By: Slaton Evans*
On Thursday, November 25th, 2016, Cuba’s once-revolutionary turned totalitarian dictator, Fidel Castro, passed away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones in his Santiago De Cuba home. In the wake of Castro’s death, many gathered in Havana to honor him, highlighted by speeches from world leaders such as Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Iranian VP Majid Ansari, and prime ministers and diplomats from Ecuador, South Africa and China (Gomez, 2016). Notably absent from Castro’s processions were young people. Some even described the events as almost irrelevant to the youth of Cuba: “On Friday night, for example, many young people did not respond with any visible emotion when they were told of Mr. Castro’s death. On Saturday, many went about their day as usual; arguing that little would change because of Mr. Castro’s demise (Cave, Cohen 2016).” The lack of sentiment among the youth of Cuba makes a strong case for the direction in which the country is headed: forward, away from the burdens of elder generations and onwards, to a truly liberalized Cuba. The true test of this will be time, and the challenge of inciting change in a country cluttered by remnants of Castro’s regime will certainly be interesting moving forward.
Known for his leadership style, which punched above its weight in international affairs, Castro’s death has drawn a range of emotions: adoration, spite, reverence and respect. Since his transfer of national power in 2006 to his brother, Raul, Fidel Castro’s relevance has deteriorated within the minds of the young Cuban generation. Older citizens have either respect or hatred for him. The socialist policies he enacted brought education and medical care to the Cuban people, as well as alleviating poverty caused by an economy that was overly reliant on sugar exporting. Many owe their lives to these policies, and choose to forget the political repression, extrajudicial crime and freedoms restricted by the Castro regime (Editorial 2016). In a recent poll conducted by television networks Univision and Fusion without government approval, Fidel Castro had a 47% “Very/Somewhat positive” rating throughout Cuba, with the highest ratings coming from those over the age of 50 (Clement 2015). In addition, 53% of 18-34 year olds rated him as “Very/somewhat negative.” Though these numbers are not astounding, there is a generation gap that is illustrated by the majority approval of earlier generations and the majority disapproval by newer generations. Though Castro’s likeability factor in life was low, young people in Cuba simply do not care about his death. The reason for this discrepancy can be found in the fact that the pressing issues facing Cuba today are more important to the young people than the death of Castro.
Today, Cuba’s economy has become increasingly reliant on Venezuelan oil subsidies, but with oil prices dropping and Venezuelan instability, Cuba is beginning to look to the United States for assistance. Through executive orders by President Obama, Cuban-American relations have been greatly expanded, but the trade embargo still stands (Desilver 2015). International investment and travel has opened up between Cuba and the United States, but economic regulations on business with respect to the aristocracy, ineffective reforms under Raul Castro and a starving agriculture sector leaves Cuba more desperate for outside aid than ever (Heritage 2016).
Some experts have optimism for the direction in which Cuba is heading post-Fidel. Some have even speculated that Raul Castro was “held back” by Fidel, especially when determining the best course for post-communist Cuba (Sesin 2016). With the concessions made by the United States under President Obama, Cuba now is seeing economic growth from international business, tourism and remittances, yet political freedom is still heavily restricted on the island (Renwick, McBride 2016). There is speculation that the Trump administration will reevaluate Obama’s executive orders towards Cuba, due to a desire to see freedom for its citizens. Time will tell how this ultimately plays out. It will be even more important to examine the population response after 2018, when Raul Castro has promised to step down. Arturo Lòpez-Levy, a former Cuban government official, stated, “I don’t think Castro’s death will alter the pace of reform” and went on to predict that significant change would only be established by a new leader, not of the name Castro (Sesin 2016).
Perhaps the lack of actual change as a result of Fidel Castro’s death has warranted the lack of response from the people. Perhaps the fact that only the older generation seems to be mourning Castro’s death implies that Cuba is finally beginning to rise from the ashes, or is it merely a glimpse into the complete naivety of Cuba’s youth? I believe that the young people in Cuba are indifferent of the past and unsympathetic to the struggles of their predecessors in light of an improved future for the country. Cuba’s people are desperate for both economic and political freedom, and many agree that the only chance of dynamism is through new leadership and a closer relationship with the United States. Raul Castro’s small liberalization plans have not satisfied the people, with 48% of those recently polled saying the thing Cuba needs most right now is an improved economic system (Partlow and Craighill 2015) and Cuba ranking #177 on the Economic Freedom Index (Heritage 2016) illustrates this. It is now time for the Castro name to be completely removed from Cuba once and for all. The future of Cuba will be one without the footprints of Fidel Castro etched upon it and soon his legacy will be relegated to the history books.
Cave, Damian and Cohen, Hannah. 2016. In Havana, Castro’s Death Lays Bare a Generation Gap. The New York Times. 26 November. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/us/politics/havana-cuba-fidel-castro-death.html
Clement, Scott. 2015. Do Cubans Like the Castro’s? The Washington Post. 9 April. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/09/do-cubans-like-the-castros/?utm_term=.aa512191fb2e
DePalma, Anthony. 2016. Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90. The New York Times. 26 November. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/world/americas/fidel-castro-dies.html
Desilver, Drew. 2015. What we know about Cuba’s Economy. Pew Research Center. 28 May. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/28/what-we-know-about-cubas-economy/
Editorial. 2016. Fidel Castro’s Terrible Legacy. The Washington Post. 26 November. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fidel-castros-terrible-legacy/2016/11/26/0659042c-b3de-11e6-8616-52b15787add0_story.html?utm_term=.f2068f177562
Gomez, Alan. 2016. World Leaders Bid Farewell to Fidel Castro. USA Today. 30 November. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/11/29/world-leaders-bid-farewell-fidel-castro/94647430/
Heritage. 2016. Cuba: Economic Freedom. 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. http://www.heritage.org/index/country/cuba
Partlow, Joshua and Craighill, Payton. 2015. Polls show vast majority of Cubans welcome closer ties with U.S. The Washington Post. 8 April. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/poll-shows-vast-majority-of-cubans-welcome-closer-ties-with-us/2015/04/08/6285bfe4-d8c3-11e4-bf0b-f648b95a6488_story.html?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.3826462c8ec6
Renwick, Danielle and McBride, James. 2016. US-Cuba Relations. Council on Foreign Relations. 7 September. http://www.cfr.org/cuba/us-cuba-relations/p11113
Sesin, Carmen. 2016. Cuba After Castro: How Much Change, and How Quickly? NBC News. 27 November. http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/fidel-castros-death/cuba-after-castro-how-much-change-how-quickly-n688681
*Disclaimer: The content contained in the following material is the sole ownership of the author and does not reflect the views of the Towson University Journal of International Affairs nor Towson University in any respect whatsoever