He was a modern-day David who slew Goliath. Leader of a ragged band of mountain guerrillas who drove a bloodthirsty monster into exile and seized state power just ninety miles from the sulfur-breathing behemoth that ruled the continent, he not only prevailed, he endured. Where a young Lumumba was hunted down and murdered, King and Malcolm assassinated in their prime, thousands of other rebels and revolutionaries tortured and slain, Fidel outlasted eleven U.S. presidents and died peacefully in his sleep in Havana at age 90.
As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, I had the honor to meet Fidel and Che in the summer of 1963, when I was part of a group of American students who defied the U.S. travel ban and spent two months on the revolutionary island. Fidel played ping-pong with members of our group, shook all of our hands, and answered all of our questions. I heard him speak on the big plaza in Havana on the occasion of the July 26 anniversary of the revolution, and I walked among the crowd, perhaps a million strong, and saw people listening with rapt attention, laughing at his jokes, responding, shouting, waving their arms — a people united. Back home, I took my slides on a tour up and down New England, getting punched in the face by Cuban exiles (‘gusanos’), and raising money for the legal defense.
Cuba has gone through a lot of crises and changes since then, and my attention has mostly been elsewhere. I suspend judgment on all of that. But, regardless of what happens in the future, the name of Fidel Castro is written in the stars.