As you may have heard by now, the big news this week is Fidel Castro’s resignation as leader of Cuba. Castro has been in power since 1959 (we’ve had ten presidents since then!), and many thought he would continue to rule until he passed away, rather than ever resigning.
America has cut off all contact with Cuba since Castro’s rise to power, which means his announcement is a huge turning point for a country that once almost brought us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Beginning in 1953, Castro led a guerrilla movement against the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, who at the time was using violence to suppress a rapidly-growing resistance made up primarily of students and other middle and upper class Cubans. Batista had begun to suspend certain constitutional rights and censor the media, even closing the strongly anti-Batista University of Havana in 1956.
Castro, along with his brother Raul and other revolutionaries such as Ernesto “Che” Guevara, finally overthrew Batista in 1959. Castro took over and promised a constitution and democratic elections, but soon began to practice his own form of communist dictatorship, straining Cuba’s already tenuous relationship with the US.
Castro started to get cozy with the Soviet Union, a major US enemy at the time, so President Eisenhower officially broke off relations with Cuba in 1961 by establishing an embargo, which basically meant that Americans couldn’t do any business with Cuba at all.
After Cuba allowed the Soviet Unionto build missile launching sites just 90 miles off the coast of America (known as the Cuban Missile Crisis), President Kennedy expanded the embargo, going so far as to prevent Americans from traveling to Cuba. The majority of this embargo is still in effect today–as American citizens we are technically allowed to travel to
Cuba under the modified embargo, but can not legally spend any money there (kind of hard to do on a vacation…)
Many people (including Cuban exiles) see Castro as a terrible dictator, no better than his predecessor Batista. However, many Cubans see him as a charismatic leader who gave them
universal health care and other quality-of-life improvements.
The American embargo actually strengthened his cause in many ways–any problems in Cuba could be conveniently blamed on the unfair treatment of Cuba by those awful American capitalists, allowing Castro to avoid taking responsibility.
The end of Castro’s era could be a major turning point in Cuba’s history, and has the potential to alter America’s long-standing relationship with the country. However, it has been announced that Fidel’s brother Raul (you may remember him from the original Cuban
revolution) will be taking over, a move which many people see as a way for Fidel to continue leading the country from behind the scenes, in spite of his ailing health.
Only time will tell what happens post-Fidel–some think Raul will attempt to mimic the Chinese practice of state-sponsored Capitalism, while others think that he lacks the charisma of his brother and will have to make major changes to avoid another uprising.
Either way, this is an important story to keep an eye on in the upcoming months.