'Castro’s main legacy: Proving it’s possible to defy US hegemony'

Cuba's former President Fidel Castro (R) greets Ecuador's President Rafael Correa during a meeting in Havana in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters on January 31, 2014. © Cubadebate
Fidel Castro was able to create a society where all Cubans had access to healthcare, access to education, said Professor Joseph S. Tulchin; former director of the Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Cuba is mourning the death of former President Fidel Castro who died at the age of 90 on Friday. His brother Raul announced his death on Cuban state television.

The revolutionary leader was revered on the island nation, where he was called the country's founding father, and the man who freed Havana from the grip of the United States.

Left-wing politicians have paid tribute to the longtime Cuban leader describing him as an iconic figure.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party, expressed his condolences, saying that “for all his flaws he will be remembered across the globe.” Not long after making the statement Corbyn was mocked, with some comparing the former Cuban leader to Darth Vader, Osama bin Laden, and even Hitler.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a backlash after expressing “deep sorrow” and condolences over the death of a man he described as a “remarkable leader.”

RT: Many famous political figures compared the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro to Darth Vader, Osama bin Laden, and even Hitler. Do you think it was appropriate?

Joseph Tulchin: Well, certainly in South Florida he does, on the famous 8th street, known as Calle Ocho, where the Cuban-American community which is anti-Castro is concentrated. It seems to me that that is a great exaggeration. Cuba is a dictatorship, and Fidel Castro was a dictator. There is no question about that. He treated his hostile enemies at the beginning of the revolution in a way that we can compare to the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Mexican Revolution; it was a great deal of bloodshed in the first few years following Castro’s triumph. Don’t forget that just two years after Castro entered Havana in power; the US backed an invasion force by hostile anti-Castro Cubans in what was called ‘The Bay of Pigs.’ The point is that the Cuban administration under Castro was under attack from its very beginning until the very end of the Cold War.

The US embargo made the economy very difficult to organize, and the Cubans turned to the Soviets in the 1960s and 1970s for their economic support. During that time, the 60s, 70s and 80s the Cuban regime was a dictatorship, there was no press freedom, dissidents were not encouraged and disallowed, people were expelled, some people left the island, people continued to leave the island today looking for better life elsewhere. But to compare Castro to Stalin or Hitler or even to Darth Vader seems to me to be a great exaggeration. The point to emphasize that unlike all of those people - including Darth Vader - Fidel was able to create a society in which all the Cubans had access to healthcare, access to education.

Cuba never became a kleptocracy in which corruption was rampant, and members of the regime became personally wealthy. There is no kleptocracy today; the level of corruption is remarkably low... And most important for the US, Cuba is not a drug center, unlike other island states in the Caribbean - Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Haiti. The drug traffic from Cuba is non-existent. And the Cuban coast guard or navy, as it is called, cooperates on a daily basis with the US Coast Guard. So Cuba in the Pentagon is considered an ally in the fight against illegal drugs.

RT: What legacy, do you think, such an iconic figure will have for the world?

JT: You can accept the fact that he was a cruel dictator but again compared to Hitler or Stalin or other brutal dictators he was not nearly so terrible. The Cuban population through the entire 50 years of the revolution, with significant exceptions, lived a calm and quiet life. They also enjoyed remarkable access to social goods and benefits of that revolution. What these people are ignoring is that whether he was a dictator or not is not a question. He was a dictator; that is not in dispute. But If we focus on that, we lose sight of what the Cuban revolution represents. The legacy in Latin America is and will remain that it is possible to defy US hegemony. And what that lesson means for all of the countries in Latin America is that they can achieve autonomy or agency, as I prefer to call it, despite the pressures from a dominant power – the United States. And Castro’s legacy will focus on that throughout the hemisphere. Being a dictator is not Castro’s only legacy.

RT: There were mass celebrations in Miami’s Cuban neighborhoods after the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death. What do you think about such celebrations?

JT: For Cubans who hate Castro, particularly people of the first generation to flee Cuba because they were against the revolution, they are pleased and happy that he has died. They think his death will mean a great transition and perhaps their return to their native land. I think that hope is unrealistic. And that they enjoy someone else’s death is something that I cannot share with them. I am not pleased that Castro was a dictator; I opposed his censorship; I opposed his closing of academic conversation and debate. But again, I recognize that, unlike my country, he provided healthcare and education. He provided food for everybody, though the level of economic support was very low. Cuba is a poor country.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.