Hours after Fidel Castro's death on Friday the obituaries started rolling in. And these weren't hastily written responses to the news that the Cuban revolutionary had finally passed — many of them had been written years in advance. It's a macabre but common practice for news outlets to have obits prepped for important figures, especially ones with such complicated and impactful legacies as Castro. It's unsurprising, then, that the obituaries for the man who established communist Cuba despite protests of world powers like the United States, would be masterfully crafted works. Here are some of the most compelling obituaries for Fidel Castro, whose legacy is both celebrated and reviled.
As Amy Fiscus, an editor at the Los Angeles Times, pointed out, of the people who penned the Castro obits we're seeing today at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, only one still works at the paper running it. In the case of the Washington Post, Castro actually outlived one one of its obit writers, J.Y. Smith. In other words, the things that we're reading today have been carefully constructed over the course of many years.
And they would have to be. Castro was at once viewed as a violent dictator and a man who brought much needed services such as hospitals and schools to the poor people of Cuba. He was celebrated by millions of people as he overtook the government, but drove just as many or more to leave the country behind completely. These thoughtful, warts-and-all obituaries try to parse out the life of a man who has undeniably made a huge impact in geo-political history.
1. The New York Times
The New York Times's former foreign correspondent Anthony DePalma captured the moment of hope that Cuba had when Castro took control in 1959. DePalma wrote:
A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.
The Gray Lady's obit goes on to explore the tenuous relationship that Castro had with the United States, which is the ultimate refresher on the relationship that that the two countries are now trying to normalize.
2. The Washington Post
For the Washington Post, Kevin Sullivan and J.Y. Smith didn't mince words when it comes to the colorful details of Castro's reputation, particularly the leader's relationship with the U.S.:
With almost theatrical relish, Mr. Castro taunted 10 successive U.S. presidents, who viewed the Cuban leader variously as a potential courier of Armageddon, a blow-hard nuisance, a dangerous dictator, a fomenter of revolution around Latin America, a serial human rights abuser or an irrelevant sideshow who somehow hung on after the collapse of communism almost everywhere else.
The Post takes a more biographical approach to Castro's triumphs in Cuba, but remains largely critical of his legacy of broken promises, calling Castro's Cuba a "Marxist Disneyland."
3. Al Jazeera
With its eye for geo-political impact, Al Jazeera focuses more on the intentions of the Castro-led uprising in Cuba more so than the other obituaries. It kind of skimps on the uglier sides of Castro's regime by quoting experts who basically said, "Well, it could've been worse," but it is a fascinating look into the kind of Cuba that the leader initially peddled to his followers.
4. The Los Angeles Times
Carol J. Williams does a great job of explaining the charisma that Castro had, noting that though he was hated by many world leaders, he was also an inspiration for many people. As Williams wrote for the Los Angeles Times:
While a succession of U.S. presidents and hard-line Cuban exiles in Miami saw a dictator who trampled on the rights of his people, Castro won acclaim among Latin Americans who envied his nationalist dignity and cavalier attitude toward the powerful yanquis.
“No sober person in Latin America wants to adopt the Cuban system. But wherever he went in Latin America he received a raving ovation,” said Wayne Smith, a veteran U.S. diplomat who served in Havana. “Why? Because he stood up to the United States, told us where to go, and got away with it.”
5. The Miami Herald
One of the most powerful Castro obituaries came from the Miami Herald. Miami, of course, has a very close relationship to Castro. When Castro took control of Cuba, many fled from the country to Miami, which now has a thriving Cuban expatriate community. And its paper delivered to that community a nuanced, beautifully written obituary that both humanizes and demonizes the late revolutionary. Glenn Garvin's stirring prose paints a visceral picture of the iconic leader.
Warming to a theme — perhaps the supposed threat of a Yanqui invasion — the whisper would grow to a roar and then a rhythmic wave of shouts, repeating key phrases like a tent-revival evangelist reaching out to save souls. The words would tumble out, by turns high-flown, vulgar, jovial, indignant — finally winding down in raspy exhaustion with the benediction: Patria o muerte, venceremos! (Fatherland or death, we shall triumph!)
No matter your feelings on the controversial late leader, these obits are absolutely worth a read.