TWO popular images dominated the world's perception of Cuba under Fidel Castro's 49- year rule.
One was of a skilled doctor dispensing care to the poor; another depicted thousands of desperate boat people fleeing the island's poverty and repression for new lives in America, often dying in the attempt.
These contrasting images summed up Castro's legacy for Cuba's 11 million people. His one-party state jailed dissidents, ruined the economy and led hundreds of thousands to flee to America.
Yet Castro's social welfare system won him the popular support. Universal education, almost guaranteed employment and high-quality health care were the Communist leader's great achievements. They were savoured all the more because they occurred without Western aid and in the teeth of an American economic embargo first imposed in 1961.
Castro could boast that, according to World Bank figures, infant mortality in Cuba was seven per 1,000 live births, compared with 30 in the Caribbean as a whole, and primary school enrolment was close to 100pc.
Castro managed to preserve Cuba's welfare system, despite the economic crisis caused by the loss of support from the former Soviet Union. The sudden disappearance of preferential trading rights and an annual subsidy of nearly €3bn wiped out 35pc of Cuba's entire economy between 1989 and 1993.
This compelled Castro to introduce limited free market reforms, masterminded by Carlos Lage Davila, the secretary of the Council of Ministers, the Cuban cabinet, who may eventually succeed the old dictator's 76-year-old brother, Raul, as president of Cuba.
Deprived of the chance to vote against Castro in free elections, hundreds of thousands of Cubans voted with their feet – or rather their paddles – by fleeing across the water to Florida.
About 125,000 made this journey during six months in 1980, leaving from the port of Mariel. Castro's response to the Mariel Boatlift, as this episode came to be known, was instructive. The official media vilified those who had chosen to go and try and find new lives in America.
One state newspaper called them “criminals, lumpen and anti-social elements, loafers and parasites''.
When 10,000 Cubans sought asylum in the grounds of the Peruvian embassy, the regime called them “scum'' and organised protests outside their homes.
Castro's view of Cuba's people was far from benign. Those who rejected him were vilified, while those who backed him were patronised.
Prof Sebastian Balfour, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, said that Castro held an “elitist'' view of political leadership.
“It is the leader who makes the decisions on behalf of the people and the people don't have the ability yet to make the right decisions. Instead, exemplary leaders must make the decisions,'' he said.
“Introducing liberal democracy, in the eyes of the Cuban leadership, would be to subvert the nation and this model of leadership.''
Cuba's regime controls every newspaper, television channel and radio station, and restricts access to the internet. Schools and government offices are allowed to link to the web, most private homes are not.
Cuba's jails hold at least “58 prisoners of conscience'' at present.
Amnesty International says that it receives “almost daily reports” of political dissidents, independent journalists and critics being arrested for carrying out dissident activities or reporting on the human rights situation in Cuba and sent to prison where they await trial.
In some cases, they wait for months, or even years, while in others, they are tried and sentenced within a few days.
Under Cuban law, dissidents can be jailed for “social dangerousness'', which does not require them to commit any specific offence. Instead, mere “proclivity to commit a crime'', such as showing “contempt to the figure of Fidel Castro'', can lead to jail. Alternatively, the victim might be sentenced to “re-education'' or “surveillance by the Revolutionary National Police''.
If most Cubans kept their faith in Castro until the very end of his political life, he did not reciprocate his people’s goodwill.
Like all dictators, he could never suppress his abiding suspicion of his own people. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
• US president George W Bush: "Eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections, and I mean free and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy." • Cuba's best-known dissident, Oswaldo Paya: "This is a crucial moment. Cuba wants change, the people want change. Change means allowing them to enjoy their rights and take part in deciding Cuba's future, in an atmosphere of reconciliation and order." • Lincoln Diaz-Balart, US congressman from Miami, a distant relative by marriage and fierce critic of Castro: "Let us not get confused with the dictator's titles or lack of them. For now, nothing has changed in totalitarian Cuba."