The reign of Oswald’s hero comes to an end
by DALE K. MYERS
Lee Harvey Oswald’s hero, Fidel Castro – the murderous dictator who ruled the Cuban people for fifty-seven years – has died at age 90.
Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother younger brother now age 85, announced the death on state run television Friday.
Born in 1926, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruiz was the son of a plantation owner who attended the University of Havana Law School in 1945 where he dove into radical politics, immersing himself into Marxist literature, student protests, and demonstrations.
His run for Congress in 1952 was sidelined by the coup led by Fulgencio Batista.
A year later, on July 26, 1953, Castro and his student followers attacked the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Many were killed. Castro was captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In 1954, under pressure from civic leaders and to demonstrate that he was not the dictator many were claiming, Batista ordered Castro and his followers released in the wake of the presidential election. It turned out to be a colossal mistake.
Castro fled in exile to Mexico where he plotted his revenge.
He returned two years later, in December 1956, with eighty comrades – including revolutionary and murderer Che Guevara as the group’s physician – and began a campaign of guerilla warfare against the Batista regime wrapped in the cloak of “freedom fighter.”
Batista ordered Castro killed and though the young revolutionary’s death was often reported by the army he managed to stay alive.
Worldwide interest in Castro’s exploits took a significant turn in February, 1957, when The New York Times correspondent and editorial writer Herbert L. Matthews wrote a series of articles that sympathized with the thirty-year-old Castro.
“The personality of the man is overpowering,” Matthews wrote. “Here was an educated, dedicated fanatic, a man of ideals, of courage and of remarkable qualities of leadership.”
The Times repeated Castro’s oratory that Cuba’s future was anything but a Communist state. “He has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to restore the Constitution, to hold elections,” Matthews wrote.
“You can be sure we have no animosity toward the United States and the American people,” Castro was quoted as saying.
Castro claimed to seek a restored democracy. He promised free elections and vowed to end America’s domination of the Cuba economy, which he claimed caused working-class oppression.
The Batista government denounced the Times articles as fabrications, but they gave new life to Fidel Castro’s stature as a freedom-loving leader and built an aura around him that firearms couldn’t defeat.
By the time Batista fled Cuba, early New Year’s Day morning, 1959, Castro was a god. But the mask of compassion the Times helped create was soon destroyed by Castro’s own actions.
Castro immediately rounded up more than 500 Batista-era officials and had than shot to death following special tribunals. Castro claimed the executions were necessary to the revolution.
Five months later, he began seizing private agricultural property, including land owned by Americans. In early 1960, he ordered American and British refineries in Cuba to accept oil from the Soviet Union.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower cut the sugar quota from Cuba driving Castro to look for economic help from the Soviet Union. In 1961, Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations and closed the U.S. Embassy when Castro ordered the embassy to reduce its staff from 60 to 18 within 48-hours.
Opposition to the Castro regime began to grow among the Cuban people. Some took up arms while nearly a million fled to Miami.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worked with many exiles in an effort to help them take back Cuba with a beachhead landing on Cuba’s southern coast and a plan to instigate an insurrection.
The New York Times learned of the invasion plans and published a front-page article about it, though they withheld information that the attack was imminent and that the CIA was behind the plans.
When Cuban-exile forces hit the beaches at the Bay of Pigs ten days later, on April 17, 1961, Castro’s army was waiting. Most of the exiles were killed or captured. The disastrous outcome would be exploited by Castro for the remainder of his days.
If there were any doubts about Castro’s political stance, he removed them in December 1961, when he declared in a long speech, “I am a Marxist-Leninist.”
Castro’s alignment with the Soviet Union and his resentment of the United States came to an inevitable clash in October 1962 when American spy planes discovered that the Soviet Union had built intermediate-range missile bases in Cuba capable of reaching the United States.
Thirteen tense days ended when President Kennedy secretly agreed to remove American missile bases in Turkey and not invade Cuba if the Soviets dismantled the Cuban missile sites.
Multiple efforts by the CIA, under the Kennedy administration, to rid the world of Castro were met with frustration and defeat.
Then, in 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald, an avowed Marxist who saw Castro as a revolutionary hero of the people, took his rifle onto the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas, and murdered President John F. Kennedy.
While Oswald’s motives will forever remain unclear, due to the actions of nightclub owner Jack Ruby who shot and killed Oswald less than 48-hours after his arrest, there is no doubt about Oswald’s praise for the Cuban leader, or that Oswald attempted to gain entry to Cuba less than a month before his deed, or that Oswald always felt he was a “revolutionary” himself – one whom the world would have to reckon with some day.
On November 22, 1963, he made good on that threat.
Much has happened in Cuba since the cigar-chomping, bearded revolutionary climbed out of the jungle thicket in 1959 and promised hope to the Cuban people.
Fidel Castro outlived many of his enemies, but the Cuba he created with his brother Raul, stands as a living example of what can happen when tyranny replaces hope.