With only about 12 million inhabitants, Cuba has always punched way above its weight—in sports, geopolitics and international presence as well as military interventions. Some of these are exploits; others, like the spreading of violence in instability, absolutely not.
Too many think Cuba’s international weight is thanks to Fidel’s charisma and audacious defiance of the USA and its allies. Fidel survived assassination attempts, a strict economic embargo and even the defeat of the Soviet Block, Cuba’s main support, in the Cold War. Cuba survived that traumatic implosion of the Soviet Union and the democratisation of many countries where they sowed the seed of revolution, and sometimes, war.
One of Fidel’s most coveted projects was the ALBA, that clustered regional like-minded revolutionary or left-wing ruled countries, an initiative that he cofounded with the fiery, flamboyant and authoritarian president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. Today’s Venezuela is the only major nation with triple digit inflation and homicides that are counted in the tens of thousands.
Cuba has been a very major actor in the proxy war between East and West. It took the Cold War to the very backyard of the USA, spreading violence, revolution and civil war in the Caribbean, Central America and Africa. Cuba is not paradise on Earth; it’s a ruthless Communist dictatorship. The country is almost bankrupt, and the Regime blames everything on the embargo, even when Cuba has normal economic and commercial relations with a very large part of the world. Dictatorships always need the external enemy to justify oppression and incompetence in the management of state affairs. Cuba is no exception and the embargo is the perfect excuse to blame their sworn enemy.
Fidel was a hungry power junkie, the kind of leader that never settled for a regional role, much less a merely national one. Fidel thrived to become a world leader, an influencer, an icon, even if it was for
all the wrong reasons. Fidel wanted that world role, but only the Cold War gave him the opportunity to export his model through revolution and intervention in Zaire, Angola, and Central America, among many others.
Fidel sensed that at last he could be on the path to historic immortality, that he could become after death what he aspired to in life, an undisputed symbol of rebellion and revolution, something that perfectly fits his egocentric personality. Revolutionaries become ultra-conservative once in power, and as Fidel always told his pupils in Spanish, especially Chávez: “Con los pies por delante (a real revolutionary only leaves power in a body bag”).
Fidel is one of the biggest personalities of the 20th century; history of the last 60 years can’t be written without him at the centre of some of the most important and controversial episodes of our time. Some say that the 21st century started the day he died, others that he was a giant bigger than Cuba or that he was the last giant of history.
After his death, leaders from opposing sides of the political spectrum, from Sonia Gandhi to the Prime Minister of India, have underlined the dimension and influence of Fidel. His funeral on December 4 will be attended by some of the most important personalities of the world, amongst them the King Father of Spain and a representative of the President of the United States. True democrats never blessed, and never will, Castrismo as a political model. But Fidel will undoubtedly be a part of contemporary history with his lights and many shadows.