For half a century, Fidel Castro held an iron grip on Cuba, defying a CIA-backed invasion, numerous assassination attempts, a U.S. trade embargo, and economic collapse.
Castro came to power in 1959 after overthrowing the American-backed President Fulgencio Batista, who ran an authoritarian government and was viewed by many as corrupt.
After Castro aligned his country with the Soviet Union in 1961, President John F. Kennedy ordered an ill-fated, CIA-backed invasion of Cuba. The Bay of Pigs mission served up a humiliating defeat for the U.S. A year later, the United States and the Soviet Union played a game of nuclear brinkmanship in Cuba, which ended when the Soviets agreed to dismantle their nuclear weapons and remove them from Cuba.
Many Cubans saw their families torn apart after Castro took power, seizing property and jailing dissidents. Millions fled the country. But for many African-Americans, Castro was a leader who was unafraid to stand up against racism at home and abroad.
At the height of the Civil Rights Movement in America, Castro met publicly with Malcolm X, and sent Cuban troops to Angola to fight against the apartheid government of South Africa at a time when the U.S. still supported it. His support of the Civil Rights movement in America and African independence movements abroad has complicated his story.
On Monday’s edition of NewsOne Now, Roland Martin spoke with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., founder of Rainbow PUSH, Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media, and Bill Fletcher, Jr., a writer and activist, about the complexities of Castro’s legacy.
Soledad O’Brien, whose mother is an Afro-Cuban, said those who have not fully studied history should take into account the “horrible things” perpetrated on Cubans, as well as the “big things” Castro brought to the nation, including healthcare, literacy and his attempt to “stamp out racial discrimination.”
O’Brien said these aspects of Castro’s legacy “make the understanding of Fidel Castro much more than a binary, ‘He was evil, he was great.’ I think he was evil and/or all of these other things that he accomplished.”
Bill Fletcher said, “The discussions about Fidel Castro in the media have been incredibly biased and lack that analysis that would help people understand the types of things that both Rev. Jackson and Soledad are raising.”
O’Brien recalled her mother’s description of the dictator’s methodology in remaining in power and said, “Batista would only kill you … Castro would kill you and then he’d make sure that your children could never work and he’d make sure that your parents didn’t have a house.” The award-winning journalist added, “There was a certain viciousness” associated with the former leader of Cuba.
“Sure, you can describe a list of things that were done in improvements in society and then you have to also say this person was a vicious dictator,” she continued.
Watch Roland Martin, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., Soledad O’Brien, Bill Fletcher and the NewsOne Now panel discuss the complex legacy of Fidel Castro in the video clip above.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty