Let's talk Latin America

Viva la revolución?

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Bristolatino’s Politics editor Kwame Lowe discusses the political legacies of a generation of world leaders, including Cuba’s communist revolutionary Fidel Castro

It has been almost impossible to ignore the recent news of Margaret Thatcher’s death, and given that she could reasonably be called the most controversial politician in modern British history, reactions have been expectedly mixed.

Some of the most publicised have been the numerous ‘death parties’ which took place on the day of her funeral. Whether we take issue with the tastefulness of such events is one thing, but what is really striking is the fact that her death has conjured up such strong emotions amongst an increasingly indifferent citizenry. One can contrast the polarised reactions to Thatcher’s death with the almost unanimous bereavement shown by the Venezuelan population over the death of their President, Hugo Chávez, just a month earlier. Nevertheless, it is essential we remember that whilst these two iconic leaders may no longer be with us, their legacies very much remain. For example, the trend of growing wealth inequality between the richest and poorest of the UK has not been reversed since its inception under Thatcher in the 1980s. When discussing the death of Chávez, it is important to highlight the legacy of another highly influential Latin American leader, Fidel Castro of Cuba.

Like Thatcher and Chávez, Castro’s time at the forefront of international affairs has come to an end. The communist revolutionary resigned as President of Cuba in 2008, after his almost 50 year rule, during which time he radically changed Cuba’s socio-political landscape. It is arguable however, that Castro’s influence has been even greater outside of his home country. He is the most prominent living image of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism around the world, and considering that there are more than 40,000 Cuban medical personnel living overseas (which is more than the G8 countries combined provide), we can appreciate the influence of the former leader, whose island has a population of around just 10 million. Although he has been criticised for human rights abuses, Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the world, provides free education and healthcare for all citizens, and according to the World Wide Fund for Nature is the only country to be developing sustainably. This is all despite the fact that Cuba, like many Latin American and Caribbean countries, is classified as underdeveloped, as well as its having faced the further pressure of an economic blockade implemented by the USA since the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1962.

It is argued that Castro has inspired the ‘pink tide’ of left-leaning leaders who currently dominate Latin American politics, such as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correra of Ecuador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and, of course, Chávez’s elected successor, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. According to the BBC, ‘three-quarters of South America’s 350 million people are now ruled by left-leaning presidents’. Therefore, though it may be tempting to proclaim the end of an era with the deaths of a generation of world leaders (among whom Castro and the ailing Nelson Mandela will inevitably join), we must bear in mind that their political legacies are still hugely significant for the continued faith in markets in the West, the domination of Latin American politics by the Left and the strength of democratic politics in countries such as South Africa.

Header photo: Fidel in Washington in 1959.