Obama, world lead­ers re­act to the death of Fidel Castro


Tri­bune Washington Bureau

— The death of Fidel Castro was long in com­ing, and so world re­ac­tion was somber and in­tro­spec­tive from foes and friends alike.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama al­luded to both the his­tory of an­i­mos­ity be­tween the United States and Cuba and the advent of change in those re­la­tions. Obama said he ex­tended “a hand of friend­ship to the Cuban peo­ple.”

For more than half a cen­tury, Obama re­called, the re­la­tion­ship “was marked by dis­cord and pro­found po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ments.” But, he said, “we have worked hard to put the past be­hind us,” pur­su­ing in­stead a fu­ture based on shared fam­ily, cul­tural and com­mer­cial bonds.

“We know that this mo­ment fills Cubans _ in Cuba and in the United States _ with pow­er­ful emo­tions,” Obama said. “His­tory will record and judge the enor­mous im­pact of this sin­gu­lar fig­ure on the peo­ple and world around him.”

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, in con­trast, cited the “pass­ing of a bru­tal dic­ta­tor” while ap­par­ently ig­nor­ing re­cent his­tory and adding that “Cuba re­mains a to­tal­i­tar­ian is­land.”

He de­scribed Castro’s legacy as one of “fir­ing squads, theft, unimag­in­able suf­fer­ing, poverty and the de­nial of fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights.”

Trump’s fu­ture poli­cies to­ward Cuba, and whether he con­tin­ues with diplo­matic nor­mal­iza­tion with the Com­mu­nist-led gov­ern­ment, are a mat­ter of much spec­u­la­tion. He has said he would toss out Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­forms that opened eco­nomic and diplo­matic ties with Ha­vana as well as say­ing he would merely mod­ify them. He sug­gested Satur­day that he was open to a “jour­ney to­wards pros­per­ity and lib­erty.”

Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry, who raised a U.S. flag over the U.S. Em­bassy in Ha­vana last year for the first time in nearly five decades, said the U.S. had “an earnest de­sire not to ig­nore his­tory” but to “write a new and bet­ter fu­ture for our two peoples.”

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin praised Castro as a “sin­cere and re­li­able friend of Rus­sia.”

“The name of this dis­tin­guished statesman is rightly con­sid­ered the sym­bol of an era in modern world his­tory,” Putin said in a tele­gram to Fi-


del’s brother, Pres­i­dent Raul Castro, ac­cord­ing to the Krem­lin.

The Soviet Union for decades was Cuba’s main Cold War sup­porter and fi­nan­cial pa­tron. When the Soviet Union col­lapsed, so did Cuba’s econ­omy, plung­ing the coun­try into what Cuba called a “spe­cial pe­riod” of hard­ship that de­railed many of the so­cial re­forms of the revo­lu­tion.

The last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gor­bachev, praised Castro for stand­ing up to the U.S., even though it brought the world to the brink of another world war.

“Fidel held his ground and strength­ened his coun­try at the time of the harsh­est Amer­i­can block­ade, at the time of mas­sive pres­sure on him,” Gor­bachev was quoted as say­ing by Rus­sia’s In­ter­fax news agency.

“Nev­er­the­less, he led out his coun­try from the block­ade to the path of self-sus­tained and in­de­pen­dent de­vel­op­ment.”

The warm­est words of con­do­lence came from left­ist na­tions in places like Africa, once home to lib­er­a­tion strug­gles where Cuba par­tic­i­pated.

Re­call­ing Castro’s close re­la­tion­ship with South Africa’s late pres­i­dent, Nel­son Man­dela, and sup­port for the fight against apartheid, the coun­try’s cur­rent leader, Ja­cob Zuma, thanked Castro for in­spir­ing his peo­ple “to join us in our own strug­gle.”

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping praised Castro’s role in spread­ing com­mu­nism in the world and lamented the loss of “a close com­rade.”

No Latin Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment revered Castro more than that of so­cial­ist Venezuela. Its pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent, the late Hugo Chavez, was an ap­pren­tice of Castro’s, and cur­rent Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro has ex­hib­ited the same ded­i­ca­tion.

“We will keep on win­ning and keep fight­ing,” Maduro said on Venezuela’s Te­lesur tele­vi­sion. “Fidel Castro is an ex­am­ple of the fight for all the peo­ple of the world. We will go for­ward with his legacy.”

Be­fore the dev­as­tat­ing eco­nomic cri­sis that Venezuela is suf­fer­ing, the oil-rich coun­try rou­tinely pro­vided bil­lions of bar­rels of petroleum to Cuba and other friendly na­tions at low prices. Cuba, in ex­change, sent doc­tors and teach­ers, as well as in­tel­li­gence agents, to work in Venezuela.

Latin Amer­ica’s left­ist lead­ers such as Maduro and the pres­i­dents of Ec- uador, Bo­livia and El Sal­vador are in many ways one of Castro’s most tan­gi­ble lega­cies. Their as­cen­sion to power through demo­cratic means might not have hap­pened were it not for po­lit­i­cal move­ments against the right-wing dic­ta­tors who long held power in the re­gion.

“One of the greats has left us,” Ecuador’s pres­i­dent, Rafael Cor­rea, said. “Fidel has died. Long live Cuba! Long live Latin Amer­ica!”

In El Sal­vador, the fight was an armed one. The tiny Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­try was en­gulfed in one of the Cold War’s most im­por­tant proxy wars in the 1980s, when Cuban and Soviet-backed left­ist guer­ril­las of the Farabundo Marti Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front, or FMLN, bat­tled se­cu­rity forces loyal to the right­ist, U.S.-backed gov­ern­ment.

A United Na­tions-bro­kered peace agree­ment even­tu­ally ended that war, which killed tens of thou­sands and sent mil­lions of refugees to Cal­i­for­nia and other parts of the U.S., and to­day the FMLN holds the pres­i­dency.

The Sal­vado­ran gov­ern­ment Satur­day ex­pressed “eter­nal grat­i­tude” to Castro and the Cuban peo­ple for their help.

Else­where in the West, where re­la­tions with Cuba have long been bet­ter than those of Washington, re­ac­tion was tem­pered.

Castro em­bod­ied Cuba’s revo­lu­tion in both its “hopes” and its later “dis­ap­point­ments,” French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande said.

Boris John­son, Britain’s for­eign min­is­ter, said Castro was “his­toric if con­tro­ver­sial.” His death “marks the end of an era for Cuba and the start of a new one for Cuba’s peo­ple” that John­son said should in­clude im­prove­ment of hu­man rights.

In Canada, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau re­called his fa­ther’s friend­ship with Castro. Pierre Trudeau, prime min­is­ter from 1968 to 1984, was the first West­ern leader to visit rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cuba, in 1976, and Castro was an hon­orary pall­bearer at the el­der Trudeau’s funeral in 2000.

“While a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure,” Justin Trudeau said, “both Mr. Castro’s sup­port­ers and de­trac­tors rec­og­nized his tre­men­dous ded­i­ca­tion and love for the Cuban peo­ple who had a deep and last­ing af­fec­tion for ‘el co­man­dante.’ “

Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Christo­pher Guly in Ot­tawa contributed to this re­port.

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