Uncertainty ahead in Us-cuba relationship
WASHINGTON — Fidel Castro’s passing removes what was long the single greatest psychological barrier to a warmer U.s.-cuba relationship. But it also adds to the uncertainty ahead with the transition from an Obama to a Trump administration.
“A brutal dictator” of a “totalitarian island,” declared President-elect Donald Trump, underscoring the historical trauma still separating the countries.
A more restrained President Barack Obama, carefully promoting and working to preserve his own attempt to rebuild those ties, said history would assess Castro’s impact and that the Cuban people could reflect “with powerful emotions” about how their longtime leader influenced their country.
In death as in life, Castro has divided opinion: a revolutionary who stood up to American aggression or a ruthless dictator whose movement trampled human rights and democratic aspirations.
President Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, is 85. Their Communist Party shows no signs of opening up greater political space despite agreeing with the United States to reestablish embassies and facilitate greater trade and investment.
As Obama leaves office in January, his decision to engage rather than pressure Havana in the hopes of forging new bonds could quickly unravel. Trump has hardly championed the effort and Republican leaders in Congress fiercely opposed Obama’s calls to end the 55-year-old US trade embargo of the island.
“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.
He offered neither condemnation nor praise for Castro, who outlasted invasion and as- sassination plots, and presided over the Cuban missile crisis, which took the world to the brink of nuclear war.
“History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” Obama said, adding that U.s.-cuban relations shouldn’t be defined “by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends.”
Trump didn’t pass off his evaluation to the historians.
“Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” Trump said in a statement. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
Trump expressed hope that Castro’s death would mark a “move away from the horrors” toward a future where Cubans live in freedom.
But he said nothing about Obama’s project to reset ties, and even hailed the election support he received from veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that was backed by the CIA.
Such a statement probably will irritate Havana, coming after a two-year period of intense diplomatic discussions with Washington that have done more to improve relations between the countries than anything in the past 5½ decades.
During his campaign, Trump criticized Obama for striking a “very weak agreement” and threatened to reverse Obama’s executive orders “unless the Castro regime meets our demands.” He never laid out those demands, and at other times hinted about being amenable to more U.S. investment in Cuba.
As with much of his foreign policy, Trump never outlined clearly a set of policy objectives with Cuba. The ambiguity leaves much of the recent warming on uncertain ground. It’s unclear if Castro’s death, however powerful for castigators and champions, will dramatically sway Trump one way or the other.
IN this 22 MARCH 2016 file PHOTO US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND HIS CUBAN COUNTERPART RAUL Castro wave to CHEERING FANS As they Arrive FOR A BASEBALL GAME IN HAVANA, CUBA.