In death, as in life, Fidel Castro remains a potent symbol for North and Latin Americans alike. It is difficult to recall a political or cultural figure whose passing has elicited so many op-eds, articles, concerts, and impromptu gatherings—whether in celebration or in mourning—as Fidel’s. There is no doubt that Fidel was a world historical figure, but his larger-than-life image was also one that he consciously cultivated. Fidel performed the role of the revolutionary patriarch in lengthy televised speeches, mass rallies, and international appearances. He labored to make his own name synonymous with the revolution. In Cuba, to criticize Fidel was to betray the revolutionary cause. U.S. leaders ironically reinscribed this mythology, while CIA assassination attempts consistently suggested that if “El Comandante” could be eliminated, so also could Cuban socialism.
It is worth remembering that in the years following the Cuban Revolution, people all over Latin America resisted the very premise that to love the revolution was to love Fidel. In fact, many found themselves inspired by Cuba’s improbable resistance to imperialism and colonialism at the same time that they became increasingly disillusioned with its leader. Leftists across Latin America took up their own distinct revolutionary agendas, whether it meant reviving national land reform, arming guerrilla fighters, or pursuing Third Worldist solidarity. Long before Fidel died, the Cuban Revolution took on new life without him.