On Friday, Fidel Castro died at the age of 90, likely convinced that the Marxist-Leninist regime that he personally controlled with an iron hand would survive him.
Nobody can say with certainty how Cuba would be now without his revolution, but that doesn't mean that we can't talk objectively about what he leaves behind.
It's undeniable that education and health care have been free since the first days of revolution. Cuba has a lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. and Canada, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Infectious diseases like polio, smallpox, measles, tuberculosis and malaria were eliminated by the end of the 1960s. But regardless of how good or efficient the health care system was, it currently is designed for two classes of patients: 1.) the general population; and 2.) tourists with hard currency, high-ranking officials and foreign leaders from friendly countries. Years of neglect, along with a lack of investment and incentives, have irreparably eroded the services for those who can't pay with hard currency.
Though free of charge, the educational system was a tool for indoctrination, recruitment and bribery for the vast system of informants and intelligence officers the Castro regime relied upon. Only those identified with the revolution were allowed to study "strategic" careers like law, philosophy, diplomacy and medicine.
Until the late '90s, if you were known to be religious, you were not allowed in any institute of higher education.
The continuing exodus of teachers and professionals has undermined what once was the pearl of the revolution.
Castro is responsible for thousands of summary executions of dissenters and even allies that became potential threats; he built concentration camps that he filled with gays, intellectuals, religious believers and other people deemed potentially dangerous to the state.
Listening to rock music or having long hair was classified as "ideological deviation," a crime that could send you straight to jail without a right to a trial.
"I feel sad," said Jose Prats Sariol, a Cuban novelist, writer and university professor who lives in Florida, when he was asked about the Cubans in Miami dancing and singing when they heard that Castro had died. "He died in bed, peacefully of old age. We, you and me, were not able to take him to court and make him pay for the crimes he committed."
Castro sponsored, harbored and trained terrorists from all over the world since his first days in power.
In a matter of days following the revolution, he confiscated all private property for the "sake for the revolution," outlawed labor and civil associations and eliminated free press and freedom of speech.
In his messianic zeal, Castro sent thousands of men and women to countries in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East to fight in wars in which Cuba did not have any national interest at stake.
Castro was involved in drug trafficking, and when he was about to be discovered, he used some of his closest confidants and highly decorated officers as scapegoats and sent them to the firing squad.
Castro created the sinister Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Their main purpose was to force neighbors to inform on neighbors and family members on family members. The social capital and the necessary level of trust that serve as foundations for a well-functioning society were sacrificed in order to consolidate what proved to be 57 years of autocracy.
The world has never been closer to a nuclear war than in October 1962. After the ill-conceived attempt to overthrow Castro with the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, and while the Kennedy administration implemented several plans to assassinate him, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and the Castro brothers reached a secret agreement to place nuclear weapons on the island to deter any future invasion attempt.
One year later, an American spy plane flying over Cuba photographed what seemed to be nuclear missile bases in the eastern part of the island. Following days of tense negotiations and a great deal of brinkmanship between Kennedy and Khrushchev, Russia agreed to withdraw the missiles while the U.S. agreed to remove its missiles from Turkey.
On Oct. 27, one day before the public crisis ended, Castro cabled Khrushchev to urge a pre-emptive nuclear strike on U.S. targets, according to documents released by the National Security Archives and used by Sergo Mikoyan in the book The Soviet Russia Missile Crisis. Mikoyan is the son of the late Anastas Mikoyan, Soviet deputy prime minister and perhaps the most important intermediary in the crisis.
After the crisis, all the attempts to open a dialogue between the two countries failed. It was not until the late 1970s that Cubans living in the U.S. were allowed to visit their families in the island. For the first time in more than 20 years, Cubans heard an unadulterated version of what life was like in the U.S. The discontent was palpable in the streets and even in the state-controlled media.
Castro responded by authorizing a massive exodus from the port of Mariel and took advantage of the occasion to send criminals, spies and the mentally ill among the more than 120,000 that left Cuba in boats and yachts sent by Cuban living in U.S. to pick up their relatives.
The administration of George W. Bush allowed the sale of agricultural and pharmaceutical items to Castro's Cuba, but it was not until the Obama administration that diplomatic relations were restored.
The Castro brothers responded with more repression and incarcerations and a tighter grip on small private sector that had been allowed to function in Cuba as a way to alleviate the hardships of daily life.
Fidel, symbolically out of power since 2006 but until last Friday the real hand behind the throne, wrote his last "Reflexiones del Comandante" just a few days after Obama concluded his historic visit to Cuba last March. In that article, sarcastically titled "Bother Obama," Castro reinforced his lack of trust in any good gesture coming from the enemy. "Cuba does not need anything," said El Comandante, to the dismay of a population whose food consumption has been rationed for more than 50 years.
"Fidel Castro was a larger than life figure that has come to dominate how U.S. citizens and the government saw its relations with Cuba -- bound up in anti-Americanism, despotic control over Cuban people, the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis and the expropriation of property," said Christopher Sabatini, editor of www.LatinAmericaGoesGlobal.org and a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. "And for Cuban-Americans who fled his island, Fidel Castro became almost a taunting figure that symbolized their plight and frustration."
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has promised either to renegotiate or strike down all the concessions made by the outgoing administration until the Castro regime unconditionally opens the doors of democracy and frees all political prisoners.
It is yet to be seen whether Raul Castro will loosen the grip that the Cuban army has over the most profitable areas of the economy, including tourism, and allow private partnership with foreign investors without the vigilant eye of the omnipresent security apparatus controlled by his elder son Alejandro Castro Espin, chief of intelligence and counter-intelligence, and his son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas, promoted recently to the rank of general.
Lopez Callejas heads the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA), the army's business arm that controls 80% of the Cuban economy, including hotels, factories, restaurants and airlines. He is also in charge of the $1 billion development project for the Port of Mariel, Cuba's strategic attempt to reinsert itself into the global economy.
It's really hard to tell how Castro's death will impact the future of the island, where the majority of the population has known just one "presidente" and one political party.
Raul, like his brother, firmly believes that capitalism brings out the worst of the human spirit and that "the future belongs to socialism."
Trump's election and Fidel's death place us all in uncharted waters. It's very soon and risky to forecast the future shape of U.S.-Cuba relations, which until last Friday were determined by the whims and personality of one person.
"Fidel's death will make that more difficult. For those who opposed him as a figure, he was the target of their antipathy and desire for revenge," Sabatini said. "His death removes much of the symbolic driving force of the pro-embargo movement and demonstrates that change is coming to Cuba -- the change that the Obama's changes are intended to usher in. In short, the popular and political momentum for a vengeful return to hardline U.S. policy toward Cuba has just become more diffuse," he added.
Fidel Castro left behind an impoverished country that forced 20% of its population to leave in search of a better life. He left behind a country without the pillars necessary to support the development of democratic system. He left a military-family dynasty that will not give up control easily. Worst of all, he left an emotionally and geographically divided people.