Opinion: The death of an icon - nothing more and nothing less | World | Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 26.11.2016

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Opinion: The death of an icon - nothing more and nothing less

Fidel Castro's death marks the symbolic end of the post-war era, which in reality has long been over, writes DW's Uta Thofern.

Fidel Castro is dead. For many people in Latin America it would be the German equivalent of Helmut Kohl dying. Although these two historical figures differ greatly, and their individual political legacies do not really lend themselves to comparison, they still have one thing in common: their symbolic meaning at a time that can still be summarized by the term "post-war era." Entire generations on both sides of the Atlantic have grown up with Fidel Castro. Cuba and Castro stand for the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the height of the Cold War in an extremely dangerous time which can, with hindsight, almost be seen nostalgically.

The "Maximum Leader" was, for decades, a figurehead of communism. He was revered by some and hated by others. After the early death of the more charismatic Che Guevara, Castro inherited Che's role as the icon of the Cuban Revolution. Although he never made it onto the T-shirts worn by North American or European social romantics, he always presented a positive image of communism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cuba emanated a laidback tropical appeal. On top of all that, it also cultivated the image of David and Goliath – it was a small Caribbean island in the vast ocean of US imperialism.

Cuba – a role model for communism

No other country elicited as much sympathy for communism as Cuba. That is probably why "socialismo tropical" became a thorn in the side of its opponents. It was one more reason for Fidel's fans to love him; in Latin America, it was also a source of pride. One did not have to be a communist to secretly rejoice over the fact that a small island state had nearly brought the great power to the north to its knees.

Thofern Uta Kommentarbild App

DW's Uta Thofern

Castro meant most to those people who had real hopes for the Cuban revolution and who believed that socialism and communism were tied to a better life. Many subscribe to this notion in Latin America, where social inequality prevails. Things were not all bad in Cuba. The health care system is still considered to be one of the best in Latin America, and even in hard times, Cubans were still better off than Haitians, who are just one island away. Yet reality can never measure up to the dream. The fact that the better life in Cuba was only made possible by subsidies provided by the then existing Soviet Union, and that it came at the cost of freedom, was - and still is - seldom mentioned in the media in Cuba.

The ideals of the revolution have long been buried

Even today, reporting from or about Cuba is difficult. What was once dismissed as propaganda in the Cold War era is now called the "lying press." This way, the myth of Fidel was able to perpetuate its magic, and hence he is celebrated around the globe as a true hero in the battle against poverty. The fact that the ideals of the revolution were long buried before he was, and that his country has been going in a different direction for years, plays no role in his image.

Castro's communism fell with the Soviet Union. The "Bolivarian Revolution," a version of communism developed in Venezuela in the new century, is in the process of going bankrupt in its country of origin. That is why Cuba has already taken a more capitalist path and is seeking rapprochement with the USA. Nonetheless, there is still no talk of freedom in Cuba's current political model.  

Fidel Castro's death will not change Cuba's current development. The man who turned into a monument during his lifetime didn't have anything new to say for years. But I will somehow miss the uniformed man with the big bushy beard and cigar, who seemed to be a permanent fixture since I was young.


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