Washington, DC — They came to the Cuban Embassy to say goodbye to a revolutionary and long time leader who guided Cuba through six decades as the President.
Fidel Castro died yesterday at 90 after a long illness. He was remembered by admirers as a revolutionary more than a president, who led his island nation through turbulent times, surviving nine U.S. presidencies and a nearly six decades of an embargo. Critics however curse him as a politically repressive dictator who did not tolerate dissent.
The embargo was established after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1959, after Castro came to power during the Kennedy administration. It denied his country trade with much of the West, reducing its economy to an austere remnant of its 1950s heyday when it was regarded as a getaway playground for Hollywood socialites.
President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba last year, ending the embargo and ushering in conditions for future market access. The Embassy of Cuba was reopened in July 2015, and direct travel was allowed to the island for the first time since 1959.
Many who stopped by the embassy left flowers and traded stories about Castro’s life and what he did for his country, including James Ploeser, a member of the Latin America and Caribbean Network. “He stood up to the powers that be in the most powerful country in the world and dedicated his life to benefiting poor and working people,” said Ploeser.
Ploeser spoke about access to healthcare for everyone in Cuba, something not seen in the U.S. “The Cuban example shows that providing healthcare to everyone is a very important and possible thing to do for a fairly poor country,” he said.
Musician Carlos Alfredo-Castro, who wrote a song for Castro, spoke about the free education system in Cuba, and said that Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. “It’s very impressive how one person can change a whole nation,” said Alfredo-Carlos.
A state funeral is planned in Cuba for Fidel Castro next week. The entire country is expected to take part.
World powers came close to a nuclear exchange during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev deployed nuclear weapons to the island nation. Castro persevered through that crisis and many more, eventually becoming a respected leader in South American countries.
“He was always thinking about the workers and the poor,” said Alfred-Castro.