Fidel Castro

With Castro’s death, Cuba and US should work to mend ties

The two nations have been at loggerheads for more than half a century; it’s time for them to put the past behind

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 12:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 12:48am

The cold war divided the world into communist and anti-communist, right and wrong, heroes and villains. Fidel Castro and Cuba, the speck of a Caribbean island he ruled for half a century, was for many people at the centre, casting an outsized ideological shadow. Yet even when that era ended with China embracing a market economy, the Berlin Wall falling and Castro’s staunch ally, the Soviet Union, collapsing, he still clung to his beliefs and sought confrontation, no matter how much Cubans suffered. With his death at the age of 90 comes a chance for all involved to put the past behind and look ahead to reform and development.

Charisma and revolutionary zeal made Castro a living legend. He fought off the might of the US time and again, overthrowing the corrupt dictator it supported in Cuba to seize power in 1959, fending off an invasion attempt two years later that had Washington and Moscow on the brink of nuclear war, defying a crippling economic embargo and evading assassination attempts. He used his influence to spread his ideas throughout Latin America, sent Cuba’s doctors to tend the world’s sick and its army to far-off conflicts in Angola and Namibia, in the process helping bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. Dressed in green military fatigues, the bearded, cigar-smoking former rebel was an icon and inspiration to some, a despot and hated figure to others.

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President Xi Jinping (習近平) said Chinese had “lost a close comrade and sincere friend”, while the socialist leader of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, urged revolutionaries to follow Castro’s legacy. But in the US, where one-fifth of the world’s 14 million Cubans live in exile, his passing was largely met with elation. Outgoing US President Barack Obama has been trying to mend ties, restoring diplomatic relations last year and forging tourism and trade links, although Congress has yet to lift the embargo. His successor, Donald Trump, offers uncertainty about whether he will continue the efforts, calling Castro “a brutal dictator”.

Castro brought Western-standard health care and literacy rates to his nation, but jailed and executed opponents and took rights and freedoms. The loss of Soviet support brought poverty and hardship. Sickness forced him to give up power to his brother, Raul Castro, in 2008 and modest economic reforms have since been instituted. The cold war ended long ago, though, and now, a giant of that era who clung to its thinking has passed as well. It is time for Cuba and the US to also look forward.