On November 25, 2016, Black Friday here in the United States, the world said farewell to a "fiery apostle," a "spiritual beacon," a "charismatic icon," and a model "of wit and clarity" who led a "joyful, raucous, and brash" movement that even "critics praised [for its] advances in health care and in education." Fidel Castro died of an undisclosed illness at age 90, sending residents of his fortress state into nine days of official mourning—one for each decade of a life defined by "huge personal charm and charisma, and his political genius."
That political genius helped make him "the world’s longest ruling head of government, aside from monarchs," as Time said. His longevity amazed the American press corps. The precocious strongman "bedeviled 11 American presidents…frustrating all of Washington’s attempts to contain him," according to the New York Times.
Castro's reign stands in contrast to other world leaders who have died in recent years. New York Times readers remember North Korea's Kim Jong Il for ruling "with an iron hand over a country he kept on the edge of starvation and collapse, fostering perhaps the last personality cult in the Communist world," and Chile's Augusto Pinochet as a "Dictator Who Ruled by Terror." The Times obituary never calls Castro a dictator, though it acknowledges that his "enemies in Washington" did. Great Britain's Guardian newspaper said it is "hard to sustain" the critics' argument that a leader who ruled for five decades without free elections, and who imprisoned tens of thousands of political opponents, could be classified as a dictator.
The Time magazine obituary notes that Castro survived "dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots," citing Cuban government accounts. His reign accomplished "universal health care and the near-eradication of illiteracy throughout Cuba," according to the Washington Post.
The New York Times has long chronicled the Castro regime's egalitarian project.
Castro came to power in 1959 and his movement remains popular to this day, winning 100 percent of the vote in the 2013 parliamentary elections. A former Times editor later hailed that election because women won "a remarkable 48.9 percent" of all races. The author of that article now sherpas Times-sponsored tourist junkets to Cuba, an "enigma…frozen in time." Tickets go for $7,000; the December tour is sold out. Other journalists pondered whether the United States could learn a thing or two from a man that National Public Radio dubbed a "ruthless autocrat."
"Having been sanctimoniously lectured by all 11 US presidents on what constitutes proper democratic procedure, he might have thought Trump, about to take office with a minority of the vote and with significant voter suppression, a vindication," the Nation reported in its obituary.
One indelible aspect of Castro's positive legacy, according to the New York Times, is the progress he made toward "racial equality." Civil rights leader and former Democratic presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson hailed "Castro's cause of fighting for freedom & liberation" and held a radio marathon to give listeners an alternate look at Castro's career.
On Sunday Jackson sent out a tweet regarding the "life&legacy of #FidelCastro;" he attached a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. urging supporters to "commit yourself to the struggle for equal rights."
Jackson may not have heard of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscét, a black doctor Castro sentenced to 27 years in prison for "organizing a seminar on Martin Luther King's non-violent forms of protest" and campaigning for equal rights for Cuban blacks. President George W. Bush presented Biscét with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008—three years before Castro released him from prison.
Castro did not just buck the United States, but the trends of other communist regimes. "Castro’s communism had always been tempered by respect for the Catholic church," the Guardian said. Rather than immediately cracking down on the Catholic Church, Castro allowed priests to bless political prisoners before they were executed. That was before he confiscated all Catholic buildings, exiled foreign clergy, and imprisoned native believers.
A number of political leaders weighed in on the loss of Mr. Castro, including triumphant send-offs from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—"larger than life"—and Irish President Michael D. Higgins—"a giant among global leaders." Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama, who opened diplomatic relations after a five-decade freeze, was more cautious. "History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him," Obama said in a release. The quote hearkened back to Castro's most famous statement, given during his initial trial for trying to overthrow the government: "history will absolve me."
Harold Alcalá Aramburo, Andrés Fidel Alfonso Rodríguez, Claro Fernando Alfonso Hernández, Pedro de la Caridad Álvarez Pedroso, Miguel Alvarez Sanchez, Mercedes Arce Rodríguez, Lewis Arce Romero, Miguel Ernesto Armenteros Hernández, Yosvani Arostegui Armentero, Edilberto Arzuaga Alcalá, Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña, Lázaro Ávila Sierra, Joel Bencomo Diaz, Ernesto Borges Pérez, Maríia del Carmen Cala Aguilera, Alieski Calderín Acosta, Léster Castillo Rodríguez, Leandro Cerezo Sirut, Santiago Cisnero Castellano, Raúl Manuel Cornell de la Rosa, Yanier Cuello Pupo, Yeris Curbelo Aguilera, Maikel Delgado Aramburo, Karel de Miranda Rubio, Miguel Díaz Bouza, José Ángel Díaz Ortiz, Darian Ernesto Dufó Preval, Yaxiel Espino Aceval, Yuselín Ferrera Espinosa, Mario Ronaide Figueroa Diéguez, Alain Forbes Lamorù, Andy Frómeta Cuenca, Ramón Henry Grillo, Eglis Heredia Rodrígues, José David Hermán Aguilera, Ricardo Hernández Ruíz, Liusban John Ultra, Wilmer Ledea Pérez, Rider Lescay Veloz, Luis Alfredo Limonte Rodríguez, Yoelsi Llorente Bermúdez, Danilo (El Sexto) Maldonado Machado, Rafael Felipe Martínez Irizar, Santiago Roberto Montes de Oca Rodríguez, Vladimir Morera Bacallao, Santiago Padrón Quintero, Ricardo Pelier Frómeta, Elías Pérez Bocourt, Jorge Luis Pérez Puentes, Eliosbel Quevedo Valladares, Humberto Eladio Real Suárez, Francisco Reyes Rodríguez, Aracelio Ribeaux Noa, Yaser Ribero Boni, Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta, Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo, Eliesqui Roco Chongo, Yoelkis Rosabal Flores, René Rouco Machin, Oscar Luis Santana Lopez, Ángel Santiesteban Prats, Daniel Candelario Santovenia Fernández, Deibis Sardiñas Moya, Emilio Serrano Rodríguez, Rubén Sintes Rodríguez, Armando Sosa Fortuny, Ihosvani Surís de la Torre, Yoanny Thomas González, José Antonio Torres Fernández, Yoan Torres Martinez, Felix Gerardo Vega Ruis, Carlos Manuel Veranes Heredia, Armado Veredcia Diaz, Yorjanes Arce Sarmiento, José Lino Ascensio López, Oscar Elisa Biscet Gonález, Juana Castillo Acosta, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, Egberto Ángel Escobedo Morales, José Daniel Ferrer García, Miguel Guerra Hastie, Roberto Hernandez Barrios, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Luis Enrique Labrador Díaz, Librado Linares García, Ruberlandis Mainet Villalon, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Yordenis Mendosa Cobas, Ángel Juan Moya Acosta, Reinier Muliet Levis, Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Jorge Olivera Castillo, Alexander Otero Rodriguez, Wilberto Parada Milian, David Piloto Barcelo, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Jorge Ramirez Calderón, Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, Lázaro Romero Hurtado, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Alexeis Vargas Martín, and Julio Cesar Vega Santiesteban could not be reached for comment.
The 10,723 people executed or disappeared by the regime were also unavailable for interviews.