Fidel Castro has died. The man known to his Cuban countrymen and admirers worldwide as "El Jefe" passed away peacefully in Havana yesterday evening. He was ninety-years-old.
Somewhat ironically, Castro's departure from this life came sixty years to the day after he and eighty-one other young revolutionaries set sail from Mexico to Cuba in what would eventually become the successful Cuban Revolution.
Fidel and his younger brother, Raul (the current President of Cuba), left Tuxpan, Veracruz, Mexico on November 25, 1956. Also present in their invasion party was Argentinian Dr. Ernesto "Che" Guevara who served at the small army's physician.
The vessel that took the revolutionaries to Cuba was a small pleasure yacht called The Granma, a craft designed to house twelve travelers comfortably. In addition to the eighty-two brave and determined freedom fighters, the boat also carried a great deal of weapons and ammunition, subsistence supplies, and two thousand gallons of extra fuel that had to be stored on deck.
The Granta, not in the best of shape to begin with, struggled across the Caribbean and did not arrive on the southeastern edge of Cuba until December 2nd - at which time it was spotted by a government helicopter and had to discharge the ragtag army into a swampy area. Much of the weaponry could not be brought ashore through the mud and was lost to the revolution. After a savage attack by the Cuban government, the few survivors of the assault rushed into the Sierra Maestra mountains where the resistance to the Baptista government slowly took shape over the ensuing months.
The surviving members of the group, which included both Castro brothers, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos, took their revolution from village to village and across the island. On January 1st, 1959, the dictator, Flugencio Baptista, a man supported by both the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the American Mob, was driven from power and fled the island. Less than twenty-four hours later the Cuban citizenry had closed all of the American Mob-owned casinos and and piled the gambling equipment in the streets where it was burned.
The revolution had taken Cuba, and for the next fifty years that reality was embodied in basically one individual: Fidel Castro. Castro gave up the Presidency of Cuba in 2008 due to illness, and was replaced in that role by his brother, Raul. Fidel's last prolonged public appearance was this past April at the Communist Party Congress in Havana.
Fidel Castro was a very important part of the twentieth century. He took a small island nation that was once ridiculed as the "whorehouse of the Caribbean," rescued it from its oppressors, and brought about a socialist society that offered things like education, jobs, decent housing, and health care to the masses who had once been forced to live in the shadows of poverty and degradation.
Love him or hate him, Fidel Castro was a man who made a difference. He brought his insignificant island to the forefront of world events, and he showed millions that revolution and the disruption of the status quo was something that could still be achieved. It was a sad irony that Cuba's primary adversary over the Castro years turned out to be the United States, a country that was itself founded in the fires of popular revolt.
El Jefe was a truly remarkable figure who significantly impacted history. His passing leaves an immense void in the world around us.