Reactions to Fidel Castro’s death at age 90 strike a familiar tone. Some celebrate, others mourn.
Castro’s death dramatizes what we have known for some time: Cuba stands at the brink of change, now apt to accelerate and, with a Donald Trump administration to the north, will quite likely be disastrous. The tsunami of predatory capitalism poised to hit the island will be impossible to stop and difficult for the state to control.
Although these changes will enrich some, they are sure to keep the majority impoverished, producing the same patterns of stubborn economic inequality that afflict Cuba’s neighbors, both north and south.
The Cuban model neither merits vigorous defense nor inspires unqualified admiration.
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Exciting ideals of participatory democracy, meant to go beyond electoral politics to democratize all realms of society, have given way to authoritarian practices and newly created hierarchies.
But although it is hard to defend the “Cuban model” as such, the deeper legacy of the revolution does merit our affirmation. Castro and those of the movement he led were driven by the revolutionary idea that poverty, racism, political repression and abject dependency on the U.S. could be defeated, opening the way to build a society grounded in the values of equality, social welfare and self-determination.
In the face of our own society’s descent into polarization, racial hatred, environmental destruction and deepened fears about the future, this image keeps one from despair: a new generation of young leaders similar to Castro who will forge their own utopian convictions that a different and better society is possible.