Fidel Castro has stepped down after nearly a half-century as leader of Cuba. His anti-Israel stance, both diplomatically and militarily, was pronounced.
Castro, 81, seized national power in 1959, aided by his brother and designated successor, Raul, aged 76. Already then, his Nazi-like tactics were noticed by many of the estimated 20,000 Jews then in Cuba.
In college in the 1940s, he was said to have walked around the campus with a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf under his arm. His first attempt at seizing power, in July 1953, was an attack on an isolated outpost of the Cuban army, in which 100 people were killed. It was reminiscent of Hitler's attack on the War Ministry in Munich in 1924, both were seemingly amateurish, and both made their perpetrators national figures.
When he finally took over Cuba several years later, Castro stabilized his rule by summary executions and eliminations, and with a total take-over of the media. In addition, he created the Nazi-like Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, assigned to spy on and control neighborhood residents, as well as the Young Pioneers, in imitation of the infamous Hitler Youth.
Though the Cuban Jewish community numbered as high as 30,000 in the 1950's, by 1967 only about 2,000 were left. This number has now dwindled to well under 1,000.
Castro led Cuba along a clearly anti-Israel path, both diplomatically and militarily. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Cuba’s ambassador in the United Nations called it an “armed aggression against the Arab people... by a most treacherous... surprise attack in the Nazi manner.”
A year earlier, the Tri-Continental Conference in Havana, featuring revolutionaries and terrorists from around the world, passed a resolution calling for the breaking of all treaties with Israel and for its expulsion from all international organizations. Later in 1966, Castro opened more than a dozen guerrilla training camps under the direction of a KGB officer, in which budding Palestinian terrorists were trained.
In October 1973, during the Yom Kippur war, not only did Castro break diplomatic relations with Israel, but he deployed thousands of Cuban soldiers, including helicopter pilots and tank crews, to fight alongside the Syrians. The next year, Castro gave the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) an expropriated Jewish community center in Havana - and awarded the visiting Yasser Arafat with Cuba's highest award, the Bay of Pigs Medal.
Evidence of Cuban training of Palestinian terrorists continued to surface throughout the 1970's and the ensuing decades. In 1975, Cuba sided with the UN majority that called Zionism "a form of racism" - and in 1991, when the UN finally repealed the resolution, Cuba voted against the repeal.
In 1982, it was the Cuban Embassy in Beirut that served as Arafat's headquarters during Israel's Peace for Galilee War in southern Lebanon.
(Based on articles by Agustin Blazquez & Jaums Sutton, and Myles Kantor.)