Thursday, December 1, 2016


Fidel Castro's death is a significant event, whether you like him or loathe him. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer on a Caribbean island, I am experiencing the reaction in a much different way that I would have experienced it had I been at home in the USA. The government here has ordered all flags to be flown at half staff until after the weekend in his honor. There has been a lot of coverage on the local news here (I don't have a television, but I regularly listen to the news on the radio, which is how most of the folks in my village get their news). There has been some sort of local story about Castro every day since his death.

I'm too young to remember the Batista regime, the revolution that put Castro in power, the Bay of Pigs, or even the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear devastation. Growing up, I would have known Castro as a terrible Communist dictator. Once I was in college, I learned that this situation was like so many other things—rather than a simple black and white dichotomy, there was a lot of gray area. Everyone wants things to be simple, but things are almost always more complicated than most people realize.

This does not mean that I think Castro was a hero—he has many flaws. Like most autocrats, he came into office with many promises, but failed to deliver on them. However, for many small countries such as Dominica, he is admired because he made his island country well known throughout the world. He survived countless assassination attempts (including by our CIA), and basically thumbed his nose at the West. Heck, I even have a student in my school named Fidel—I doubt that would happen in American schools (when I hear the word “Fidel” now, I think of my little buddy rather than a dictator).

The healthcare system in Cuba is much better than most small countries, and Cuba has regularly supplied other countries with doctors and nurses—including Dominica. I remember seeing some white people in Portsmouth last year who were not in a touristy area, so they caught my eye. I wondered what their story was, and I found out they were Cubans who were sent here to work in the hospital. The Cuban government also provides a lot of college scholarships for Dominicans to come to Cuba to study medicine, engineering, architecture, etc. Dominicans need and appreciate the assistance Cuba provides.

Personally, I'd be interested in visiting Cuba, if for nothing else than to see all the American cars from the 1950s that they have managed to keep running. The five-decade American embargo never got the desired result of fomenting a revolt against Castro. I'm glad that some moves have been made by the current administration in the last couple of years to ease these restrictions. It seems to me that one way to help Cubans would be to allow people to travel and mingle freely. Now that Fidel Castro is gone, maybe it will be easier to re-examine the USA's overall relationship with this island country, located a mere 90 miles from Florida. However, it is hard to tell what the next administration will do on this topic (as well as many others).

In the meantime, I'll just enjoy my school days with my little friend Fidel, who will forevermore be the person I think about when I hear that particular iconic name.

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