Iconic revolutionary and Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro has died, leaving behind a mixed legacy that will continue to be debated for years to come.
“El Commandante” or “Fidel,” as he was fondly called by Cuban people, had become a living legend in his lifetime for defying American power and shunning temptations of market economy for decades. A lawyer who turned into the world’s most famous guerrilla leader dislodged the brutal US-backed Batista regime in 1959, and ruled his country for nearly five decades, becoming the longest-serving non-royal leader.
Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel Castro and his successor as president, tersely announced the legendary leader’s death on the night of November 25, and signed off with a revolutionary slogan: “Ever onward, to victory!”
The 90-year-old revolutionary icon, famed for his rumpled olive fatigues, straggly bears and Havana cigars (which he had to give up due to failing health) survived many assassination attempts and years of tough US economic embargo, which he blamed for abetting poverty in his country. A trenchant critic of the capitalist system, Castro has famously said: “A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle between the future and the past.” He has left a nation which remains overwhelmingly poor, but is known for free medical services and free schooling. In the last two years before his death, Cuba embarked on a process of rapprochement with the US under President Barack Obama, kindling bright prospects for economic rejuvenation and closer integration of the Cuban economy into the global value chain.
Castro’s legacy will continue to be debated by scholars and experts, but his place in history is assured as few could incarnate the spirit of the Revolution as he did in his persona and life.
Castro quotes: In his Own Words
Here are some memorable quotes of Castro, which gives an insight into his thinking, beliefs and value-systems:
- “I began the revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and a plan of action.” — Castro in 1959.
- “I’m not thinking of cutting my beard, because I’m accustomed to my beard and my beard means many things to my country. When we fulfill our promise of good government I will cut my beard.” — Castro in a 1959 interview with CBS’s Edward Murrow, 30 days after the revolution.
- “A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle between the future and the past.” – Castro.
- “They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America? I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, it is alienating… because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition,” 1961, speech in Havana on the second anniversary of the Cuban revolution.
- “With what morality can the [US] leaders talk of human rights in a country where there are millionaires and beggars, where blacks face discrimination, women are prostituted, and great masses of Chicanos, Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans are deprecated, exploited and humiliated?” 1978, speech delivered to the World Communist Youth Conference.
- “I reached the conclusion long ago that the one last sacrifice I must make for (Cuban) public health is to stop smoking. I haven’t really missed it that much.” — Castro in December 1985 upon announcing he had stopped smoking cigars.
- “Just imagine what would happen in the world if the socialist community were to disappear … if this were possible and I don’t believe it is possible.” — Castro in 1989.
- “These changes (the opening to international tourism, foreign investment, some small business and family remittances) have their social cost, because we lived in a glass case, pure asepsis, and now we are surrounded by viruses, bacteria to the point of distraction and the egoism created by the capitalist system of production.” — Castro in 1998.
- “One of the greatest benefits of the revolution is that even our prostitutes are college graduates.” — Castro to director Oliver Stone in 2003 documentary “Comandante.”
- “I realized that my true destiny would be the war that I was going to have with the United States.” — Castro’s opening quote in “Looking for Fidel,” Stone’s second documentary on the Cuban leader from 2004.
- “Here is a conclusion I’ve come to after many years: among all the errors we may have committed, the greatest of them all was that we believed that someone … actually knew how to build socialism. … Whenever they said. ‘That’s the formula,’ we thought they knew. Just as if someone is a physician.” Castro in2005.
- “I will neither aspire to nor accept … the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief … It would be a betrayal of my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer.” Castro, in February 2008, announcing his resignation as president.
- “We are not a developed capitalist country in crisis, whose leaders are going crazy looking for solutions amidst depression, inflation, a lack of markets and unemployment; we are and we must be socialists.”