On November 25, 2016, Fidel Castro—revolutionary dictator of Cuba—died at age 90. The news spread quickly to South Florida, where expatriates and their relatives gathered in Miami’s Little Havana to celebrate. Miami’s Calle Ocho (8th Street) was closed for three days while crowds waived Cuban flags and chanted to a free Cuba (“Viva Cuba Libre!”). But the question remains, will Castro’s death usher in the change the Cuban-American population in the U.S. has waited so long to see?
Since the 1960s, the U.S. has imposed an embargo (the “blockade”) against Cuba, an island just 90 miles south of the Florida Keys. The embargo consists of restrictions on travel to Cuba, economic sanctions against Cuba, and restrictions on commerce for all people and companies under U.S. jurisdiction. However, throughout 2016, Obama announced a series of executive actions aimed at lifting restrictions and increasing trade with Cuba. In response, Trump has stated that “all of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them, and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”
Given the recent disagreement between the President and President-elect on U.S. policy towards Cuba. It’s no surprise the two had such differing responses to the dictator’s death. “At odds but not surprising” is how this writer would describe the President and the President-elect’s statements in response to the news.
“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said in his statement. “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve… Our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”
Obama on the other hand, focused not on Castro’s horrid past acts, and instead on the possibility of future compromise and collaboration. He said that Castro’s death is an occasion for Americans to “extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people” and acknowledge the “powerful emotions” Castro had evoked in both countries. “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 in his statement.
Although Castro had long-ago given control of the island to his brother, experts believe Castro’s death could usher in a new era of negotiations and relations with Cuba. “With [Fidel Castro] gone there is less resistance to opening up to Cuba. It’s a real blessing in disguise for those in Cuba and the U.S. who want to see the opening in relations between the two countries continue.” Jason Marczak, director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, told FoxNews.com. But others are not as optimistic. “The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not,” said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio is Cuban-American and ran against Trump to be the Republican presidential candidate this past election year. “The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.”
For the Cuban-Americans celebrating Castro’s death in Miami and all over the nation, the news means Castro’s reign of terror—if only symbolic over the last few years—is finally finished. Whether or not this will bring change to the island or alter the U.S. relations with Cuba remains to be seen.