Castro’s Resignation: Historic Change or Symbolic Act
Last Tuesday, Fidel Castro, who has been confined to his bed by illness for the last 19 months, gave up the almost unlimited power that he has wielded in Cuba for nearly 50 years. Although Castro’s statement wasn’t totally unexpected, it has received considerable attention in the media and from numerous American politicians. In his letter of resignation, the 81-year-old Fidel Castro reported that he was too ill to continue as head of state and would not stand in the way of others who were ready to take over. In the letter to the Cuban people written under his name, Castro said, “I am not saying goodbye to you. I only wish to fight as a soldier of ideas.”
However, it’s not clear whether his announcement truly represents a historic change, rather than simply a symbolic political act. For example, it was not clear what future role Fidel Castro might play in the new government, or whether he would retain other powerful positions, such as head of the Communist Party. Nevertheless, he did indicate that he was not yet ready to completely exit Cuba’s political stage.
His brother Raul, 76, officially has been named president, and some observers consider him to be more sensible and businesslike. In the past, Raul Castro has talked about bringing more accountability to government and possibly working to improve relations with the United States. Political analysts in the U.S. are saying that Raul Castro, will find himself under tremendous pressures to sustain his brother’s legacy, while at the same time trying to work to break it down and provide a measure of economic and political freedom for the Cuban people. However, long-time critics of the Castro regime claim that this change will do nothing to change the human rights situation, which continues to be unfavorable, or to end the one-party state.
In Havana, many of the older generation of Cubans who have maintained their admiration for Mr. Castro and his revolution, despite the crumbling conditions of the city, were disappointed by his announcement. However, it’s also being reported that members of the younger generation, who have become weary of what they saw as promises for a better life that never materialized, are hoping that there might be significant changes, although their hopes might be based more upon wishful thinking than on a realistic view of the political situation.
Cuba Under Fidel Castro’s Power
Castro first attracted attention in Cuban political life through his nationalist criticisms of Batista and United States corporate and political influences over Cuba. He began to attract an avid following, but also soon began to draw the attention of Cuban authorities. He eventually led the failed 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks, after which he was captured, tried, incarcerated and later released.
He then traveled to Mexico to organize and train for the guerrilla invasion of Cuba, which took place in December 1956. The final phase of the Cuban Revolution occurred in January, 1959, and he assumed power immediately. Since that time, Castro has evoked both praise and condemnation (at home and internationally). Castro is frequently described by opponents as a dictator and accused of gross human rights violations, including the execution of thousands of political opponents, while his supporters have hailed Castro as the charismatic liberator of Cuba.
Domestically, Fidel Castro has overseen the implementation of a wide range of economic policies, which in turn led to the rapid centralization of Cuba’s economy: land reform, collectivization of agriculture and the nationalization of leading Cuban industries. The expansion of publicly funded health care and education has been a cornerstone of Castro’s domestic social agenda. Some credit these policies for improvements in the lives of Cuba’s citizens. Others, however, view Castro and his policies as being responsible for Cuba’s general economic depredation, and they harshly criticize him for the criminalization of political dissent and free speech, as well as for provoking hundreds of thousands of Cubans to flee the country. In addition, many have blamed his policies for the extremely decayed state of structures in Cuba’s cities, as well as for the appalling living conditions of many Cubans.
The first video presented below focuses on the 1959 Cuban Revolution, while the second one takes a follow-up look at Castro’s Cuba in 1964, five years after the revolution had taken place. The third video shows Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba and describes the serious state of disrepair into which it had fallen. The concluding photo-gallery contains photographs taken during the 1959 Cuban Revolution, as well as other striking photographs of the urban decay that prevails in much of Cuba today.
The 1959 Cuban Revolution
Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1964
Finca Vigia or Lookout Farm was the only house that Hemingway ever owned outright. He bought it in 1940. From its full staff of servants to its secluded swimming pool, the finca fitted Hemingway like his favorite guayabera, the traditional Cuban shirt. But feeling devastated by the political upheaval of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, he abandoned his longtime home where he had lived in somewhat shabby baronial luxury at a 19th-century estate in San Franciso dePaula, 10 miles east of Havana. The writer and his fourth wife sailed from Cuba in July 1960, leaving behind the silver, Venetian glassware, eight-thousand books, a small collection of paintings (a Paul Klee, two Juan Gris, five Andre Masson, one Braque), along with 70 cats and at least nine dogs. Hemingway never returned.
Not too long ago, the finca and its contents were in serious decline. Conditions were so bad that the National Trust for Historic Preservation named it as one of its 11 most endangered landmarks in 2005, the only building outside North America to make the list. The roof leaked water into the interior walls, causing mold to grow throughout the house, which lacked basic climate controls like dehumidifiers. The foundation was shifting, the stucco was peeling and steps were crumbling. The property even lacked a modern security system.
For now, through a unique partnership of Americans and Cubans, the main house has undergone renovation and is said to be in good shape, but there’s still much work to be done. The swimming pool, Hemingway’s landlocked fishing boat and the Guest House all remain in a severe state of disrepair.
The Bell Tolls: Hemingway’s Cuban Home in Decay
Music/The Buena Vista Social Club:
Castro’s Cuba: Revolution and Decay
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