Un­cer­tainty ahead in US-Cuba re­la­tion­ship

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bradley Klapper

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 re-es­tab­lish 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-yearold U.S. 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 as­sas­si­na­tion 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.

Trump “is go­ing to be look­ing for some move­ment in the right di­rec­tion in or­der to have any sort of deal with Cuba,” his in­com­ing chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told “Fox News Sun­day.” And with­out that, Priebus said Trump “ab­so­lutely” would re­verse Obama’s open­ing with Ha­vana.

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