UC Berkeley community reacts to Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s death

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Update 10/16/17: This article has been updated to reflect new information from ASUC Senator Miranda Hernandez.

Cuban political leader and revolutionary figure Fidel Castro died Nov. 25, prompting a variety of reactions among members of the campus community.

Castro transformed Cuba into the first communist state in the Western hemisphere. In 1958, Castro led the revolution against then-leader Fulgencio Batista, successfully overthrowing the regime with a campaign of guerilla warfare to assume full power the next year.

While some figures, such as President-elect Donald Trump, celebrated the passing of the figure synonymous to many with communist ideology, others expressed different sentiments — such as Miguel Altieri, a campus professor of agroecology, who said he felt “very saddened” to hear about Castro’s passing. Altieri recently visited Cuba, the subject of a number of his publications.

“Castro represented for us a leader that stood against imperialism,” Altieri said. “(He) also launched a revolutionary path in Cuba that led to developments in health, education and agriculture.”

Castro led Cuba until 2008 when he formally relinquished his role to his brother Raúl Castro. During his reign, Castro implemented national health care and education systems as part of his socialist philosophy. Additionally, all citizens were guaranteed employment, and there is near-universal literacy throughout the country.

According to Altieri, nine days of mourning have been organized for the country as a whole — including supporters and nonsupporters — to pay respects to Castro.

“A lot of people who might oppose Castro within Cuba (and) a lot of people who don’t respect him are going to be there, because Cuba would have been a different country if the revolution had not happened,” Altieri said. “I would much prefer to be poor in Cuba than somewhere in the U.S.”

ASUC Senator Miranda Hernandez, whose family immigrated from Cuba, said that studying Cuba and experiencing living there are different.

“I hope that people listen to the lived experiences of Cubans, Cuban-Americans, and Cuban exiles instead of acting like they know everything about everything after just one semester of Political Theory at Cal,” Hernandez said in an email to the Daily Californian. “I am first generation Cuban-American. I ask that people speak with us if they want to know more. More importantly, listen to us.”

Under Castro’s regime, however, Cuba’s economy did not significantly grow. Additionally, his policies were often met with opposition, in particular his anti-American rhetoric and ties to the Soviet Union.

Castro also championed support efforts in third-world countries, sending military support to nations such as Ethiopia, Angola and Yemen. These aid efforts, however, ultimately hurt the already weak Cuban economy.

Much of the controversy surrounding Castro’s death stems from his record of human rights violations and dictatorship ruling. Those who attempted to overthrow the existing administration in the past were often silenced through incarceration, harassment and intimidation, and his regime is responsible for thousands of executions. Such actions have prevented Cuban citizens from voicing dissent and resulted in a large number of Cubans fleeing the country.

In contrast, some UC Berkeley students, including many student activists, voiced their sadness over Castro’s death in an outpouring on social media.

“I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about Fidel Castro in this country,” Altieri said. “(People) need to look at things in historical context in order to understand.”

Contact Revati Thatte at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that ASUC Senator Miranda Hernandez had voiced sadness over Fidel Castro’s death. In fact, Hernandez had declined to comment on his death.