I was in college in 1959 when Fidel Castro and his military overthrew the dictator Batista. College students were excited by this young revolutionary. He came to Cambridge to speak to a large audience and I covered him for my college newspaper. We had high hopes in those days.
It wasn’t long before Castro decided to align himself with the Soviet Union. Thereafter there were frequent reports of trials, imprisonment, executions, including some of his fellow revolutionaries. Disillusionment set in quickly.
I was never a fan of any dictator, including Fidel. I heard that literacy was high, and that people had access to medical care. But there was no freedom. Neighbors spied on neighbors. Cuba under Fidel was a police state.
When I visited Cuba in 2013, I saw the economic mess he had made of the country.  By the time I got there, revolutionary fervor had dimmed almost to the vanishing point. There were revolutionary posters on the walls, but they seemed faded, antique. The revolutionaries were old men, the young seem eager to join the world.

 

The main impression I had was of deep and widespread poverty. From everyone I met, I got the feeling that ordinary Cubans are eager to break free of the stifling orthodoxy of Castroism. Even his brother Raul is. Raul’s daughter Mariela is a rebel against the regime. Although married with children, she has been a crusader for gay rights. Fidel imprisoned and isolated gays (read Reinaldo Arenas’ When Night Falls). Here and there were signs of entrepreneurship, restaurants in homes, bed and breakfast homes, restaurants pretending to be homes.

 
It struck me that the best way to free Cuba is to lift the embargo, permit normal tourism, and encourage economic development. That’s the process that President Obama started. JetBlue now offers daily flights to Havana. There will be other airlines flying there.
When I went to Cuba, my group of four flew on an American Airlines charter flight from Miami. It was a 45-minute trip. Most of those on the flight were Cubans returning home for a visit, carrying appliances.
It is a beautiful and unspoiled country. I urge everyone to visit.
Maybe Castro’s death will encourage greater liberalization of ties between our countries. I hope that Trump doesn’t re-impose the embargo to please the voting bloc of aging Cubans in Florida. The best way to create Cuba Libre is to establish full relations.