Leading article: Departure of a dictator who had outlived his times

Share
Related Topics

Some cling to power to the last; some are overthrown, and some have the good sense to know their time. Fidel Castro is an autocrat who, at 81 and in poor health, has just squeaked into the group of graceful farewells. In a message published in the press he, until recently, controlled, he announced he would not be standing again for office. Put more bluntly, Mr Castro has resigned after almost half a century as the Communist dictator of Cuba. Not only for that country but, for the rest of us, a distinctive era has closed.

Mr Castro has staged his departure in several acts. He submitted his provisional resignation at the end of July 2006, when he was about to undergo surgery, and he handed temporary power to his younger brother, Raul. In an open letter last December, he hinted that the future lay with younger leaders. In his latest message he said that he was in no physical condition to resume his leadership responsiblities. We will know after Cuba's National Assembly opens on Sunday whether Raul is to succeed his brother, or whether the baton will pass to a new generation.

Raul Castro would inevitably be a transitional figure. He could be expected to continue, perhaps even accelerate, the tentative liberalisation he has begun. For the really dramatic changes – a move towards embrace of the free market, an opening to the world outside, and acceptance of the investment that is just waiting to flood in from outside – the long-suffering Cubans will probably have to wait a little longer. Yet it could be months, rather than a generation.

The past 20 years have shown that repressive regimes are often more fragile than they look; that one serious shock, or the departure of one key figure, can cause the whole seemingly solid edifice to collapse. And with George Bush leaving office next January, and the US preparing to elect a less ideological leader, the times are as propitious as they could be to ease Cuba's return from its half-century of isolation.

To the Cubans in US exile, impatiently urging a new revolution from the sidelines, Fidel Castro's resignation promises nothing less than the release of their beloved country from dictatorship. Mr Castro's legacy, however, is more complicated than this. His regime was cruel and stultifying in many ways. Dissidents were purged by imprisonment or dispatch to exile. Individual rights and freedoms were – and remain – severely circumscribed. Cuba may have opened up its island to limited tourism (a move necessitated by the country's bankruptcy when Soviet patronage ceased), but Cubans are not free to meet or travel either for real, or even virtually, via the internet.

At the same time, as is frequently observed, health and literacy standards are impressive by international standards. Fidel Castro had a model for Cuba's development, and he pursued it single-mindedly. For very poor Cubans – the majority – Communism was not the unalloyed blight it was in more developed countries elsewhere. Behind the barricades and the fierce anti-Western rhetoric, Fidel Castro brought a measure of social progress.

In later years, however, he was a leader conspicuously outpaced by the times, atrophied in the categories of class struggle and the Cold War. As such, however, he came to seem less threatening, for all the needless deprivations suffered by the population. With his fatigues and trademark beard and cigar, he had presided long enough to see Communist Cuba return as retro-chic. Curious outsiders, we forecast, will now rush to see Fidel's Cuba before it passes. We hope they go with open eyes: for the positives, but also for the many, many negatives which Cuba will be so much better off without.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor