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Expert Comment: The legacy of Fidel Castro

cuba 150x150 Monday 28 November 2016
Senior Lecturer in Politics Dr Michael Holmes reflects on the life and legacy of Fidel Castro, and asks what this means for the the future of Cuba.  
The death of Fidel Castro last week brings ever closer the transformation of Cuba. But what direction those changes will take is by no means certain. Amnesty International highlighted how Castro was a “progressive but deeply flawed leader”. I hope that the country can overcome those flaws without having to abandon the progressive gains it has made.

I had the chance to visit Cuba a few years ago. I would never say that a tourist on a holiday can pretend to know a country. However, the visit did give me one or two insights. Perhaps the most interesting was meeting with Luis, a doctor in the eastern city of Piñar del Rio. His story epitomised the contradictions of Cuba today.

On the one hand, he came from a very poor peasant family. Had it not been for the revolution and the transformation of education, health and housing that it created, it is extremely unlikely that Luis would ever have had the opportunity to become a doctor. So he had undoubtedly benefitted.

On the other hand, he was earning a tiny salary – maybe the equivalent of $50 a month? Since his medical specialism was gynaecology, many of his patients were prostitutes. As Luis pointed out, he was earning less in a month than his patients earned in ten minutes. In addition, he had no freedom to travel.

Luis was well aware of his dilemma, and talked about his hope for changes that would give Cuban people greater freedom but without destroying the strong social policies that had been introduced under Castro. Others I met expressed a similar desire – to become more like a European social democracy, but not succumb to the extremist capitalism of the USA.

With Castro gone, Cuba will undoubtedly soon start to move. It is unfortunate that it will be doing so at a time when European social democracy is at its weakest in many decades, and when the new regime in Washington is likely to be extremely hostile to any attempts to maintain the social gains the country has made.


Dr Michael Holmes - full profile

Department of History and Politics  


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