The death of controversial Cuban leader Fidel Castro is the end of an era. Since the first shots of Castro’s 1959 Communist revolution were fired, the Cuban people have lived under the shadow of their charismatic but controversial leader. His nearly 50-year reign ended in 2008 when he resigned following a lengthy illness, yet he has remained active in Cuban politics.
While Castro’s dictatorial brand of communism alienated his country from global commerce, and especially from the United States who only recently lifted economic sanctions on the Latin American country, he has been incontrovertibly influential.
New York Times reporter James C. McKinley Jr. had this to say about the conflicted relationship between Castro and his people following the president’s official resignation.
“For good or ill, Mr. Castro is without a doubt the most important leader to emerge from Latin America since the wars of independence of the early 19th century, not only reshaping Cuban society but providing inspiration for leftists across Latin America and in other parts of the world.”
While inspirational to left-leaning visionaries, Castro’s rule left everyday Cubans behind, stagnating in poverty. Nonetheless, early Wednesday morning, the Daily Mail reported that tens of thousands of people had gathered for the commencement of the funeral procession, including a number of celebrities including Danny Glover, and a number of South American leaders. As reported by the Guardian, the funeral procession began with an impassioned speech by Raul Castro, Cuba’s current president and the brother of the deceased, who spoke of Castro’s life-long dedication to their homeland.
Despite his brother’s accolades, Castro was reviled by many, and while the mood at the procession is somber, impromptu celebrations of his death reveal the insidiousness of the Communist legacy. In Miami, Florida, where more than 1 million Cubans currently reside, the feeling is one of joy rather than sorrow. Since the 1980s, Cubans have flocked to America’s shores in search of a better life, and few of these new Americans will recall Castro, who many dubbed el monstruo (the monster) with fondness.
As reported by Richard Luscombe for the Guardian, even prominent American politicians of Cuban descent have been vocal in their contempt for the deceased dictator.
Florida Senator and former presidential candidate Marco Rubio stated, “While the dictator is dead, the dictatorship remains. It’s a day to reflect literally on the tens of thousands of people whose lives were forever altered by the rise of Fidel Castro to power. People who were executed after kangaroo trials, people who lost 30 years in prison, the over 1.5 to 2 million people who had to flee their own country.”
Ted Cruz also tweeted on Saturday:
Fidel Castro's death cannot bring back his thousands of victims, nor can it bring comfort to their families: https://t.co/hYue5mi69M
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) November 26, 2016
While in Cuba people flocked to the streets, in Miami local Cuban eateries and coffee shops popular with expats brimmed with people commiserating about their mixed feelings regarding Castro’s death and elaborate funeral procession.
The funeral procession will travel 900 kilometers from Havana, where eulogies were offered Tuesday night in the Plaza of the Revolution, to Santiago de Cuba, where Castro began his revolution in 1959. The procession will arrive on December 3, where a large crowd will await the arrival of Castro’s ashes.
According to the International Business Times, Castro’s ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery on Sunday, eight days after the cremation of his remains last Saturday. The closing ceremony is expected to attract tens of thousands of Cubans and will mark the end of the last Communist regime in the West.
As Cuba slowly emerges from under Castro’s 50-year reign, there is growing hope that perhaps this will mark the beginning of a new era of democracy and economic growth. While many adored Castro, and many more abhorred him, one thing is for certain: Castro was an icon, and without his presence, the political landscape has changed forever.
[Featured Image by Jorge Rey/Getty Images]