Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro is Dead (Really!)

It's not propaganda, fake news, or anything else. Fidel Castro has died. I don't recall anyone else having so many rumors of demise swirl around them so much. I've made more jokes and Weekend at Bernie's references than I can remember.

At this point it's not terribly interesting to debate whether he's "good" or "bad." There will be plenty of that elsewhere. Suffice it to say that he's the most important and consequential Latin American political figure ever. The Cuban revolution changed Latin America and had a massive impact on the United States. Fear of Fidel Castro is the key reason military dictatorships justified their existence and were so repressive, while love of Fidel Castro and his example sparked revolutions across the region, including successfully in Nicaragua (and so he's also the reason Daniel Ortega is president now).

People in the United States can't tell you the name of a single Latin American president, but they know who Fidel is. He brought the US and the Soviets as close as we ever came to nuclear war. He changed the outcome of U.S. presidential elections by the influx of Cubans into Florida, and it's not a stretch to say that as a result he helped George W. Bush beat Al Gore in 2000. He's deeply embedded in U.S. popular culture, including The Godfather II.

It's also about me and my career. The revolution is what sparked U.S. government funding of Latin American Studies in the 1960s, though the vast majority of scholars quickly used that funding to launch criticism. UNC Chapel Hill received such funding, which brought Lars Schoultz to work under the direction of Federico Gil, and then 20 years or so later I worked under Lars.

So really, Fidel Castro is partially responsible for this blog post.

Editor's note: the original version of this post had The Godfather, when the correct movie is The Godfather II. Apologies for any confusion.


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