Cas­tro’s death re­sets Cuban re­la­tions

Trump vows to end Obama’s deal if regime con­tin­ues op­pres­sion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR, BEN WOLF­GANG AND DAVID R. SANDS

Don­ald Trump will undo the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s his­toric diplo­matic re­set with Ha­vana un­less the Cuban gov­ern­ment moves swiftly to ad­dress hu­man rights abuses and loosen re­stric­tions on free­dom of speech and re­li­gion on the com­mu­nist is­land, the in­com­ing pres­i­dent’s chief of staff says.

With the death of long­time dic­ta­tor Fidel Cas­tro’s fresh in the head­lines, Reince Priebus, for­mer chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, said last week that Mr. Trump will keep an open mind about fu­ture re­la­tions with Cuba but de­mand ma­jor changes be­fore em­brac­ing the de­tente set in mo­tion by the out­go­ing White House.

“We’ve got to have a bet­ter deal. We’re not go­ing to have a uni­lat­eral deal com­ing from Cuba back to the United States with­out some changes in their gov­ern­ment,” said Mr. Priebus, a top Trump ad­viser. “Re­pres­sion, open mar­kets, free­dom of re­li­gion, po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers — these things need to change in or­der to have open and free re­la­tion­ships, and that’s what Pres­i­dent-elect Trump be­lieves.”

His com­ments came as re­ac­tions to Mr. Cas­tro’s demise, which con­tin­ued to re­ver­ber­ate around the world — with the stark­est con­trasts be­tween the re­sponse among Cubans in Ha­vana and that of long­time ex­iles in Mi­ami.

Peo­ple wept in the streets of the Cuban cap­i­tal, where mu­sic fell silent and wed­dings were can­celed as Cubans faced their first day with­out the leader who had steered their is­land to greater so­cial equal­ity and years of eco­nomic ruin dur­ing his nearly half-cen­tury reign.

Cubans across Ha­vana said they felt gen­uine pain at the death of the 90-year-old dic­ta­tor, whose words and im­age had filled school­books, air­waves and front pages since be­fore many were born.

But in pri­vate, dozens ex­pressed hope that his death will al­low Cuba to move faster to­ward a more open, pros­per­ous fu­ture un­der his younger brother and suc­ces­sor, Raul Cas­tro.

“Raul wants the coun­try to ad­vance, to do busi­ness with the whole world, even the United States,” said Belkis Be­jarano, a 65-year-old home­maker in the city. “Raul wants to do busi­ness, that’s it. Fidel was still holed up in the Sierra Maes­tra,” Ms. Be­jarano said, re­fer­ring to the moun­tain range from which the Cas­tro broth­ers and bands of other bearded rebels emerged to cre­ate a com­mu­nist regime 90 miles south of Florida in the late-1950s.

The scene was cel­e­bra­tory in Mi­ami, where thou­sands took to the streets. Some banged pots with spoons. Oth­ers honked car horns or waved Cuban and U.S. flags as they whooped in ju­bi­la­tion on Calle Ocho — as Eighth Street in Mi­ami’s Lit­tle Ha­vana is known.

“We’re all cel­e­brat­ing; this is like a car­ni­val,” said 72-year-old Jay Fer­nan­dez, who came to Mi­ami when he was 18 in 1961 af­ter he was jailed twice by the Cuban gov­ern­ment. He and his wife and an­other woman held up a bilin­gual sign he’d made four years ago when Mr. Cas­tro first be­came ill. “Sa­tan, Fidel is now yours. Give him what he de­serves. Don’t let him rest in peace.”

Po­lice blocked off streets lead­ing to Cafe Ver­sailles, the quin­tes­sen­tial Cuban-Amer­i­can hot spot where strong cafecitos — sweet­ened es­presso — have long been as com­mon as a harsh word about Mr. Cas­tro, the neme­sis of many ex­iles. Many said they rec­og­nize his death alone doesn’t mean im­me­di­ate democ­racy or free­dom for the com­mu­nist-run is­land.

“We need for the peo­ple of Cuba to have the free­dom we have in the U.S., but this changes noth­ing. There won’t be change un­til the peo­ple re­volt,” said Juan Cobas, 50, who came to the U.S. from Cuba at age 13.

Rafael Torre, 80, wore a “Bay of Pigs Vet­eran” shirt as he stood amid the crowd, mar­veling that Mr. Cas­tro had re­mained in power for so long. Cuban ex­iles such as Mr. Torre tried nu­mer­ous ways to dis­lodge the dic­ta­tor — in­clud­ing the failed CIA-backed in­va­sion of Cuba in 1961.

“We tried for more than 50 years but couldn’t do it. Now he’s dead, and maybe things can change,” Mr. Torre told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “It might take three or four years. Maybe the rev­o­lu­tion will be on the streets in three or four months.”

Few specifics from Trump

Un­cer­tainty over Cuba’s fu­ture was swirling well be­fore Mr. Cas­tro’s death, as re­cent years saw Ha­vana and Wash­ing­ton take their first ten­ta­tive steps to­ward end­ing decades of hos­til­ity that had per­sisted since the 1962 Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, when the John F. Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­cov­ered that the Soviet Union had de­ployed bal­lis­tic mis­siles to the is­land.

In De­cem­ber 2014 Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced that the U.S. would re­store diplo­matic re­la­tions and start eas­ing a decades-old em­bargo on trade with Cuba — a thaw that so far has led to the re­open­ing of em­bassies in Wash­ing­ton and Ha­vana.

But trade and other re­stric­tions con­tinue to limit the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship, and Mr. Priebus sug­gested last week that Mr. Trump hopes to use that as lever­age to mus­cle demo­cratic re­forms out of Cuba that many Repub­li­cans say were left by the way­side dur­ing Mr. Obama’s de­tente with Ha­vana.

Mr. Priebus, who made his com­ments on Fox News, said the pres­i­dent-elect “is go­ing to be look­ing for some move­ment in the right di­rec­tion in or­der to have any sort of deal with Cuba.”

But the in­com­ing White House chief of staff of­fered lit­tle in the way of specifics: “There has to be some­thing, and what that some­thing is,” he said, “is yet to be de­ter­mined.”

For his part, Mr. Trump sug­gested he’ll fo­cus on hu­man rights re­forms, as­sert­ing in a state­ment af­ter the an­nounce­ment of Mr. Cas­tro’s death that the world was mark­ing the “pass­ing of a bru­tal dic­ta­tor who op­pressed his own peo­ple for nearly six decades” and whose “legacy is one of fir­ing squads, theft, unimag­in­able suf­fer­ing, poverty and the de­nial of fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights.”

Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida, a Cuban-Amer­i­can and out­spo­ken critic of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­set with Ha­vana, said that he’s hope­ful about the pres­i­den­t­elect’s pos­ture.

For months Mr. Trump has “made it very clear that he felt that the moves that Pres­i­dent Obama had made to­ward Cuba were wrong and that he would ex­am­ine them and change the ones that needed to be changed,” Mr. Ru­bio, Florida Repub­li­can, told CNN. “I think that’s very promis­ing.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, also of Cuban de­scent, of­fered a more vis­ceral crit­i­cism of the cur­rent White House’s re­set with Ha­vana.

“What the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has done is strengthen Raul Cas­tro. Raul is the dic­ta­tor now,” Mr. Cruz told ABC. “What Obama has done is fun­neled bil­lions of dol­lars to [him], which is be­ing used to op­press dis­si­dents. You know, in 2015 roughly 10,000 po­lit­i­cal ar­rests oc­curred in Cuba — that is five times as many as oc­curred in 2010, when there were only about 2,000.”

Mr. Obama de­fended his pol­icy in a state­ment and said his­tory will be the ul­ti­mate judge of Cas­tro’s legacy.

“We have worked hard to put the past be­hind us, pur­su­ing a fu­ture in which the re­la­tion­ship be­tween our two coun­tries is de­fined not by our dif­fer­ences but by the many things that we share as neigh­bors and friends — bonds of fam­ily, cul­ture, com­merce and com­mon hu­man­ity,” the pres­i­dent said.

“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,” he added. “His­tory will record and judge the enor­mous im­pact of this sin­gu­lar fig­ure on the peo­ple and world around him.


Res­i­dents of Mi­ami’s Lit­tle Ha­vana cel­e­brate the news of the death of Fidel Cas­tro, the Cuban strong­man who stepped down from power in 2008.

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