The death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro has put U.S. policy toward Cuba back in the spotlight, and is highlighting stark differences in the world view of President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump.
Obama considers opening up U.S. ties to Cuba after more than 50 years of bitter estrangement one of his signature foreign policy achievements. He visited the Caribbean island nation in March – the first sitting U.S. president to do so since 1928.
“I have come here to bury the last remnants of the Cold War in the Americas,” he told the Cuban people.
Over the past two years, the two countries have re-opened their embassies after more than 50 years. U.S. cruise ships are now docking in Cuba, and there are regular flights by U.S. airlines to the island.
Reacting to Fidel Castro’s death, Obama issued a diplomatically worded written statement, offering condolences to the Castro family. It said: “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and the world around him.”
Trump issued a toughly worded statement calling Fidel Castro “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.” Trump pledged that his incoming administration will “do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”
Fidel Castro’s 85-year-old brother Raul is Cuba’s current president. He helped to draw up the opening to the U.S. but has not introduced any major political or economic reforms to the communist system. Raul Castro appears to be in good health and firmly in control. He has pledged to step down in 2018.
Future ties in question
The death of the iconic revolutionary figure, 90-year-old Fidel Castro, and Trump’s election are raising questions about what will happen to the warming of U.S.-Cuban ties. A senior Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, told ABC News This Week Sunday that Trump is open to any number of possibilities on resetting U.S. relations with Cuba, but he would demand concessions in return.
“But we remain very firm that when you open up diplomatic relations, as President Obama has, with Cuba and Fidel Castro in the last several years, that to get nothing in return, including political prisoners and assurances that people on the island of Cuba will be free politically and economically - I mean, I've personally met, and I'm sure you have, victims of Fidel Castro's oppression and his torture and his imprisonment.”
Conway said the release of political prisoners held in Cuba would be a key factor in future relations.
Obama’s Cuban policies also have been criticized by a number of lawmakers from both major parties. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida called Obama’s statement on Fidel Castro’s death “pathetic,” saying there is no mention of the thousands he killed and imprisoned.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, whose father is from Cuba, told ABC News This Week that the coming days will be a test of resolve.
“I very much hope that we don’t see any U.S. government officials going to Fidel Castro’s funeral. I hope we don’t see Barack Obama and Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and Democrats lining up to lionize a murderous tyrant and thug.”
The White House has not announced who will be traveling to Fidel Castro’s funeral on December 4.
Some lawmakers are hoping that the passing of Fidel Castro may usher in a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban ties. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has introduced bipartisan legislation to lift the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, saying it is based on the ghosts of the past. Only Congress can lift the embargo.