Policy Alert: Rising Powers Reflect on the Passing of Fidel Castro
On November 25, Fidel Castro, the long-serving revolutionary leader of Cuba, passed away at the age of 90. After assuming power in 1959, Castro’s efforts to transform the Republic of Cuba into a communist country faced fierce opposition, economic blockades, and a myriad of assassination attempts from the United States. Throughout the Cold War, Castro inserted himself into global affairs – including the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and his close bonds with the Soviet Union and China – to a degree that outstripped the relatively small size of his island nation.
While his death was a moment of celebration for many Cuban-Americans, Cuban exiles, and U.S. politicians, several rising powers in Asia and Latin America took time to praise Castro’s leadership in fighting for the rights of developing countries. Fidel’s younger brother, Raúl, will remain as president – a position he has held since 2006 – until 2018 when he pledged to step down. In this Policy Alert, we survey the reactions from China, Brazil, India, Russia, Japan, and South Korea to the passing of Fidel Castro and the future of Cuba.
In offering his condolences to Cuba, President Xi Jinping called Castro a “great figure of our times” who made “immortal historic contributions to the world socialist development” and was a “close comrade and sincere friend” to China. Premier Li Keqiang praised Castro’s contributions to the bilateral relationship between China and Cuba and that Beijing was “willing to work with Cuba to inherit and carry on the traditional friendship.”
The vast majority of China’s media and expert commentary mourned Fidel Castro’s passing and noted the strong Sino-Cuban ties under his rule.
- To China Daily, Castro’s death was a “reminder the Cold War is already over,” and now it is time for world leaders to focus on joint cooperation between developed and developing countries based on “peace and development instead of confrontation.” The paper, which also ran a detailed biography of Fidel and his ties with China, concluded “the world cannot afford to relive the Cold War.”
- Xinhua’s Chen Shilei called his death a “great loss to the Cuban and Latin American people as well as to the world socialist development.” Castro protected Cuba’s “national sovereignty and dignity against the long-time U.S. isolation and embargo,” and his “glorious image and great achievements” will be “remembered forever.”
- Hailing Castro as an “old friend to the Chinese people,” Global Times said Cuba “never wanted to make enemies and sour U.S.-Cuba relations to a large extent were caused by” the United States.
- Han Han, general secretary of the Center of Cuban Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, saw “time and history” having “vindicated and awarded Fidel Castro’s hard fight to uphold Cuba’s sovereign integrity and independence.” China and Cuba have a “comradely relationship” with China teaching the island how to open up to the world and achieve reform while staying true to its socialist roots.
- Global Times did not think Fidel’s death would have “political ramifications globally” since power has already transferred to Raúl Castro, but his passing “stirs ideology clash in China.” On Chinese social media, some Chinese youth have attacked Castro as being too close to the Soviet Union instead of China during the Cold War. The paper argued, however, these views were misguided as Castro was a “good friend” to China.
Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer released a public statement regarding Fidel Castro’s death, calling the Cuban a “leader of conviction, who marked the second half of the 20th century with a firm defense of his beliefs.” It appears that the Brazilian president has no plans of attending the funeral services for Fidel.
Brazilian news sources focused particularly on the global repercussions of Fidel’s death, what should be expected or not from the regime after his death, Cuban reaction on both the island and in Miami, and analyses of the historical impact of Fidel and his revolution.
- Estadão published a piece that analyzes the many changes undergone by Cuba during the past five decades after the revolution. The article extensively covers the differences between Fidel’s and Raúl’s governance and reforms, such as the rise in autonomous workers and expansive tourism. Nonetheless, Estadão questions the future of U.S.-Cuba relations after the election of Donald J. Trump in the United States.
- Folha de São Paulo covered the diplomatic issues and critiques behind sending representatives from different countries to attend Fidel’s funeral services in Cuba. The source reported Michel Temer, following the lead of German president Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, will send Minister of Foreign Affairs José Serra and Minister of Culture Roberto Freire to attend the services as his representatives.
- G1- Globo reported former Brazilian president Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva’s heartfelt condolences to Fidel. With a history of camaraderie, Lula declared Fidel’s death felt “like losing an older brother, an irreplaceable companion, who I will never forget.” Former President Dilma Rousseff also said Fidel “believed in building a fraternal and just society, free from hunger and exploitation, a Latin America united and strong.”
- Jornal O Globo reported on the emotional reactions to the news Fidel Castro’s death both in Cuba and in Miami. While O Globo reported an overwhelming sensation of celebration and joy in Miami, the mood in Havana was much more somber and mournful amongst those who lost their commander.
- Huffpost Brasil ran an op-ed by historian and Latin America expert Roberto Moll where he questions whether Castro is a hero or a villain. Moll affirms, with certainty and hope, that Cubans should take this opportunity to continue to trace their country’s path while “conserving the conquests of the revolution.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted to extend his “deepest condolences” on the “sad demise of Fidel Castro,” and “India mourns the loss of a great friend.” This sentiment was echoed by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. Home Minister Rajnath Singh and other Indian politicians will attend Castro’s funeral in Cuba.
Several media outlets and experts in India praised Castro for his prominent role in history and his closeness to Indian leaders.
- Vijay Prashad, chief editor of LeftWord Books, wrote in The Hindu that Castro was a “voice of the Third World” that fought against the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) eagerness in early-1980s to take on greater debt offered by the International Monetary Fund and instead pushed a NAM “debt strike.” While his idea wasn’t followed, Prashad celebrated Castro’s resistance to imperialism and his support of aspirations in the developing world.
- Sundheendra Kulkarni, aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, described Castro as a “superhero” who exerted his heroic influence on a global scale despite his “reluctance to introduce economic and political reforms.”
- Kallol Bhattacherjee, journalist with The Hindu, recounted how Fidel Castro saved India “from a major international embarrassment” when he convinced Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stay at a NAM summit hosted by New Delhi. The author said Castro was a friend to Indian leaders – including Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru – because they shared “common view points on world affairs.”
Other commentators expressed a more mixed reaction to Castro’s passing, noting his accomplishments and charisma but hoping Cuba and the United States will now move past Fidel’s major failings.
- After highlighting Castro’s influential role in NAM, The Hindu hoped President-elect Donald Trump will pursue President Barack Obama’s “process of resumption of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington.
- The Times of India compelled Cuba to “leave behind the shackles of the past and integrate faster with the global order.”
- The Indian Express contended Castro’s “record in suppressing dissent and free speech, discrimination against sexual minorities, was no different from that of many Third World despots,” but the Cuban people trusted him as their quality of life generally improved.
- Castro’s death evoked “mixed feelings” in India, wrote the Hindustan Times. His “Third World Robin Hood” image endeared him to many “Indians of a certain age,” but the paper recalled his legacy of “inflicting the worst ideas of Communism, from collective farming to suppression of thought, on his free-spirited people.”
- Portraying Castro as a polarizing figure who stood strong against the U.S. “Goliath”, Economic Times predicted the Cuban revolution will now “disintegrate, with the pace accelerating when Raúl resigns in 2018. However, Cuba will make “Castro proud” since the country is “better prepared than most nations for broad-based capitalist growth” due to its high quality healthcare and education programs.
For decades, Fidel Castro was Moscow’s communist ally in the United States’ backyard and a symbol of defiance to U.S. influence abroad. The news of his death saddened many in Russia, leading many to pile flowers outside the Cuban ambassador’s residence in Moscow. Putin praised Castro as a “wise and strong person” who was a “symbol of a whole era of modern world history” and a “sincere and reliable friend of Russia.” He declared a “free and independent Cuba built by him and his colleagues became an influential member of the international community and has served as an inspiring example for many countries and peoples.”
Russian newspapers and establishment politicians in general had a positive and glowing view of Castro’s legacy with most repeatedly citing Castro’s as a “hero holding out against the U.S. empire.”
- A columnist at Pravda remarked “Castro will enter the annals of history as a Hero of Humanity.”
- Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev thought Castro “stood up for and strengthened his country at the time of the toughest American blockade” and “all the same he led his county” onto the “road of independent development.”
- John Wright, commentator with RT, wrote that “though his detractors may celebrate his death, truth will always prevail. And the truth, when it comes to Fidel Castro, is that he led and inspired a revolution that today ensures the only place you will find homeless Cuban children in the world is Miami.”
- RT ran a collection of analysts from around the globe warning “those dancing on Fidel’s grave” and hoping for Cuba to become a Western style democracy “may soon be disappointed.”
- Alexei Pushkov, former head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, said “Castro has proven that you can spend 55 years being a target of pressure and economic war from the USA and stand up to it. And now the head of the USA is going to Havana, and not the other way round.”
Some media outlets and opposition politicians pushed back on this praise for Castro.
- Contrary to the opinion held by the establishment politicians, opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Castro’s legacy was one of “POVERTY, RUIN, EMBEZZLEMENT.” Fellow opposition leader Vladimir Milov compared the GDP per capita of Cuba ($7,000 USD) and the Puerto Rico ($29,000 USD) to declare “they started off from the same level. So much for your Castro.”
- Kommersant promised Castro would be remembered as a “divisive figure” with people debating whether “Castro became ‘a bloody dictator’ or ‘a great fighter against American imperialism’ – just as they now argue about Joseph Stalin or Ivan the Terrible.”
- Russian blogger Ilya Varlamov declared that “Castro ruined his own country, he brought down a once-rich region to the state of the poorest African nations. Medicines and foodstuffs are still in short supply here.” Varlamov remarked “people are working for peanuts and the only joy is to steal something.”
Abe expressed his “sincere condolences” to Cuba on the passing of Fidel Castro. Abe was “impressed to hear Castro talk about world affairs passionately.” When Castro visited Hiroshima in 2003, he commented on his country’s experience during the Cuban Missile Crisis and how close Cuba came to being nuclear bomb victims as well.
Japanese media and political leaders reflected on Castro’s life and his affinity for Japan.
- Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida promised to continue to deepen Cuban-Japanese bilateral ties even after Castro’s death.
- Keiji Furuya, chief strategist within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, remarked on Castro’s interest in pursuing closer ties with Japan. Keiji will attend Castro’s funeral in Cuba as an envoy of Abe.
- In the Asahi Shimbun, Castro was remembered as a “charismatic leader, who left a mark in world history” for resolutely resisting American “colonialism,” and for promoting “development of farming villages and industrialization,” but also for “mercilessly executing opponents as dictator.”
- Although recognizing his mixed legacy, Japan Timesspoke sympathetically of Castro. The paper recounted how “Castro visited the U.S. in the months after the revolution, but President Dwight Eisenhower refused to meet him. Nationalization followed, which prompted U.S. oil companies to place an embargo on Cuba, driving the country into the armed of the Soviet Union…” Thus, the author wondered whether Castro’s role in turning Cuba into a communist dictatorship was fated.
- An article inThe Japan News fondly commemorated Castro for his denouncement of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The author recalled Castro “criticized a speech U.S. President Barack Obama delivered when he visited Hiroshima in May, saying that the speech lacked an apology for killing a number of people with the atomic bomb.”
The Foreign Ministry offered the government’s sympathies to Cuba after Castro’s death despite the two countries not having official diplomatic ties. This may change in the coming years with South Korea looking to normalize relations after Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s historic visit to Cuba this past summer. In contrast, Pyongyang plans to send a delegation to express their condolences in person, in addition to a three-day mourning period within North Korea and flags flown at half-mast.
While the South Korean newspapers recognized Castro’s mixed legacy, their primary focus was juxtaposition between him and the Kim family in North Korea, which led them to view Castro in a positive light.
- Dong-A Ilboeditorial writer Song Pyeong-in compared the legacy of Castro to that of Kim Il Sung of North Korea and remarked that “both people were dictators, but while Kim maintained his regime with an awe-inspiring sentiment, Castro did so with friendliness.” It noted that unlike Kim, Castro did not set up statues of himself nor did he stop people complaining about his regime from leaving the country, which made Cuba less fearful than North Korea.”
- Dong-A Ilbo editorial writer Han Ki-heung further pointed out that “neither did Castro pass down his power to his son and grandson, nor did he force his people to worship him like Kim Il Sung.”