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Broader view needed on Castro

12/2/2016, 6:26 p.m.
Fidel Castro, Cuba’s leader for almost six decades, has died at 90 in Havana. USAToday’s headline on Monday read, “No ...

I reminded him of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other theologians of liberation, and Mr. Castro came to church with me in Havana. It was the first time Mr. Castro had gone to church in 27 years. I had to remind him to take off his hat and put out his cigar. We laughed and settled in for the service.

I was told he wouldn’t talk about political prisoners. We talked and he released 48 prisoners to me. In later years, Mr. Castro’s government cooperated with the United States in countering terrorism. His health and education systems became the envy of much of the hemisphere. He was hero and mentor to a new generation of populist nationalists across the hemisphere — from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to Evo Morales in Bolivia.

Mr. Castro’s legacy is surely mixed. Under constant threat from abroad, he jailed political enemies, suppressed free speech and trampled on rights. Cuba’s economy stagnated, particularly after the Soviet Union fell apart, but it survived despite being cut off from a major logical trading partner.

We shouldn’t be naive. Mr. Castro was no saint; the Cuban regime was repressive and wrong-headed about many things. But we shouldn’t view Mr. Castro solely from the perspective of those who fled the revolution or of the Cold Warriors and covert operators who spent decades trying to bring him down.

We won’t understand the perversity of our own policies if we don’t understand why Mr. Castro’s leadership is celebrated across much of the world.

The writer is founder and president of the national Rainbow PUSH Coalition.