Hours after Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s death was broadcast to the world, President-elect Donald Trump minced no words. Trump stated on Twitter, “Fidel Castro is dead!” He greeted the news of Castro’s death and denounced the “brutal dictator” who leaves behind a legacy of bloodshed and oppression. While he vowed to give aid to the Cuban people to achieve prosperity and freedom, he did not reiterate a campaign promise that he would annul President Barack Obama’s diplomatic and economic rapprochement with Cuba.
The aged dictator died at the age of 90. President Raul Castro, his brother, announced the death with a quivering voice last night. Raul Castro is slated to give up power in 2018.
The difference between the message Trump gave and President Obama’s response is striking. Obama said in a statement, “We know that this moment fills Cubans — in Cuba and in the United States — with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation.” Obama added, “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.” Obama said he was extending a “hand of friendship” to Cuba.
"In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future," Obama said in his statement. "As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America."
"During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends — bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity," Obama said. "This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba."
Following his curt remark on Twitter, Trump was sharp in his assessment of the meaning of Castro’s demise. “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” Trump said. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
“Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty,” Trump said. During the campaign, Trump said on October 12 that he “will reverse Obama’s Executive Orders and concessions towards Cuba until freedoms are restored.”
Obama also looked forward to renewed bilateral relations. Obama noted the “discord and profound political disagreements” that characterized bilateral relations ever since the 1959 revolution that brought the Castro brothers -- Fidel and Raul -- to power. “During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends — bonds of family, culture, commerce and common humanity,” Obama said. “The Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
Cuban president Raúl Castro announced in December 2014 that negotiations had brought about a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations. After the two governments renewed direct diplomatic relations; the State Department took Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Both countries agreed to improved economic relations. Obama has since made a raft of decisions to facilitate travel by Americans to Cuba who can spend money there. The White House has tried to make Obama’s policy permanent even while a majority of Republicans and a few Democrats want to reverse some of it when Trump enters the Oval Office. Only Congress can undo the decades of economic and trade embargo on Cuba, which prevents the export of any American goods to Cuba with the exception of food and medicine.
In Cuba, the streets were eerily quiet while a nine-day period of mourning has been declared and flags are flying at half-mast. In contrast, the streets of Miami were jubilant and noisy with celebrating Cubans and Cuban-Americans who reacted with joy at the news of Castro's death.
In 2006, Castro underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding. His health deteriorating, he finally turned over power to his brother in 2008 and had suffered a mysterious illness (reportedly diverticulitis) ever since then. He made very few public appearances after relinquishing power, but did hold widely publicized meetings with, inter alia, Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, and other national leaders.
This year, President Obama visited Cuba to mark the reestablishing of full diplomatic relations. Despite the rapprochement spearheaded by his brother Raul, Castro was critical of the move and of Obama himself. Castro did not meet with Obama, who was the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge. "We don't need the empire to give us anything," Castro wrote, while recalling anecdotes of the chilly relations between the two countries. Following Obama’s inauguration, Castro wrote a message to Obama, saying that "being born of a Kenyan Muslim father and a white American Christian deserves a special merit in the context of U.S. society and I am the first to recognize that."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Cuban American, called Castro an "evil, murderous dictator" — and immediately attacked Obama's more conciliatory tone, calling the president's statement "pathetic."
Castro’s record of human rights abuses is abysmal. Upon taking power, he and his cronies -- who included the Argentine Ernesto “Che” Guevara -- executed more than 500 officials of the former government, while seizing property and jailing his enemies and dissidents. The pattern remained virtually the same for decades while Cuba served as a surrogate for the Soviet Union in Latin America and Africa. Thousands emigrated to the United States and elsewhere, forming potent political force that pressed for a recognition of Castro’s murderous excesses.