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Fate of U.S.-Cuba Thaw Is Less Certain Under Donald Trump


President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba at the end of a press conference in Havana in March. Credit Alejandro Ernesto/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — President Obama said on Saturday that the death of Fidel Castro was an occasion for Americans to “extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people” and acknowledge the “powerful emotions” the revolutionary leader had evoked in both countries, seeking to use Mr. Castro’s fraught legacy to underscore his own efforts to bury decades of bitterness between the United States and Cuba.

“History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” Mr. Obama said in a statement that neither criticized nor praised Mr. Castro. “The Cuban people,” he added, “must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

The death of Mr. Castro, the embodiment of decades of suspicion and enmity between the two countries, has the potential to hasten Mr. Obama’s goal of cementing the historic rapprochement that he hopes will be a signature part of his legacy.

But with Donald J. Trump, who has been critical of the détente, set to succeed Mr. Obama, the fate of the thaw between the United States and Cuba is far from clear. Mr. Trump’s initial response on the matter Saturday morning was a four-word post on Twitter. “Fidel Castro is dead!” he wrote.

A few hours later, in a statement issued by his transition team, Mr. Trump called Mr. Castro a “brutal dictator” who had oppressed his own people for decades and left a legacy of “firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

“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,” Mr. Trump said. “Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”

The statements from the president and the president-elect were remarkable both for their differences and their similarities. While Mr. Obama steered clear of disparaging Mr. Castro, in keeping with his efforts to essentially defang a long-nursed mutual grudge, Mr. Trump condemned him. But both also described Mr. Castro’s death as a potential turning point for Cuba, and both appeared to accept as fact that its prospects for freedom and prosperity are bound up with that of the United States.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump sent mixed signals about how he intended to approach American policy toward Cuba, even as Mr. Obama was using the final months of his presidency to try to codify as much of the opening as possible.

Cuba on the Edge of Change

Photographs from a land of endless waiting and palpable erosion — but also, an uncanny openness among everyday people.

While Mr. Trump said during the Republican primary race that restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba — a step the Obama administration took last summer — was “fine,” he called Mr. Obama’s December 2014 agreement with President Raúl Castro of Cuba, Mr. Castro’s younger brother, a “very weak agreement” that provided too many “concessions” to the Cubans.

“All of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them, and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands,” Mr. Trump said at a campaign event in Miami in September. “Not my demands. Our demands.”

Mr. Trump announced last week that he had named Mauricio Claver-Carone, a fierce critic of Mr. Obama’s opening with Cuba who leads a pro-embargo political action committee, to his transition team for the Treasury Department. The move was seen as a signal that Mr. Trump is considering unraveling the web of regulations Mr. Obama has put in place to ease trade and commercial restrictions against Cuba.

Last month, Mr. Obama issued a sweeping directive setting forth a new United States policy to lift the Cold War trade embargo entirely — a move that would require congressional approval — and end a half-century of clandestine plotting against Cuba’s government. And he announced that his administration was lifting perhaps the most symbolically potent aspect of trade restrictions, the $ 100 limit on bringing Cuban rum and cigars into the United States. Earlier, Mr. Obama had also resumed direct flights between the two countries.

“During my presidency, 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,” Mr. Obama said in his statement.

Advocates of the opening argued that Mr. Castro’s death could be a pivot point, clearing away the last emotionally charged remnants of a policy that has outlived its usefulness.

“Symbolically, it makes a difference,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, the sponsor of bipartisan legislation to lift the embargo. “A lot of this policy for decades has not been based on sound reason. It has been based on the ghosts of the past. This could mark a major change. I don’t think it’s going to happen immediately, but symbolism is important in this relationship.”

But among Republicans, such a shift was not immediately apparent. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said that if anything, Mr. Castro’s death should stiffen the resolve of those determined to oppose the Cuban government.

“The dictator has died, but dictatorship has not,” said Mr. Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants. “The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and 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.”

Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “Sadly, Raúl Castro is no better for Cubans who yearn for freedom.”

Source: NYT > World

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