An Era is Over


Fidel Castro under en begravelse av en av revolusjonens helter

Politisk propaganda i nærheten av Camagüey

This weekend the long time head of state of Cuba, Fidel Castro, passed away. With his passing, an extraordinary era has come to an end. Not that Cuba will change much because of Fidel Castro’s demise, as he hasn’t been in charge of Cuba for ten years. When he in 2006 handed over the command to his brother, Rául, he also completely withdrew from the political scene.

Nevertheless, Fidel Castro was one of the most prominent and controversial head of states in the past century. He was a man of the cold war—and a master of playing its game. Rightly he will go down in the history books as the one who made the Cuban revolution happened—for better or worse—and with only 81 men began the revolt that finally kicked out the old dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Fidel Castro was controversial from beginning to end. Some saw him as a devil, others as a saving angle. No doubt, he was a complex character, and as a person probably somewhere in between these extremes. I believe he honestly had the better for the Cuban people in mind, during his 47 years in power, certainly in the beginning. At the same time it’s not possible to disregard the fact that he headed a repressive and in many ways undemocratic regime. In the end, though, I think he did more good than bad for Cuba.

I have followed the development in Cuba for 25 years. Although I never met Fidel Castro personally, I photographed him on many occasions. He put his mark on the Cuban society. The question now, is of course where Cuba is heading. Immediately no big changes, I believe. Not as long as one Castro brother is at the helm. But then? Not possible to predict.



Fidel Castro under en begravelse av en av revolusjonens helter

Propaganda ved innkjøringen til Cienfuegos

58 thoughts on “An Era is Over

  1. Such amazing photos of a man who was as you diplomatically say – controversial. Opening up relations with the US was poised to have the most profound effect since Castro but with Trump at the helm – who knows…Viva la revolution!

  2. He was definitely a fascinating man, and your photos catch some of that fascination. I agree with Jacqueline that these photos are historic. Thanks for sharing your point of view!

  3. Your photographs and text are outstanding Otto. Having lived among the immigrants of Cuba, the physicians, scientists, landowners had everything taken from them by the communist regime, fled the island to work in America as laborers proving to be tenacious and proud people struggling to make a life for themselves. More recently many died in the Florida Straits strapped to floats of tires or inner tubes or overcrowded in smugglers boats in an attempt to flee oppression. I was very encouraged by the lifting of sanctions by Obama but fear that will be reversed soon. Thank you for the wonderful post and a look inside the life of Fidel.

    1. Yes, the takeover in 1959 had some serious consequences. At the same time the oppression by Batista was one of the worst ever seen. For those who were not on the top of the society, I think it’s fair to say that living got better after the revolution.

  4. Your first picture certainly captures the passion of this iconic figure of the 20th century.
    Some point to the free education and health care, some of the best in the world and forgive the man the firing squads and torture. Others point out that this has been achieved quite successfully in democratic societies without such violence and do not forgive the imprisonments and executions of his opponents.
    Whatever your view, Castro was an iconic figure who stood up to the, lets say, imperialistic leanings of various American administrations and he did so with the ordinary Cuban in mind. He single handedly brought the world to within 15 minutes of nuclear annihilation or did he? There are always two sides to every argument.
    Definitely the end of an era. A figure that will always loom large in the history books and given the size of Cuba, this is quite an achievement.
    An amazing collection of photographs to have in your portfolio Otto! 🙂

    1. Yes, no doubt Fidel Castro raised different opinions about himself. Yes, he was a dictator, but he also made life much better for those who didn’t have much chance otherwise. Compare Cuba with any other Latin American country and you’ll tell the difference between the discrepancy between rich and poor, and more importantly a lack of people starving to death. Thank you for your poignant comment, Andrew.

  5. Thank you Otto, for your even handed and fair minded assessment. Sometimes I wonder and dream of the day when people learn to love our enemies, as was taught by Jesus. I often times have observed that many professed non-Christians (like Fidel Castro), do a better job of following the Christian gospel than than many professing Christians do. However, as you point out – Castro was human and he had failings, especially in regards to the human rights abuses of his regime.

    However, I am deeply saddened for humanity when in the past few days I have heard the level of hateful comments regarding Castro’s death. Are we not all brothers and sisters, irregardless of our political or religious beliefs. I heard the contemplative psychologist Jim Finlay describing his outlook on the outcome of the American election, and in the end he said God is hopelessly in love, even with Donald Trump… I’m sure Jim would add Fidel Castro too . All or us, are saint and sinners.
    My apologies for a bit of rant here. I do deeply appreciate your thoughts and amazing photos.

    1. I witness this a lot, too, and it makes me sad.. When I find others punching my buttons, this quote reminds me to smile and see thru the same neutra eyes that Otto does in this post: “Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.” ― Ram Dass

      Otto, your photos capture the evolution of a unique person, and your words provide a very fair summary of his life and its impact on Cuba and the world.

  6. Amazing photos, Otto. And as someone else has commented, you have given him a fair assessment here. I am guessing that for you, there will be no impact to your continuing travels within Cuba. For those of us in the United States, I guess it remains to be seen.

    1. I certainly will keep travelling to Cuba. My love for the country really has nothing to do with him, not directly at least. As for Americans, whether or not they will be able to travel to Cuba, it all comes down to what Trump chooses to do. As you say, it all remains to see.

  7. I find it interesting that photographers such as yourself were allowed such close access to a man the CIA had been trying for years to kill. Keeps me wondering who decided what the danger level was and how much protection was needed.

    1. There were always quite some security measures before an event which included Fidel Castro. Like body and equipment scanning, credential checking and lots of waiting ahead of the event, not even knowing whether Fidel Castro would show up or not.

  8. This was very interesting reading for me Otto and I am quite impressed with your photographs ~ what a fascinating life experience to have ‘captured’ such a figure as Fidel Castro. A few years back we travelled to Cuba, two years in a row, anticipating the opening of Cuba to Americans and wanting to get there beforehand. I agree with you that ultimately Castro did more good than bad. It is quite amazing to experience a country where the literacy rate is so high and where no one is denied medical treatment and good medical treatment. Some of the best doctors in the world are from Cuba! What we experienced (and thankfully we speak Spanish so we could dialogue with people we met) was that it was mostly the younger generation that showed discontent with the lack of ‘stuff” and the inability to travel. The older folk we spoke to were fascinating and had great global knowledge and were overwhelmingly positive. One of the interesting things we discovered and did not know before we went there was how much of an environmentalist Fidel Castro was and how much of the country he protected as natural areas. Impressive.


    1. I think you point to an important divide in the Cuban populations. The older – particularly those who experience the Batista regime – has always been strong supporters of Fidel Castro while the young generation is restless like anywhere in the world and want changes. Generally speaking, of course. Thanks for sharing you experience from Cuba.

  9. Thank you for sharing your pictures and view point on Fidel Castro! You were a lucky man, witnessing one of the greatest revolutions that happened during the last century that influenced the whole world. Your pictures are a true historical document.

  10. This is an amazing collection of images. Historically speaking they are priceless. I appreciate your unbiased opinion of Castro’s reign. Our Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau) tried to take the high road and commented on some of Castro’s positive achievements when he sent condolences and was totally trashed by the general public.

  11. Great pictures of Fidel Otto!
    I was in the Fourth, or Fifth grade when I first heard of him fighting on the Sierra Maestra, so many years ago… That it’s hard to believe he was part of our History for so many years, no doubt he wanted the well being of the Cuban people, at least in the beginning, but like every government who stays too long in power it just decays, and fossilize, even if I do not believe our current state of World affairs are so wonderful in many countries facing the challenges of the future, with a terrible inequality gap between the rich, and poor, and a brutal capitalism who is destroying, and ravaging many countries, just for profit.
    As to what is gone happen to Cuba, will see it, but I got my doubts it will be so wonderful, if the common trend of plutocratic exploitation doesn’t come to an end.
    Thanks for those wonderful pictures. 🙂

    1. You view is very much accurate, I believe. But at least Castro was able to diminish that inequality gap in Cuba. It is hard to see where Cuba will go in the future, even though I don’t expect any big changes in the immediate future.

  12. I enjoyed your photographs and was interested in your perception of the situation. It is very difficult for us, at a distance,to assess events in a country like Cuba. Cultural differences and selective reporting by the media cloud our judgement.

  13. I really enjoyed reading your well balanced post about Fidel Castro and the many interesting comments. I have heard that he held very, very long speeches up to 18 hours on end!! So, your first picture made me think of that. I remember Michael Moore’s film SICKO, which had a positive influence on me as far as the health service and especially the warmth of the people is concerned. Very best regards Martina

  14. It is fascinating to hear your perspective on this, Otto, as someone who has spent much time in Cuba over many years. I will be interested to hear more about your impressions as time goes on, especially how Castro’s passing affects the lives of those families you’ve become close to.

  15. Thanks for sharing your perspective and your photos of this remarkable man. Remarkably good or remarkably evil? That is the question. I do not understand and have not studied the history carefully enough. But I agree with you that the truth probably lies somewhere in between. He may have simply been the right man/ the only man for the time. There are such huge changes in store for the entire world right now. I think we are in a very volatile place, globally.

  16. Great photos Otto of a memorable world leader, whether you liked his politics or not.He took power on the day I was born, and was the world’s longest leader for some time. I have been to Cuba once and loved it but it is inevitable that it will change now, for better or for worse.

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