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AFTER FIDEL: Faculty Reflections on the Death of Fidel Castro.

TORONTO, ON: Fidel Castro. Photo taken by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star Feb. 1, 1976. (Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

December 5, 2016

Fidel Castro’s death has led us to lay eyes once again on his iconic figure. In the last few days, a plethora of photos of his persona has flooded TV, digital, and printed media. Not surprisingly, most of these are of a younger Fidel, in military gear, and always in action: smiling, talking, walking, thinking, or leading others. Certainly, these remind us of the discipline, inventiveness, energy, and ideological commitment needed in any, and particularly Cuba’s, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist endeavor to bring about, sustain, and expand ruptures, especially in the global stage of the Cold War. The stakes were high, the odds were (and are) many. At the same time, to me, these images also reveal the hyper-masculinist, uncompromising, paternalistic impulses and structures (from and beyond Fidel) that so often limited and undercut the many cross-class, cross-racial, cross-gender, cross-faith efforts to materialize true transformation. Today, our obsessions with Fidel have caused us again to render into obscurity the fact that Cuba’s search for social justice has heavily involved the work of millions of people in and outside this Caribbean island before, during, and after the life of this one man.

~ Ileana Rodriguez-Silva, Associate Professor of History.
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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.

~ Vanessa Freije, Assistant Professor of International Studies.