Why Fidel Castro’s death is such a big deal

Cuba, an island country in the Caribbean Sea a mere 90 miles away from the southern coast of Florida, is the 78th most populous country in the world, with some 11.4 million people.

A place like that is typically an afterthought in global politics.

I mean, a country like Uzbekistan has nearly triple the amount of people in it. And when do we ever talk about them? How many people before reading this sentence even knew that Uzbekistan was a country?

But we all know Cuba. Its imprint on not just Latin America, not just North America, but the world, has been significant for the last half century.

And that’s all because of one man: Fidel Castro.

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The average American would probably hear Fidel Castro’s name and automatically think: “bad man.” They’d associate with him a long line of other known dictators like Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein.

And it’s true that Fidel Castro was a dictator. It’s true that he’s exiled, jailed, even killed dissidents, and that he’s suppressed free speech and the rights of the LGBT community within his nation. And that makes him a bad man.

But I think it’s also important to understand why we all know who Fidel Castro is. And why the entire world knows who he is.

A revolutionist and a rebel to his core, Fidel Castro has survived civil war, imprisonment, exile, assassination attempts from within his own nation and abroad. He’s bedeviled 11 American presidents, which began with Dwight Eisenhower’s embargo on the nation in 1960 and was solidified with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion under John F. Kennedy in 1961.

And it was in 1962 when Castro allowed the Soviet Union to place nuclear warheads in Cuba, pointing directly at the United States, putting the world on the brink of nuclear war.

The animosity between the two nations has not subsided. It wasn’t until 2015 when Barack Obama, after nearly two years of secret negotiations, re-opened the possibility of relations with Cuba– nine years after Fidel shifted power to his brother because of illness.

All that is significant for historic purposes. But there is much more to be fascinated with in regards to how Fidel Castro actually ran his country.

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For one, it’s the only Communist nation that has not failed. Ever. The Soviet Union collapsed, along with its satellite states. China drastically altered its economy to adapt capitalist policies. North Korea is a hot mess.

Cuba’s healthcare and medical industries are widely praised. Education is public and free, and 99.8 percent of Cubans are literate. 90 percent of Cubans own their own homes. And poverty is almost nonexistent.

And for 50 years, the man leading a small island country managed to stymie another country roughly 30 times the size of it.

Again, there’s a reason why it’s such big news that Fidel Castro died. And it explains why there was such polarizing responses to his death, exemplified by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s warm remembrance of him; and Donald Trump’s single celebratory tweet.

But I encourage you all to learn a little bit more about what made him such a mythical and larger than life figure. Because even though he did indeed do many bad things, he’s also implemented things of significance that nobody had ever done before. And there will probably never be any one else like him.

I wouldn’t quite call him The Most Interesting Man in the World, but from a recent history perspective, he’s pretty up there.

And oddly enough, I’ve been craving a Cubano sandwich ever since I heard he died.

I know what I’m having for lunch tomorrow.

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Remember when people used to actually root for world peace?

Let’s say you have a lot of friends.

Most of them like you. The majority of them truly respect you. The others just don’t want to get on your bad side.

But then there’s three people who don’t like you. Really don’t like you. So much that they may even want to cause you harm, if they had their way. You’ve had really bad skirmishes with them in the past, and the bad blood still lingers. But instead of acting out, you just decide to pretty much ignore the other’s existence.

It prevents any belligerence in the short term, but is it really the ideal solution? Do you really want to live each day knowing that one of these people might come after you?

In a perfect world, wouldn’t you rather make amends, let bygones be bygones, acknowledge that mistakes were made and go on living peacefully? You don’t have to love each other. You just have to tolerate one another and acknowledge the other’s existence. Give a curt nod when you pass each other on the street, rather then turning in the opposite direction.

Peace and camaraderie is always the better option, right? If a solution presents itself that avoids conflict — take it.

Well if you agree with me, then you also happen to agree with the recent actions of our president.

Yup, folks, this just got political. I tricked you!

In the past calendar year, President Obama has made the attempt to reconcile and burn bridges with three nations, each of which have a very checkered recent history (to say the least) with the United States — Iran, Cuba and Vietnam.

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One chants “Death to America” every morning. The other once allowed nuclear missiles on their soil to point directly at us. The last engaged with us in a war that killed 58,000 Americans.

Yeah, that’s bad blood.

I know what some of you may be thinking. If a country has American blood on its hands, then why ever make amends? We’re the most powerful country in the world — screw ’em!

But is that really a solution? Just maintain the status quo and expect no repercussions? Is it healthy to have an entire nation remain an enemy for decades and decades? If you truly believe that, then maybe you believe the U.S. and Soviet Union never should have ended the Cold War.

If there is an open door towards peace, how do you not at least peak inside? Obama has taken a careful step through that door recently by negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, announcing a thaw with Cuba, and just this week, took further initatives to settle the lingering rifts between the U.S. and Vietnam.

No one’s saying to welcome these nations back with an open arms. Instead, it’s merely one cautious step towards long-term reconciliation.

There used to be a day when “world peace” was an unanimous goal.

Now the calls are to build walls. To alienate foreigners. To condemn entire groups of people because of the actions of a small minority.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m still game for world peace. And I’m proud to be represented by a leader who at least gave it a shot.

I survived the winter of 2015; Also: Conan in Cuba!

If you’re reading this right now from a climate that is not in the midst of a severe winter, and has enjoyed beautiful weather, then promptly go slam your head into a wall for me. Thanks.

Here in New York, we are at the very tail end of what has been a depressing winter. While the amount of snowfall accumulated in the season is far from historic, it’s been the consistently lower than normal temperatures and fierce wind chill that is driving people crazy. Adding to the dreariness is the perpetual ice that has become a fixture of the landscape for several weeks.

As someone who regularly runs outdoors, I have only been able to do so one time in 2015. One time. If I never see a treadmill again for the rest of my life, I’m OK with it.

delta plane2We forget, though, that icy conditions are not only hazardous for joggers and drivers, but for pilots, too. Early on Thursday, a Delta plane skidded off the runway upon landing at La Guardia Airport, and nearly fell into a bay. Nobody was seriously hurt, but 28 people sustained minor injuries.

One girl on the flight tweeted about it seemingly moments after it landed. Being a guy, the first think I undoubtedly noticed is that she is cute. But the second thing I noticed, if you look at the replies, is how many reporters are hounding her trying to get a scoop. It’s a humorous and transparent view into how social media has completely transformed journalism.

Boston is also having its problems; the city is just just two inches away from its snowiest winter ever.

My freaking snow brush that I keep in my car has been so overused that two weeks ago it snapped in half while I was using it. Enough is enough.

But, then again, by the beginning of March, every winter that’s ending feels like the worst winter ever. Fortunately, spring is right around the corner.

One person who escaped to a warm climate recently was Conan O’Brien. Remember him? He had an enormously popular late night talk show for 16 years, then hosted the Tonight Show for a brief spell, and has basically been shunned into oblivion on TBS ever since.

He’s still funny as hell, though. What die-hard Conan fans will remember is that the man is at his best when he’s out of the studio, interacting with people on the street and playing the fish out of water. It’s easy with his gangling, 6- Conan Cubafoot-4 frame, pale skin, bright red hair and self-deprecating humor.

He brought his schtick to Cuba last month to film a show there, and it aired Wednesday night on TBS.

Of course, it was made possible when President Obama announced in December that the U.S. and Cuba were going to start the process of normalizing relations, and although on a political level there is still a whole lot of logistics to figure out, Conan was able to go there with a team of writers and producers to interact with Cuban people and make fun of himself in a place where a variety show had not been filmed in more than 50 years.

His reception wasn’t quite as warm as when he traveled to Finland 10 years ago. Indeed, none of the Cubans had even heard of him. Nonetheless, the results — which included him getting inebriated on Cuban rum, and learning how to roll a cigar — were pretty hilarious.

Given the weather here lately, I’d quickly go to Cuba, too, if given the chance.

When the choice is between being oppressed and warm, or free and cold, I’ll take Communism any day of the week, baby.