The life of Fidel Castro , Latin America’s last revolutionary leader and towering and charismatic anti-imperialist torch-bearer, came to signify the high point of Cold War ideological hostilities of the 20th century. At home, his policies to promote affordable and accessible health care, housing and education, as well as his standing up to global hegemony, endeared him to the majority, even as his record on human rights came in for serious scrutiny. But these domestic issues played out in the larger shadow of his defiance of American power, which has outlasted that of the Soviet Union. When Castro captured power in 1959, there were few signs that the Marxist radical would emerge a global champion of Third World countries in his nearly fifty-year rule. But the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, by Cuban exiles trained by the U.S., to overthrow his regime began a pragmatic partnership between Castro and the Soviet Union, bringing the Cold War into the western hemisphere. This was the context to Russian preparations to house nuclear missiles in Cuba to threaten the U.S., which took the world to near-catastrophe in 1962. The U.S. misperception of the threat posed by Castro led to CIA plots to assassinate him. As it turned out, he lived long enough to see the rollback of Washington’s decades-long sanctions that crippled the Cuban economy.
The clearest example of Castro’s global standing was the clout he commanded in the Non-Aligned Movement. In more recent times, his slogan of “socialism or death” inspired the nationalisation of natural wealth by governments across Latin America as a counter to the appropriation of oil and mineral resources by corporations. Changes in the global economic climate may have exposed the deficiencies of an economic model reliant on riding the commodity cycle. But the process of resumption of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington under the stewardship of his designated successor and brother, Raúl, is still fragile. U.S. President Barack Obama , who undertook a historic visit to the Caribbean nation earlier this year, sought to build the new rapprochement between Washington and Havana based on the relative distance of current generations in both countries from the painful memories of the past. Clearly, this is the path for President-elect Donald Trump to pursue, assuming that his pre-poll rhetoric would make way for a more reasoned approach once in office. Meanwhile, with incumbent Raúl Castro having announced his intention to step down by 2018, it will be a long transition in Havana.