Fidel Castro’s death at the age of 90 is miraculous. While demonized and derided by 10 successive U.S. administrations, he outlived political prognoses, successfully beating back dictators, domination, U.S.-funded mercenaries – even exploding cigars.


But truth was an unyielding casualty in the war against Castro. The news coverage marking his passing lives somewhere between U.S. government spin and simply outrageous. Much of the mainstream reporting is a study in “mixed facts” and surgical omissions. An honest Cuban observer can only ask: How does this pass for news? What country are they talking about?

Travel 90 miles from the U.S. shores and you may as well be on another planet, transfixed by the extremes of strides and struggles that are etched in the life of the Cuban people and the history of an extraordinary revolution.

Ruling Cuba for nearly 50 years, Fidel Castro is not without valid critique or contradictions. But in the face of a massive and unending U.S. propaganda machine, Fidel has been elevated to Biblical heights as David confronted Goliath. The romantics paint him as a cross between mythical crusader and savior. The detractors brand him a violent dictator.

Defying myths and propaganda, the evidence shows that under Fidel’s leadership Cuba was transformed from a despotic-ruled island, a haven for the Mafia, and a money sanctuary for U.S. corporations — they owned 60 percent of the sugar industry and controlled exports on 95 percent of the crops. Leading a band of bearded revolutionaries, he did create a bold socialist model that crashed against the odds to succeed.

Despite adversities, from 1959 forward Castro’s Cuba soared.

By the mid-1960s, literacy rates climbed to nearly 100 percent among primary and secondary school children. Universal education (including college) and its health care for all became the envy of the world. On climate change, agrarian reform, peace and disarmament, food security, and the norms of international sovereignty, this small island nation took its place among giants. As Fidel is excoriated in circles of U.S. power, he is also hailed as a hero on the world stage.

From Argentina to Angola, Canada to Kenya, this tiny island country made a massive contribution, especially to progress for people – the poor, the Black, the forgotten – in his country and developing nations. Undeniably, he set in motion a model of self-determination not known anywhere in the world.

Yet, news reports about Cuba’s disastrous economy make no reference to the huge price that was paid and exacted – not by any internal policies – as a result of a nearly impenetrable 55-year economic blockade designed by the U.S. as a stranglehold that would bring the Castro government and his socialist experiment to its knees.

Until the thaw in Cuban policies by President Obama last year, trade, aide and travel were outlawed; even the importation of U.S. aspirins were prohibited.

I was able to pass through the U.S. travel band as a young, working journalist. My last visit to Cuba in 1988 was during a time of change and challenge. The Soviet Empire was being dissolved and Cuba was feeling the erosion of support solidified during the Cold War. But even in the face of the austerity period, what struck me more than anything was the Cuban sense of humor – a national treasure that never waned.

Fiercely passionate, the Cuban resistance to the strongest power in the world was also a source of national pride that was exemplified by a comedic billboard. A fully-decked out Uncle Sam faces off against its island nemesis, a somewhat rag tag soldier. In Spanish, the message declares, “Mr. Imperialist, we have absolutely no fear!”

That message personified Fidel Castro, a brazen reminder to its most powerful detractor to the north. Mounted opposite the United States Interest Section, America’s representatives faced this imagery every day for years. It is a fitting epitaph to Jefe Fidel, unbowed.


Gwen McKinney heads the first African American and woman-owned firm in the nation’s capital expressly dedicated to social justice communications.