Fidel Castro's death reminds us that he was one the most influential political figures of his age.

For his opponents, he was a dictator that imprisoned his people in a socialist jail and threw away the key. To his advocates, he was a revolutionary, an anti-imperialist hero. 

For far better or worse Fidel Castro, who passed away late on Friday aged 90, belonged in the same breadth as Ho Chi Minh, Nehru, Mao Tse-tung, and Nasser, as a personification of 20th century nationalism.

His power base was no more than a lavish island in the Caribbean. Yet there in Cuba he produced the very first communist state in the western hemisphere, crucial enough to be the epicentre of our closest brush with nuclear warfare.

While doing so he ended up being the world's longest lasting head of government, for half a century effectively resisting the US.

Without a doubt like his nation, Castro was defined, by the close proximity of the superpower 90 miles to the north beyond the Straits of Florida.

For him, like his compatriots, there was no escaping the shadow looming from the United States.


The National Archives in Washington also include a 1940 letter from Castro to Franklin Roosevelt, in rigid, somewhat pretentious handwriting, asking the president to send him a $10 bill.

To his irritation, the 13-year-old Cuban school child got a reply however, alas, no cash.

After that there was Castro's love of baseball, a sporting activity that Cubans still to today adore. At the University of Havana, he was a respectable player.

Records that Castro had tests in the United States with 2 major league teams are fake - fabrications to go with the certainly apocryphal report of a baseball scout, that as a pitcher, the future El Comandante had "lots of enthusiasm, but not much of an arm. Suggest he go into another business".

That he did.

Into business of Marxism and insurrection. Quickly, Fidel Castro became a leader of the left-wing, which contained many student radicals that looked to topple the US-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The conflict would last 7 years, and started with not a triumph but a loss, the unsuccessful strike on the Moncada military barracks on 26 July 1953.

Fidel Castro was sentenced to 15 years behind bars but was released after just 2 - regarded by Batista, ridiculously, to hold no threat to the regime.

In 1955 he went to Mexico to employ assistance for the cause, and ended up becoming friends with an Argentinian student of medicine called Che Guevara who was eager to sign up for the Cuban revolution.


Che and Fidel Castro's death

Signed Photo of Fidel Castro & Che Guevara (1959)

The return to Cuba with 81 insurgents on the ship Granma, the facility of a rebel garrison in the mountains, as well as the guerilla project that ultimately fell Batista in January 1959. By then Che and Castro were global celebrities, idolised, romanticised and damned in accordance with preference.

They have continued to be revered ever since.

The nation that Castro took control of was little than an American colony; Havana was a play area for US travellers where the Mafia ruled. Suddenly, this world disappeared, to be replaced by a socialist state.

American possessions were nationalised, the mobsters were removed of their casinos and the prostitution trade, and Cuba's neighbour transformed from patron and provider into an implacable opponent overnight.

Within months, the Eisenhower administration was outlining to topple Fidel Castro of which such initiatives continued for decades.

As a conservative estimation, the CIA enacted a minimum of 8 different assignation efforts, some comical involving such gadgets as exploding cigars.

Each of them fell short. By the end, Castro had outlasted 10 U.S. presidents, before to he retired due to health issues in 2008, having run the nation for 49 years. And such was his impact that Fidel Castro continued to be synonymous with Cuba.

His indestructibility was shown virtually from the beginning.

The Eisenhower-era CIA strategy to get into Cuba was taken over by John F. Kennedy, culminating in the mess of the Bay of Pigs attack of 1961.

Castro celebrated in his opponent's embarrassment: "What the imperialists cannot forgive us," he proclaimed, "is that we have made a Socialist revolution under their noses."


Fidel Castro's death missile crisis

The threat of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis repeats itself today with Kim Vs Trump.

Yet Castro knew that the security of a more powerful socialist state was required if the revolution was to be ensured.

Hence the partnership with the Soviet Union, and the deployment of missiles to the island that resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis when the superpowers came nearer to a nuclear exchange than ever before.

Castro was no more than a pawn in the situation. Yet connections with the Kremlin only grew.

In 1963 he became the first non-Russian to be granted the Order of Lenin, the Soviet Union's highest possible honour.

And, Cuba's financial dependancy on Moscow, basically a barter of sugar in return for oil and industrial goods, expanded to match its dependence on the United States the decade previously.

Nevertheless Cuba was too small a political platform for Castro.

By 1966 he established the Latin American Solidarity Organisation (OLAS), basically a strategy house for revolutionary movements throughout the continent.

"The duty of a revolution is to make revolution," was its motto - and "Fidel," as he was already recognized to his left-wing enthusiasts all over the world, lived up to this words and more.

Castro was an enemy of the United States, ergo he was pro-Arab and anti-Israel. If Washington backed a capitalist right-wing regime, he would back its opponents, often as a proxy for the Soviet Union.

He sent soldiers to combat in disputes in Central America to Africa; between 1965-1979, numbers declared, 14,000 Cubans had died in Havana's international battles. 

No other nation has punched above its weight so widely, and for so long on the global stage.


Cuba's adjustment of ideological loyalty saw the import of the communist command economy, with all its failings and ineffectiveness. 

The revolution brought communism's political evils as well: the one-party state that tolerated no dissent, enacted gross human rights abuses, imprisoning as well as executing those who risked speaking up against it.

Yet Castro's variation of socialism had qualities also. Education and learning was significantly enhanced, and illiteracy - at 60% in the Batista years - was just about gotten rid of.

It's the same for state-supplied healthcare, currently offered to everyone.

The accomplishment was even more exceptional given the middle-class exodus and brain drain of the years after 1959, and the continued hostility of US presidents, propelled by an aggressive Cuban exile population based in politically vital Florida.

The hostility decreased under Jimmy Carter, only to magnify once more under Ronald Reagan, as a component of his campaign against worldwide communism.

Most damaging however would prove the revolution in Moscow. Mikhail Gorbachev had little time for Cuba and Fidel Castro; Boris Yeltsin, the first leader of the Russia that replaced the Soviet Union in 1991, had much less.

Times were desperate.

As Russian help ran out, the Cuban economy decreased by 40%. However Castro was above all a survivor - even what he called this "special period". 

Then a brand-new saviour showed up in the figure of Venezuela's new president Hugo Chavez, an anti-American nationalist like Castro, and more vital a resource of subsidised replacement oil and foreign money.

However Castro, already well into his 70s, understood that Cuba's system needed to adapt in order to survive.

His policies came to be much more pragmatic. He could still supply a four-hour speech without notes, yet his frequent exhaustions now paved the way for business suits. He advertised tourism as a source of income, and looked more kindly on the Catholic Church.


The old revolutionary had softened, while numerous Latin American governments were moving leftward.

Only the hostility of the United States stayed unmitigated. Much was anticipated of Barack Obama, but he relaxed previous policies just at the margins.

Actually the United States had done greater than anyone to maintain Castro and the regime Washington so hated in power.

Time after time, America's heavy-handed persecution of the regime allowed him to align his nation against it, in order to play that nationalist, patriotic, card. Every failing could be blamed on the embargo and conspiracies managed by the CIA.

Whatever one's perception of Castro's approaches, there was no question he thought it was his unique goal to save his people.

His political hero was not Lenin, but Jose Marti, the 19th century rebel who thought for Cuba's freedom from Spain. Castro was no Marxist ideologist but a man defined by action, that would certainly explain Hemingway as his favorite author.

He was a womaniser, yet likewise Latin and Catholic too in his social conservatism, a challenger to abortion and gay rights.


Fidel Castro's death ruthlessness

Fidel Castro was dangerous in the political survival of his regime.

The headstrong enmity of the United States certainly helped; its hostility offered a timeless reason for Castro's approaches, perversely only serving to bolster support for him in Cuba.

One can wonder - how much more effective and devastating the regime might have been had free trade and normalised relations resumed?

However without the unmeaning assistance of the United States, Castro would certainly have been difficult to remove. His power was formidable, his hunger to control was limitless.

Neither will he be swiftly forgotten.

In a way, Castro and the socialism he brought in have certainly dissolved into just what Reagan called "the trashheap of history".

Yes, Cuba could have been freer and more flourishing had it been a liberal democracy. However Castro provided the nation self-respect.

His rejection to approve United States hegemony struck chords in Latin America and beyond.

Pre-Fidel Cuba had been little more than a banana republic. Under him, for good or bad, it mattered. Few nations, has ever punched over their weight for as long. And none have been so controlled by one human being.

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