Reactions to the death of Fidel Castro among U.S. leaders moved quickly into the realm of how the revolutionary dictator should be remembered by history and what his death means for Cubans.
In a statement, President Barack Obama extended condolences to the Castro family and offered “a hand of friendship” to the Cuban people, but left the final assessment of Castro’s impact to history.
Obama 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. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
The Obama administration has been working to normalize relations between the two countries. Earlier this year, he made the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to the island nation since Castro’s 1959 communist revolution.
In his statement on Castro’s death, Obama made reference to his efforts “to put the past behind us,” then concluded by assuring Cubans “they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
President-elect Donald Trump was much more clear about what he thought of the late dictator. After initially tweeting a simple, “Fidel Castro is dead!” Trump followed with a longer statement. “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.”
Fidel Castro is dead!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2016
Trump described Castro’s legacy as one of “firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
Trump also expressed hope for a better future for Cubans despite the country still being ruled by Fidel’s brother Raul Castro, who was closely guided by his brother.
“While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve,” Trump said.
Trump promised that his government would seek a policy of freedom for Cubans.
Vice-president elect, Mike Pence tweeted out calling Castro a tyrant and spoke of new hope for Cubans. “New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba.”
The tyrant #Castro is dead. New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba. Viva Cuba Libre!
— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) November 26, 2016
Sen. Marco Rubio, the former presidential candidate and son of Cuban immigrants, has been an influential defender of the U.S. embargo against Cuba during his political career. In a tweet he called Castro “an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery & suffering on his own people.”
— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) November 26, 2016
In a longer statement, Rubio noted that the passing of Fidel Castro will not automatically end ongoing repression in Cuba: “Sadly, Fidel Castro’s death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted. The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not. And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro.”
He then called on the new U.S. administration to support Cubans in the cause of pursuing freedom: “Now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.”