Posted by Ian
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, wily old despotic goat, erstwhile law student and son of a sugar plantation owner, has announced he is retiring after 49 years. Here’s how he changed the world.
1) By almost ending it. When the US discovered nuclear missile bases were being built in Cuba in 1962, President John F. Kennedy contrived a stand-off with the Soviet Union which almost led to the Third World War. Kennedy accused the Soviets of supplying Castro with weapons that would be targeted at US cities, and ordered a naval blockade of Cuba. Soviet ships set sail towards the island. For a few days the possibility of nuclear holocaust hung across the entire planet. Secret negotiations ultimately resulted in the the USSR turning their ships around. Superpower relations were never the same again.
2) Giving the giant US war machine its first taste of military defeat by a minnow. A year before the missile crisis, Kennedy mounted the Bay Of Pigs invasion: an attempt to overthrow Castro using a bunch of armed exiles. It failed. It was the first time post-war America had been routed by a lesser power – but not the last (see Vietnam).
3) Papering the walls of several million student halls of residence, along with fellow socialist and revolutionary terrorist Che Guevara.
4) Staying in power for 49 years: an incredible feat, far outranking all his fellow dictators past and present. Love him or loathe him, you could never ignore him.
5) Trying to reconcile communism with capitalism. In other words, having his cake and eating it. As a result Cuba has a higher life expectancy than the US, but endemic poverty.
6) Becoming the world’s most fashionable despot. Throughout his life a parade of celebrities have queued for an audience with the man, from Ernest Hemingway to Kate Moss, from Steven Spielberg to Naomi Campbell. Presumably they all looked the other way when being driven through Havana’s appalling slums. Diego Maradona, meanwhile, has a Castro tattoo on his leg.
7) Surviving the most demented campaign of assassination in world history. Over five decades the CIA has tried to kill Castro by, among other things, spraying a television studio with LSD, an exploding cigar, slipping poison powder into a pair of his boots, poisoning a scuba-diving wetsuit offered as a gift and blowing up a conch shell in one of the President’s favourite waters.
8) Continuing to inspire political change and upheaval even now, in Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina and most potently Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has carved a role for himself as Castro-cheerleader-in-chief.
9) Fostering an incredible sense of cultural pride and identity among Cubans despite forcing them to live in a one-party state where opposition leaders are still summarily rounded up and thrown into jail. Perhaps entertainment is a form of escape. But perhaps Cuban music is also one of the greatest in the world.
10) Re-popularising the shell suit as *the* garment of choice among veteran world leaders.