Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died on Friday. He was 90. Cuban state television announced the death but gave no other details. In declining health for several years,   Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when a serious illness felled him. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later-formally resigned as president. Most people in the crowd had no idea what Mr. Castro planned for Cuba. A master of image and myth, Mr. Castro believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland, an indispensable force with authority from on high to control Cuba and its people. But it was more than repression and fear that kept him and his totalitarian government in power for so long. He had both admirers and detractors in Cuba and around the world. Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms; many others hailed him as the crowds did that first night, as a revolutionary hero for the ages. Even when he fell ill and was hospitalized with diverticulitis in the summer of 2006, giving up most of his powers for the first time, Mr. Castro tried to dictate the details of his own medical care and orchestrate the continuation of his Communist revolution, engaging a plan as old as the revolution itself. But in December 2014, President Obama used his executive powers to dial down the decades of antagonism between Washington and Havana by moving to exchange prisoners and normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries, a deal worked out with the help of Pope Francis and after 18 months of secret talks between representatives of both governments. In 2002, Carole King, the American singer-songwriter, crooned to him her hit song “You’ve Got a Friend.” He certainly did, a great many of them.      Why did they love him? Why do they still? For one thing, they see him as that defier of the yanqui colossus. But also, they have bought, and propagated, three myths: that the dictatorship has been good for literacy, good for health care, and good for black people (“Afro-Cubans”). All of this is untrue. All of it has been thoroughly debunked.          But, as Armando Valladares says, “What if it were true? Don’t people have literacy and so on in countries that are not cruel dictatorships?” Valladares was a prisoner in the Castros’ gulag for 22 years. In 1986, he wrote the memoir Against All Hope, earning him a designation: “the Cuban Solzhenitsyn.” That book and others punctured the lies of the Cuban regime. One of the others was Before Night Falls (1993), the memoir by Reinaldo Arenas. It was made into a movie, and an opera, too. Then in 2012 there was the amazingly honest movie Una noche (One Night). Mainly, however, the Castros’ fog machine prevailed. And opinion leaders in free countries remained indifferent to Cuban suffering, when not outright supportive of the dictatorship. Jeane Kirkpatrick once called this “a puzzling and profoundly painful phenomenon of our times.”


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