We can start by remembering him as the person who turned Cuba from a casino and whorehouse for US rich (especially Mafia) to a modern society in which ordinary citizens have social services and guarantees no less than the ones in Scandinavian countries despite total economic blockade causing lack of resources and consumer items
No exaggeration or metaphor in the above sentence. Circa 1950s, Cuba was a whorehouse and casino for US rich. Ordinary people still lived in a colonial society, in poverty and no recourse to change the situation under a dictator backed by US.
Fast forward to today, and Cubans enjoy many benefits which tens of millions even in US have no access to, from totally free education and higher education to total free healthcare coverage, full employment and guaranteed housing.
Each of these items are a topic in themselves, and the grand contrast in between Cuba and US in regard to these items is worth another talk in itself.
So far the only reason why Cuba is not precisely on par with Scandinavian countries – especially on consumer items – is the total economic blockade (ie warfare) US effects on Cuba by using every means possible from direct blockade to forcing its ‘allies’ to do so as well. Leave aside US ships patrolling off of Cuba to enforce that blockade, US govt. spends a few million dollars every year just to make sure that there are no ships having any kind of produce from Cuba passing through harbors in other countries with destination being in US.
Of course, that is before mentioning that US had a habit of bombing Cuban factories via CIA – they build a factory, CIA bombs it. Like a computer game.
Socialism in an Age of Reaction
Well, what Castro’s actual goals were, we don’t actually know. He wassharply constrained from the first moment, by a harsh and cruel attack from the reigning superpower.
We have to remember that literally within months after his taking office, the planes from Florida were beginning to bomb Cuba. Within a year, the Eisenhower administration, secretly, but formally, determined [the US would] overthrow the government.
Its no surprise that Cuba was not able to develop its native industries aside from what was ‘allowed’ – its difficult to produce anything while unmarked planes are bombing your factories.
Despite all of that and actually, maybe because of all of that, Castro’s and Castro’s Cuba’s successes are plenty, ranging from their social successes to even freedom movements in other countries, and even ending apartheid.
Surviving ~60 years of warfare and terrorism
Make no mistake, Cuba is still in war. For 60~ years the severity of the war ranged from actual invasions to CIA bombings with unmarked planes, to assassination attempts to economic warfare – which was constant.
Castro himself survived despite ~600 CIA arranged assassination attempts, but also Cuba went through a total terror campaign in the hands of CIA:
Noam Chomsky: A Brief History of America’s Cold-Blooded, Terroristic Treatment of Cuba
The famous, iconic picture of Che Guevara which everyone knows was taken when he was being informed of a ship exploding in a massive explosion Havana harbor, killing hundreds of people. It was a CIA operation aided by French intelligence. One of the first terrorist attacks against Cuba by CIA. After that they went on with many incidents of bombing with unmarked planes, assassinations and whatever you can imagine.
Cuba always stood a few stages away from a total invasion. Forget Bay of Pigs – US floated many plans to effect actual invasion, one of which being Operation Northwoods.
Operation Northwoods – Wikipedia
The plan which was put in front of JFK by Chiefs of Staff was that CIA was going to bomb Florida with planes disguised as Cuban aircraft, and this would give US the excuse to invade Cuba.
Yes, that was an actual plan. It wasn’t put into action only because JFK refused it.
The bold move by Castro to allow Soviet nukes in Cuba as a counter balance to US missiles in Turkey was not only a means to remove the first strike capability by US by forcing them to remove their nukes in Turkey, therefore reducing any desire US military-industry complex had for a ‘winnable’ nuclear war but also to prevent and discourage any future invasions of Cuba.
But US didn’t budge. Kennedy stubbornly refused to remove missiles in Turkey which were already set for removal/replacement due to being considered obsolete. Thankfully, Soviet side stepped back to evade nuclear war.
Since then, Cuba has been strangled and suffocated through an illegal blockade effected against it directly by US Navy, and then through US ‘allies’ through diplomatic pressure. To the extent that they have to use cars remaining from 1950s because they are deprived of importing any industrial machines and infrastructure to manufacture and distribute their own cars, leave aside export them.
Despite that Cuba succeeded in accomplishing wonders in many fundamental aspects of modern society, even if they had failed in regards to consumer amenities:
Free Education and Higher Education, Total free Healthcare coverage, Full employment, Guaranteed housing
As American working class awaits death because they don’t have insurance or money to pay for healthcare,
Barbara Ehrenreich: America’s Blue-Collar White People Are Dying at an Astounding Rate
People in Cuba have total guarantee of healthcare of all types.
Even if the quality of hospitals leave a lot to desire, mainly thanks to the total trade blockade US is enforcing on Cuba, the mortality rates of Cuba is far lower than many developing countries. It also leads in low child mortality as well.
In US many lost the possibility of higher education due to poverty. Those who can risk it have to take on loans reaching $100k, which take decades to pay off.
In the meantime Cubans can study all the way to Doctorate level without having to take on debt or pay anything.
Education success is so stellar that Cuba has higher literacy rate than US today.
1 In 7 Americans Can’t Read This Headline- And That Hasn’t Changed In 10 Years
14% of the population in US can’t read. Cuba has 99.8% literacy rate.
Especially in Medical education, Cuban education is so good that US students choose Cuba to study medicine.
The Americans studying medicine in Cuba
Why Some Students Are Ditching America for Medical School in Cuba
Much cheaper and comparable quality education despite being a foreigner in Cuba. A hostile country’s citizen to boot.
While American working class is left to rot after outsourcing sent their jobs overseas, Cuban citizens can enjoy full employment thanks to their backwards socialist/state capitalist system.
Even if compensation and amenities wouldn’t be in developed Western countries like how it happens when someone is actually able to find a job in their field in the West that pays a living wage, Cuban citizens can expect employment in their field of education even if in a spotty fashion.
It would be the subject of good research how it would be if the total, illegitimate trade blockade and economic warfare US was effecting on Cuba.
While US is busy installing concrete and metal spikes to prevent their homeless from sleeping rough
Top 10 Anti-Homeless Measures Used in the United States
…that is, when they aren’t busy shooting them,
police killings of homeless in us
… the people in Cuba hare full guarantees to housing.
Meanwhile homelessness in US reaches record heights, with ~3 million chronic homeless who regularly sleep rough, ~30 million people (including families) who don’t have their own place and have to crash in other’s houses and occasionally sleep in the streets,
13,000 fall into homelessness every month in L.A. County, report says
its even worse for children:
One in 30 American Children Is Homeless, Report Says
Cubans succeeded in guaranteeing housing to everyone. Even if houses are run down and unpainted due to the total trade blockade.
It can’t be put more bluntly than that, Cuba did it.
In summary, South Africa already had repressed Anti Apartheid movement in their own country with the help of – surprise – CIA. Which pushed Anti Apartheid movement to militarize with the intention of engaging in guerrilla warfare since no other resort was left to follow after that point.
To prevent that, South Africa intervened in Angolan civil war. Because if Angolan civil war was won by independists as opposed to Western backed proto-fascist right wing factions, then Anti Apartheid movement would found full support and a safe haven in Angola – which South Africa feared the most.
Thus, Angolan civil war turned into a major war for the fate of entire Africa south of the continent.
Fidel Castro and the Cuban role in defeating Apartheid
Until the fall of the Portuguese dictatorship in 1974, apartheid in South Africa was secure. There was no substantial resistance anywhere in southern Africa. Pretoria’s neighbors comprised a buffer zone that protected the racist regime: Namibia, their immediate neighbor which they had occupied for 60 years; white-ruled Rhodesia; and the Portuguese-ruled colonies of Angola and Mozambique. The rebels who fought against minority rule in each of these countries, operating without any safe haven to organize and train, were powerless to challenge the status quo. South Africa’s buffer would have remained intact for the foreseeable future, solidifying apartheid and preventing any significant opposition, but for one man: Fidel Castro.
Throughout November, the Cubans prevented further South African advances towards the Angolan capital. On November 25, the Cuban troops laid a trap for the racist army in the Battle of Ebo. As the South African Defence Force (SADF) tried to cross a bridge, Cubans hidden along the banks of the river attacked. They destroyed seven armored cars and killed upwards of 90 enemy soldiers.
Cuban troops kept pouring into Angola throughout the rest of the year. As many as 4,000 had arrived by the end of 1975, roughly the same number as South African invaders. Unable to penetrate deeper into Angolan territory, and facing a barrage of negative criticism after international media discovered SADF troops, rather than mercenaries, were behind the invasion, the South African advance ended.
Meanwhile, South African aggression was relentless. In 1983, the SADF bombed Angolan towns and pushed nearly 90 miles into Angolan territory. When the UN moved to condemn the invasion, the United States made sure the censure would not include sanctions, as they had done for more than a decade.
Washington’s support enabled South Africa to ignore the ICJ and UN Security Council. The apartheid government, understanding that free elections would mean a SWAPO victory, refused to comply. “The South Africans took advantage of U.S. goodwill to further their foreign policy aims,” Gleijeses writes. 
In summary, a massive, actual war was fought fist in between South Africa backed Angolan factions and mercenaries and Angolan independists and Cuban soldiers, then South Africa itself joined the war when the factions and mercenaries they backed were soundly beaten.
In Battle of Quifangondo Angolan and Cuban troops soundly defeated South Africa.
At that point Castro realized and foresee Apartheid regime’s fall.
“Today they are totally on the defensive in the political arena, in the international arena, they have a very serious economic crisis,” Castro said in a conversation with Angolan President José Eduardo Dos Santos in 1985. “I can’t say how this is going to end, what the end result of it all will be; but in my opinion, South Africa won’t recover from this crisis.” Castro said that the situation facing South Africa did not occur by chance, but that it was a result of the collective action of the people in many parts of Southern Africa fighting for their independence. “All these factors, common struggles, common sacrifices, have contributed to create this crisis for apartheid, that wasn’t created in one day, it was created over many years,” Castro said. 
“I believe that apartheid – I sincerely believe it – is mortally wounded,” Castro said.
Despite South African regime stubbornly resisted with the help of US, effecting many acts of terrorism and actual attacks against Angola and their allies, eventually, in 1987, Cuba and Angola turned the tide for good.
The confrontations climaxed in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in late 1987. After a forward offensive to attack UNITA stalled, Angolan and Cuban troops managed to defend the town. They then turned to the Southwest where they attempted to drive the SADF out of the country once and for all. As the Cubans asserted supremacy with their air force, they were able to take the lead on the battlefield.
After that point, all the way towards South African border was open to Angolans and aany Anti-Apartheid guerrilla units which could have come to being after that point, and South African regime’s prospects were nulled. And also at that point, global public opinion was turned against South Africa.
This was the point at which negotiations for ending apartheid started. Not before.
Later, Nelson Mandela had no qualms in openly declaring how important Cuba was to ending apartheid.
Mandela and Castro: Friends, Comrades and Allies
“We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in face of the vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gain made in the Cuban Revolution. We too want to control our own destiny.”
• “The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”
• Mandela met with Fidel Castro during his trip. He thanked him for his support and asked him to visit South Africa. “And our friend Cuba, which had helped us in training our people, gave us resources to keep current with our struggle, trained our people as doctors, and SWAPO, you have not come to our country. When are you coming?”
Cuban leader was a liberation icon in Africa and remained committed to the continent
Support for independence movements in any colonial country
Not unlike Angola, Cuba has been a support for every independence movement which saw former colonies liberated from their masters. Contrary to what the literature in the West tells, no country let go of their colonies willingly. In any such ‘willing’ liberation there was already a budding, strengthening movement for liberation arming up to effect armed struggle, leading to the colonial powers letting the colony go if the profits did not justify cost of suppressing. When it did, they repressed it as much as possible.
Cuba has been a political, military and social support for every country which asked its aid in Africa before or during their independence.
Moreover, South American pro-people, left movements and political parties got huge support from Cuba – including Chavez. Cuba was a bulwark for these countries which were seeking to overthrow corporate dominance of West and IMF stranglehold.
And even more:
Internationalism, Charity, Solidarity with every country———————————————————————————
Cuba and its doctors are famous in 3rd world.
For they have been there whenever there was a need, an epidemic, an earthquake, a disaster. Or, just to improve the sanitary conditions of the locals.
In the recent Ebola crisis, while US was sending soldiers for dubious reasons, Cuba was at the forefront of Ebola fight with its legions of doctors and aid material. But if you look at corporate press in US, you would think that US fought and beat back Ebola…
Cuba’s internationalism especially in Medicine is so large a topic that it has to be examined in its own entry.
Cuban medical internationalism – Wikipedia
Long story short, Castro should be remembered for succeeding.
Succeeding in everything, practically, ranging from actual independence to application of socialist/communist ideals and practices to the extent they could be applied/practiced under total economic warfare and constant terrorism, coupled with imminent invasion at any given time.
Imagine someone is strangling you from your throat, preventing you from even breathing and then turning to your neighbors and telling them “Look, this guy can’t even speak. All he thinks and does is bullsh*t and he is poor”…
That’s what US had been doing to Cuba.
However Cuba succeeded in not only talking loud, but also even helping his neighbors and anyone in need, to the extent it could, all the while being strangled.
A spectacular success…
One wonders what they could achieve if the total economic warfare against them wasn’t there.