In a message weighed down by a history of discord between the US and Cuba but marked by hope of a better ties he helped forge, US President Barack Obama called Fidel Castro a “singular figure” who impacted lives of people and the world around him.
“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 said in a statement issued by the White House on Saturday.
Working with Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s younger brother and leader, Obama ended decades of hostility between the two countries separated only by 90 miles of water, and resumed full diplomatic ties, capping it with a visit earlier this year.
President-elect Donald Trump, who is less invested in the normalisation of ties — many Republicans remain opposed to it — issued a statement calling Castro a “brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades”.
“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.”
“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.”
Many Cuban Americans, who fled their country during Fidel Castro’s regimes — in several waves — remain bitterly opposed to the normalisation of ties between the two countries, accusing Obama of letting Cuba off the hook.
At en election rally in Miami in Florida, which is home to the largest population of Cuban Americans, Trump had said, “The next president can reverse them (resumption of ties with Cuba), and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”
Marco Rubio, a Cuban American who ran for the Republican ticket, had also promised to roll back the process if elected. And so did Ted Cruz, anther Cuban American who ran wot the White house, who called Obama’s Cuba policy a “tragic mistake”.
Republicans wanted the US to continue its decades-old Cuba policy premised on the hope that the Castro brothers could be pressured to give up through punitive economic sanctions and diplomatic opposition and isolation.
President Obama argued that that policy wasn’t working, and time had come to try a new approach based on engagement. And after 18 months of talks between officials of the two countries, backed by Pope Francis, US and Cuba established full ties.
Will Trump roll it back as promised? He gave no clues on Saturday.