Douglas Brinkley: Fidel Castro’s shadow will continue to loom large

Fidel Castro remembered
Fidel Castro remembered 02:26

What to make of Fidel Castro, and what can Cuba look forward to now that he’s gone? Some thoughts from historian Douglas Brinkley: 

What a large shadow Fidel Castro has cast over our lives. If Castro were a cartoon character, he’d be a cat with nine lives.

Writer Norman Mailer once told me that American presidents had “Castro-envy,” because they had to relinquish power every four or eight years, while Castro stayed enthroned decade after decade. 

Dictators have long been fashionable in Latin America. But somehow, Castro was different than the tyrannical rest. With a wiry beard and a fierce gaze -- always clad in olive-drab military fatigues -- he exuded a strange, messianic bearing. 

Although Cuba is an island nation of only 11 million, Castro’s global stature never wavered. Everyone, even his enemies, wanted to meet the legend. 

The Colombian Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez, author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” once swooned that Castro was “born to win.” Even Nelson Mandela once proudly shouted, “Long live the Cuban Revolution! Long live comrade Fidel Castro!”

To the U.S. government, however, Castro was always a pariah -- that is, until recently. Due largely to President Obama’s willingness to improve U.S.-Cuban relations, a new detente between our nations has emerged.

Flying between Miami and Havana is now relatively simple. A number of my students at Rice University in Houston, Texas, for example, are this very Thanksgiving weekend in Havana as part of a college baseball diplomacy gambit.

But I think normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba will only go so far. Castro-ism will continue to be upheld in Cuba by Fidel’s brother, Raoul, now 85 years old. 

While Castro’s nine lives have ended, my guess is that his shadow will still loom large. In death, Fidel -- like Pancho Villa and Che Guevara -- will remain a folk figure throughout Latin America. His tomb will be the central tourist attraction in Havana no matter how many Hilton and Marriott resorts are built on the outskirts of town.

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