Fidel Castro always seemed larger than life. His death in Havana late on Friday night marks the end of a Cold War era in global politics — a bitter ideological struggle that pitted East and West and one that under his direct leadership brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The death of Castro senior (90), announced on Cuban state television by his younger brother and President Raul Castro, essentially brings the curtain down on six decades of revolutionary Communism across Latin-America, a period influenced by the former lawyer’s belief in state-control of property and personal affairs, where the notion of revolution was seemingly perpetual and where personal rights were sacrificed in the name of state-controlled socialism. Both he and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara came to symbolise the popular personae of fatigue-wearing revolutionaries who promised equality and agrarian reform. Instead, after overthrowing the dictatorship of president Fulgencio Batista in January 1959, Castro brought a regime that confiscated private property, put corporate assets under state control and suppressed human rights — all in an effort to build a Communist utopia in the Caribbean.
Castro’s stamina was legendary, having the ability to deliver six-hour speeches without notes. He led the island-nation until 2006. During that period, he saw off nine American presidents and survived numerous attempts from the Central Intelligence Agency and others to assassinate him. Throughout, he remained a bulwark for an ideological belief system that once held a quarter of the world’s population captive to state-control.
He maintained that belief even when the satellite states of eastern Europe broke free from the Soviet mantle and he still endured in his revolutionary socialist mantra when the former Soviet Union collapsed. Throughout, Castro was unforgiving in his believe that all men are equal, that wealth should be equally shared and that the state should control all means of production and property. And as long as he was at the helm in Havana, there never could be any reconciliation between his Caribbean Communist enclave and a capitalist America just 125km across the Straits of Florida.
El Commandante lived long enough to see his nation reach a rapprochement with Washington, with both countries once more opening embassies and beginning normal relations. It was a change he railed against. Castro will be remembered as a key figure of the 20th century, an iconoclast, a revolutionary. He was a great egalitarian and larger than life. But death is the greatest leveller for us all.