There is something unsettling about watching people celebrate the death of another human being — any human being — with jubilation.
And while it is somewhat understandable that the Cuban Americans who suffered and whose families suffered at the hands of Fidel Castro’s brutal 47-year-reign might rejoice at his demise, it still seemed excessive that Calle Ocho of Miami’s Little Havana was overrun by hundreds of Cuban exiles last weekend who turned the revolutionary leader’s passing into a massive public street party.
There are two sides to any story, and multiple perceptions to any man.
Fidel Castro was no exception.
In anything, Castro was an enigma of Olympic proportions.
He was a starry-eyed revolutionist who overthrew a brutal dictator to then become an equally despotic and brutal dictator himself.
Castro was an educated man raised in privilege who later rejected his elite upbringing to fight for the rights of Cuba’s long-suffering peasants and oust the iron fisted dictator Fulgencio Bautista, only to deny his people the right to define their own destiny through a path of democracy.
Castro’s critics have berated him for imprisoning tens of thousands of his fellow Cubans, exporting violent socialist revolution to other countries around the globe, and repressing any semblance of free expression or dissent.
For the last half century, the nonprofit media watchdog organization Freedom House has ranked Cuba as the most repressive regime in the Western Hemisphere in terms of its treatment of the press.
And according to some historical accounts, as many as 30,000 political dissidents faced firing squads during his early reign.
On the other hand, his proponent have hailed him for having brazenly stood up to the United States, irradiating illiteracy (adult literacy in Cuba is almost 100 percent, compared to 86 percent in the United States), and providing his people with one of the most progressive healthcare systems on Earth.
To his credit, because of measures implemented by Fidel Castro (allocating 13 percent of the national budget to schools and universities), Cuba’s educational system ranks Number One in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to World Bank sources.
Cuba also has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States and one of the highest life expectancies in the hemisphere.
Fidel was a man of many faces, and like all men, he evolved — not always in the best of ways — over the years.
As the Cuban people prepare to inter the ashes of their national hero at Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba this weekend, it is hard not to have an ambiguous perception of the man they will bury.
What is certain is that Castro’s memory will live on long after him, and, ultimately, only history — and the Cuban people — can judge his true legacy.
Fidel Castro is dead.
God save Fidel Castro, and God save the Cuban people.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]