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Useful Notes / Fidel Castro

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El Comandante, 1959, cigar in mouth.

"I began revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action."

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (August 13, 1926 – November 25, 2016) was a Cuban revolutionary and dictator.

Born to a peasant and conscript from Spain who became a sugar plantation owner in Cuba. Fidel involved himself in revolutionary politics during his days as a law student in Havana. He participated in the attempt to overthrow the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1947, as well as the first, unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, the dictator of Cuba. He then fled to Mexico, where he met Che Guevara. Gathering Che, Camilo Cienfuegos, and other like-minded Cubans, Castro formed the left-wing nationalist 26th of July Movement or M-26-7. After sailing back to Cuba in 1956, Castro and M-26-7 waged a furious insurrection in the cities and countryside against Batista, finally managing to topple the dictator in 1959, in what has become known as the Cuban Revolution. Castro became a celebrity and toured America to much acclaim.

Contrary to popular belief, Castro appeared to be genuinely keen on democracy and was effectively a left-wing nationalist during the revolution, and only later found the direction for his own nationalism in communism. He started his political career off as a radical social democrat working for the like-minded populist Ortodox Party (many 'Ortodoxos' later joined M-26 -7's ranks), and promising a democratic Cuba with the restoration of the famous 1940 Constitution. After his victory on January 1st, 1959, Castro began getting interested in communism when he met with Cuban communists - who had previously scorned him as a bourgeois hipster all throughout the revolution - to form a working left-wing government. Worsening relations with America over nationalization of American business properties in Cuba, and an embargo by the Eisenhower administration led Castro to begin looking towards the Soviet Union for support, destroying the revolutionary alliance as he exiled or imprisoned anyone who was opposed to the now pro-Soviet direction of the revolution. But it took the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 for Castro to officially declare himself and the revolution communist.note  He then set up a communist state with himself as the Glorious Leadernote  transformed Cuba into an authoritarian one party state under Marxism-Leninism, and ruled the island as its uncontested autocrat until 2008, when he officially stepped down due to ill health. He was succeeded by his much quieter younger brother, Raúl (who has been second-in-command for decades). But until his death, Castro was the face of Cuba, and his left-wing nationalism (now taken in a communist direction) ensured that he had the respect of the Cuban populace, even those who privately disagreed with the communist system. Both his admirers and actual supporters alike are known as Fidelistas in Spanish, and Castrists in English.

Naturally, Castro quickly became an enemy of the US. The CIA tried in various ways to get rid of Castro, including multiple assassination attempts (including some rather odd methods like exploding cigars), the Bay of Pigs Invasion on 1961, and an economic embargo since 1962 (this is still in effect, though Barack Obama has worked to lighten the restrictions—even allowing visitors to bring home 100 dollars' worth of Cuban cigars), he nevertheless survived. Castro was also excommunicated by Pope John XXIII, as Cuba under his command was far less religious than other Latin American nations due to the Catholic and Protestant churches generally being opposed to communism, who were accused of being supportive of US economic domination by the Cuban government in response. Ironically, his own stance towards religion was far more moderate than other Communist nations, to the point of entertaining personal ideas about God himself.note  The Cuban government actually began a careful rapprochement with the Church in the 1970s and 80s, helped by the surprising alliances formed between sympathetic clergy and pro-Cuba socialist revolutionaries in Central America, and changed its constitution to declare the state a secular one as opposed to state atheism. This is a fact acknowledged when Pope John Paul II, a famous anti-communist icon, visited Cuba under his tenure, and condemned the US Embargo. Years later, Pope Francis played a role in brokering the US-Cuban Thaw.note  Also, although a fundamental anti-colonialist and an admirer of Cuban independence leader José Martí, Castro was also a strong proponent of Pan-Hispanism, extolling Cuba's Spanish heritage and calling for the union of all Spanish-speaking peoples in the world. More infamously, though, this and other factors led to an amicable relationship with Francisco Franco, although Castro had no illusions to what Franco's ideology really was and criticized him when he saw it fit, while Franco rumoredly also saw Castro as a bit of a loon.note 

Castro was also a central figure in the Cuban Missile Crisis and he was the one player in the incident most ready to launch the missiles if the Americans dared invade (as well as mobilizing the entire army beforehand), only to be barely restrained by his Soviet partners. However, Castro only wanted to launch the missiles as an absolute last resort. Khrushchev also openly treated Cuba as a pawn in the whole matter despite previously buttering Cuba up as a trusted Soviet ally, and locked Cuba out of the negotiations, something Castro absolutely despised as a Cuban nationalist, and never forgave the Soviets for. As a result, Cuba aligned closer to the Non-Aligned Movement than the Warsaw Pact afterwards, despite still being a Soviet ally. Through the Cold War, Cuba relied on Soviet support, and when that was cut off Cuba faced a major economic crisis (mostly due to a lack of oil). Later on, Castro admitted that he now regarded JFK as a Worthy Opponent and honorable man, and that if he had been involved in the JFK assassination, Cuba would've been invaded and occupied by the US by now.

During the Cold War, Castro's regime heavily involved itself in anti-colonialist struggles in Africa. Cuba involved itself with liberation struggles in Mozambique, Namibia, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Guinea-Bissau, and Angola. Cuba's intervention in the Angolan War against Portugal was especially decisive, since it played a part in the end of the Portuguese empire and its transition to democracy, secured Angolan and Namibian independence, and stopped an invasion by Apartheid South Africa. Castro also provided much support and inspiration for Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, and he dispatched doctors across Africa to provide aid to the poor. For these reasons, Castro and Cuba in general have a heroic reputation in Africa, and Nelson Mandela considered Castro his friend and mentor. However, Castro also provided military support for the pro-Soviet 'Derg' military junta in Ethiopia, which was widely condemned for its cruelty, corruption, ineffective governance, and worsening an ongoing famine with its thuggish policies.

Castro also made some surprising and intriguing alliances with leaders supposedly at the opposite end of the political spectrum to him: the fascist Francisco Franco (notwithstanding Fidel's Republican sympathies, the two men actually had a lot in common - shared Galician heritage, mutual suspicion of the USA, similar social conservatism and dislike of Fulgencio Batista's hedonistic rule), the brutally anti-communist Argentine junta (Castro strongly supported what he saw as the 'anti-imperialist' invasion of the Malvinas) and the fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini (mutual suspicion of the US again, nations suffering from US sanctions, and coming to power via a popular revolution).

The blockade persisted throughout all aspects of Cuban life, and caused tremendous economic strain. Still, Castro managed to overcome these difficulties through a rigorous re-structuring of the country's planned economy. Cuba is now a major tourist destination for non-Americans (Americans are forbidden to go to the island by the US government, though many do nonetheless) and much of its economy is based around tourism. Cuba also had a long history of pursuing secret backchannel negotiations with the US to try and form some sort of detente throughout the Cold War and afterwards.

Although Cuba remains a poor country with very limited political and economic freedom, Castro's regime did much to improve public education, sports and particularly public health. Cuba still exports doctors to many Latin American countries and has an average life expectancy on par with your average first world country. On the other hand, a lot of basic living commodities are rationed, many buildings are in a poor state of repair, internet access is extremely limited, journalists are treated badly, press freedom is almost non-existent, and the human rights record of the government is poor, particularly regarding incarceration rates (which have been historically very close - either slightly above or slightly below - the incarceration rates in the United States), as Castro was notoriously fond of short-term arbitrary detention in terrible prison conditions for all his critics, with bouts of psychological torture to boot. However, the human rights record has improved over the years albeit very slowly, and is at least significantly better than the average dictatorship nowadays. The country does have a good rating on the sustainable development index, though this likely has more to do with the poverty than conscious government policy (i.e. they waste little resources because many things are in short supply, and their living standards are low so they don't consume much anyway).

Aside from the infamous executions of Former Regime Personnel without trial at La Cabana prison (overseen by Che himselfnote ), Castro was notoriously homophobic even for the 1960s, with homosexuals being thrown in labor camps immediately after the revolution while others were expelled from the country. That said, Castro did take personal responsibility many years later, declaring that his attitude to LGBT rights was wrong in his autobiography, and outright declaring that he was wrong in his homophobia in 2010.

Not as much is known about Castro's personal life, but one of Castro's biographers, Leycester Coltman, described the Cuban as being "fiercely hard-working, dedicated, loyal... generous and magnanimous" but also noted that he could be "vindictive and unforgiving" at times. He went on to note that Castro "always had a keen sense of humor and could laugh at himself" but could equally be "a bad loser" who would act with "ferocious rage if he thought that he was being humiliated." There have been claims he had been with around 35,000 women, with his secret police allegedly recruiting many of them off Cuba's beaches. He was known as a cigar fan, but stopped smoking them on the advice of his doctors in 1985.

Castro was the author of many political books (most of them being edited collections of his speeches, of which there are many—Castro currently holds the record for the longest speech delivered at the United Nations General Assembly, at 4.5 hours), most of them dealing — as you'd expect — with his problems with capitalism and American foreign policy.

Castro died on November 25th, 2016, of unannounced causes. Ironically enough, his death on November 25 was Black Friday in America, a very consumerist capitalist holiday. It was also the birthday of far-right Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, leading to many jokes to the effect that Pinochet's birthday wish had finally been granted. On the less ironic note, he passed away on the very day that he and his comrades sailed to Cuba to begin the most important section of their revolution. November 25 was also the birthday of Armenian communist and national hero Monte Melkonian, funnily enough. There remains a small group of people who believe Castro had actually died months to years before the announcement, with it being withheld for various reasons depending on who you ask.

Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • Chummy Commies: In works more sympathetic or nuanced towards him, Castro is portrayed as a brilliant revolutionary leader who had to resort to authoritarian methods to ensure his nation's survival, or originally had genuine faith in democracy but became convinced he'd found his ideological grounding for his own nationalism through authoritarian Marxism-Leninism. In general, his revolution is seen as completely justified by most historians and even some exile accounts, just that they all criticize the authoritarian direction it took and Fidel breaking most of his promises after his victory.
  • Cigar Chomper: Castro without a cigar in any of his portrayals just doesn't seem to be Castro, even though he quit smoking them in 1986.
    • Ironically enough, after his death, Cuba would begin to edit the cigars out of official photos, for reasons that have not been officially stated.
  • Dirty Communists: Perhaps the example of this trope in American media after the Soviets and Chinese, especially at the height of the Cold War.
  • The Generalissimo: Although his enemy Batista was a famous example, Castro became and remains one of the major inspirations for characters that fall under this trope, usually overlapping with Dirty Communists in most portrayals and his character trait of making extremely long and fiery speeches.
  • Iconic Outfit: Whether as himself or an Expy, Castro is always portrayed wearing a olive drab military uniform and Ridgeway cap note , with a large beard and smoking a cigar. In his twilight years, he switched over to an Adidas track suit, with provoked jokes about him being a Slav (Adidas tracksuits are associated with working class Slavs in Eastern Europe and Russia).
  • Large and in Charge: He stood around 6'3" (1.91 m), much bigger than the average Cuban man who stands at around 5'6 and about a foot taller than Khrushchev.
  • Rebel Leader: Aside from his friend Che, Castro remains an iconic example all throughout the world, and even his enemies admitted that he was a highly competent military leader during the Revolution. The otherwise negative exile historiography all states that he was genuinely charismatic and a brilliant military commander during the Revolution.

Fidel Castro in media

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    Comic Books 
  • He's the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt by Nick Fury himself in Fury: My War Gone By during the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

  • He appears in one sketch in The First Family, the Vaughn Meader comedy album spoofing the John F. Kennedy administration. In the sketch, JFK is hosting a meeting of numerous foreign leaders, and has everyone order what kind of sandwich they want for lunch. Castro requests "A chee-kon sandwich with a live chee-kon."

    Comic Strips 
  • Nero: He has a cameo in Het Wonderwolkje ("The Magic Cloud") where he orders Nero executed for claiming he is more famous than him.

  • Oliver Stone's Commandante is a documentary film made of interviews with Castro about a diverse range of topics.
  • Featured in the Cuban Crisis segment of The Fog of War, in which he's considered a Worthy Adversary by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
  • A segment of The Godfather Part II takes place in Cuba during his uprising against Batista. While he doesn't appear on-screen, he's a major concern for the businessmen, and los fidelianos hail his name after his victory.
  • He sets the plot of Scarface (1983) in motion by releasing a massive number of prisoners to Florida. He appears onscreen giving the real-life speech on the subject.

  • Though he never appears in-person, he is an important character in World War Z, and he (and Cuba) emerge from the Zombie Apocalypse arguably in better shape than when the ordeal commenced. Once he weathers this crisis, Castro officially steps down and allows for democratic elections.
  • Castro shows up in the novel The Man Who Brought the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn during a scene where Dodgers owner Bobby Hanes flies to Cuba to sweet-talk Castro into lending players directly from the Cuban national team. Castro reveals that he was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers of old, considers the New York Yankees a symbol of capitalist decadence, and happily lends Hanes a star slugger.
  • In the New Deal Coalition Retained timeline, the US-backed counterrevolution in Cuba is much more successful. This causes Castro to eventually have a nervous breakdown, resulting in Che Guevara executing him and seizing power.
  • The Death of Russia: When Fidel decides to send troops into the meatgrinder that is the Second Russian Civil War to try and support the Communists, the Cuban military turns on him. He and Raul are both executed, and the junta that replaces them eventually transitions to democracy by 1996.
  • Castro appears in the final chapter (written by Carl Hiaasen) of the novel Naked Came The Manatee. He has agreed to a CIA-sponsored deal to retire from the Presidency and live anonymously in South Florida in exchange for top-flight medical care for his cancer, but one walk on the Beach convinces him that "Miami was too damn scary" and he calls off the deal and returns to Havana.
  • A No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Castro appears (known only by his nickname "Commandante"), as the target of an assassination plot by disgruntled members of his government in Martin Cruz Smith's Havana Bay, the fourth volume of his Arkady Renko series.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Harmon Rabb meets him in the JAG episode "Florida Straits".
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): Peter Falk plays Ramos Clemente in The Mirror, who is Castro in all but name down to the hair, beard, and clothes, and with absolutely no redeeming traits. Reflecting the American view of the Cuban Revolution by 1961, when the episode aired, Clemente becomes an even worse tyrant than the generalissimo he deposed, orders endless mass executions of anyone who believes is an enemy, and murders his own friends because the mirror deceives him into thinking they're plotting against him.
  • Legends of Tomorrow: In the episode "Bay of Squids", a time-displaced alien crashes in Cuba during the Missile Crisis. The paranoid Castro is convinced that it's a CIA plot to kill him, and intends to launch a Soviet-made nuke at DC in retaliation.

  • Art of Noise's "A Time for Fear (Who's Afraid)" opens with an audio excerpt of Castro condemning the 1983 American invasion of Grenada as an "unjustified, brutal and criminal imperialist attack."
  • He and Guevara are mentioned in "Indian Girl" by The Rolling Stones from Emotional Rescue:
    Mr. gringo, my father, he ain't no Che Guevara
    And he's fighting the war on the streets of Masaya
    Little Indian girl, where's your father?
    Little Indian girl, where is your momma?
    They're fighting for Mr. Castro in the streets of Angola.
  • In the song "Motorpsycho Nightmare" from Bob Dylan's Another Side From Bob Dylan Dylan purposefully offends a farmer by pretending to like Fidel Castro.
  • The English indie music band Infidel?/Castro! is named after him.
  • "April Sun in Cuba" by Dragon:
    Castro in the alleyway, talkin' that missile up,
    Talkin' 'bout JFK, and the way he shook him up!

    Video Games 
  • A playable leader in Tropico. The original Presidente and the in-game generals are modelled after him, featuring his signature green uniform, cap hat, beard, and cigars.
  • The first mission of Call of Duty: Black Ops has you assassinate him during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Turns out you got a double - the real Castro shows up at the end, handing the Player Character over to the Russians. He later appears in the Nazi Zombies stage "Five", fighting zombies in the Pentagon alongside Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, and Robert McNamara. His appearance in Zombies is positively littered with Genius Bonus and Historical In-Jokes. Amusingly, he gets along pretty well with Nixon.
  • Inspires the historical figure of Santos Espinosa in Far Cry 6, who was a communist professor turned guerrilla fighter. Like Castro, Espinosa was allied to the Soviet Union and became Yara's new dictator after overthrowing the previous one. Espinosa is basically Castro with no redeeming traits - abandoning his own ideology in his final years to sell the nation out to foreign companies and capitalism, and becoming so bad that his closest allies all regret supporting him in the first place by the present day.

    Web Originals 
  • For the SCP Foundation, Castro is a Humanoid Abomination monitored under the number "SCP-3874". His supernatural attributes are unclear but are speculated to have allowed him to survive so many murder attempts, either because of invulnerability, clairvoyance, or reality-warping. After his death, the Foundation manages to steal his corpse and perform an autopsy, as well as interviewing his brother Raul to gather information. It turns out he apparently was just a perfectly normal, albeit insanely lucky, human being.

    Western Animation 
  • Castro appears in the second episode of The Critic where he is initially depicted as kindhearted and grandfatherly, until Jay Sherman unknowingly insults him. When pointed out that he just insulted 'El Presidente' Castro replies: "Not to worry. I am not the gruff old bear people think I am." The show then cuts away to Jay standing in front of a firing squad with Castro yelling "Shoot to wound, men!"
  • King of the Hill: In "Yankee Hankee", Castro is briefly shown in a flashback where he made a rare visit to New York to attend a baseball game. Cotton Hill attempted to assassinate him with a poisoned dart but was distracted by his wife Tilly giving going into labor, causing the dart to miss and hit someone else. In the present, Cotton and his fellow elderly WWII veterans decided to try to sail to Cuba to assassinate Castro, but Hank, not wanting them to do something that reckless, foils them.
  • In The Simpsons he is about to give in and declare the defeat of Communism, but this is averted after he steals a trillion dollar bill from Mr. Burns.
  • Family Guy had an episode where Peter declares his property to be its own independent nation because said property was somehow not considered to be a part of the United States. He invites all of the world's communist leaders and dictators for a pool party and Castro is one of the guests. Castro is running near the pool and gets scolded by Stewie for it.
  • In an episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show the titular duo destroy the head of the Lincoln memorial. Stimpy tries gluing the shards back together, but due to his stupidity the end result resembles Castro, cigar and all.
  • He's mentioned in an episode of Archer as a Cuban agent plans to defect due to being a closet homosexual. Funnily enough, the spies Castro sends to assassinate his former agent are Camp Gay Americans.
    Krieger: (whispering) Fidel hates the gays!