Nelson Mandela

In Africa, Latin America, Fidel Castro inspired many

The leader of a small, Caribbean nation, Fidel Castro was a major figure across much of the world, inspiring quixotic insurgencies, pouring soldiers into successful wars of liberation, helping define the politics of a whole continent. His death has been met with mourning, honors and recriminations.

Yet in Latin America, Cuba never successfully exported a socialist system quite like its own, although many members of an idealistic generation died trying to emulate it. Castro had more enduring success in nurturing a later generation of leftist leaders who won power at the ballot box.

"Their success at exporting revolution was really quite mixed," said Geoff Thale,...