announced on Cuban television by Fidel’s brother Cuban president Raul Castro that Fidel had died peacefully. There was no discussion of what exactly he died of but Fidel had been in poor health for many years. Castro was fiery until the end criticizing the United States and president Obama a few months ago in spite of his brother’s efforts to bring the two countries closer together.

Fidel led a successful revolution in 1959 to oust Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. My uncle fought and died in his revolution. Though Castro had promised democratic elections, he soon seized absolute control of the country as commander-in-chief. In 1961 he aligned himself with the Soviet Union and became one of the biggest thorns in the side of the United States. The closest the planet has ever come to nuclear war was the Cuban Missile Crisis which was partly initiated by him. For the next several decades he ruled Cuba in a totalitarian fashion, jailing or killing any dissidents and exporting revolutionary wars to places like Bolivia and Angola. This led to the massive Cuban exile in which millions of Cubans, mostly the upper and middle classes, emigrated to the United States in the 1960’s.

My family was among those that left Castro’s Cuba and settled here. They very much disagreed with Castro’s policies but mostly they did it for the same reason that most people emigrate to the United States: the promise of a better life and more economic opportunity. For that I am grateful. Having gone to Cuba on a couple of occasions I can attest that things are tough there for a lot of people. The economy isn’t great, the unemployment is high, and the pay equity is a joke. On the other hand they have one of the best healthcare systems in the world and free world class education. The truth is that along with the brutality of his rule he also brought about many reforms that did make life better for a lot of Cubans that had less than nothing before the revolution. But the nuances of Castro’s legacy are lost on most of my Cuban-American compatriots.

Today I saw many of my fellow Cuban-Americans celebrating in the streets of Miami, which I find repulsive. Yes, our families suffered under Fidel Castro but to celebrate an old man’s death like that seems highly distasteful to me. If we are truly empathetic people, Christians as many Cubans profess to be, then we should not celebrate the death of anyone, no matter how bad they were in life, in that fashion.

The usual gaggle of clowns like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and the Diaz-Ballart brothers all spewed their usual hardliner rhetoric at the announcement of his death. President Obama took a softer approach not wanting to jeopardize the strides he made with Cuba during his presidency. As for our new president-elect, Donald Trump, he condemned Castro and said he looked forward through his administration in helping the Cuban people achieve their long awaited freedom.

But how? The truth is that Trump has contradicted himself several times on the subject of Cuba. It came out that he did business in Cuba, violating the embargo, in 1998. He also praised President Obama’s strides to open Cuba and said he would not close the door. Then later when he was campaigning in South Florida he tried to appeal to the old Cuban hardliners by saying he would reverse all of Obama’s executive orders with regard to Cuba. He also appointed Anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver-Carone to his transition team. So, the question is, “what will he do?” The businessman side of him has to see the immense opportunities Cuba has to offer. Don’t you think he wants a Trump hotel on El Malecon and in Varadero? The U.S. stands to make billions by opening up Cuba.

What I have never understood is the argument from my fellow Cuban-Americans that we should not deal with Cuba because it is a repressive communist dictatorship that violates human rights. However, doing business with China and Vietnam are fine? That makes no sense. I have a feeling, (a hope really), that it doesn’t make sense to Trump either. This is a case in which I’m hoping Trump’s greed and the famous business sense he touts prevails over the whispers of dissent from a few Cuban hardliners in Miami.

The truth is that they are in the minority. The majority of Cuban-Americans and most Americans in general favor lifting the trade embargo. It is largely a generational divide. Younger people and Cubans that left from the 80’s until today generally favor removing the restrictions, people like me in other words. The old hardliners are dying out or their stance is softening with time. That is the case with my mother who was hardcore for the embargo my whole life but now thinks it should be lifted. She even traveled with me to Cuba after a forty year absence, a move that was condemned by many of her friends in Miami.

So, what happens now? My sense is that Raul will continue on for the next couple of years as he has before and then plans to pass the reins…to somebody in 2018. Perhaps with his brother gone he will be able to enact greater reforms than he had previous, not wanting to upset Fidel? It’s hard to say. Their relationship was very complex. What I do know is that it is the end of an era, a day many never thought would come. My abuela used to say of Fidel, “El malo nunca muere”. Well, Abuela, I guess you were wrong this time. Love him or hate him the reality is that he is one of the most iconic figures of the late 20th century and his mark will be felt for many years around the world.

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