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Fidel Castro’s Death: What Does It Mean for U.S.-Cuba Relations?

by Countable | 3.20.17

Fidel Castro, the controversial communist leader who served a combined 47 years as Cuba’s prime minister and president, died on November 25, 2016. Castro assumed power after overthrowing the government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, and became a longtime opponent of the U.S. while leading his country. He was a key figure during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war after Cuba’s ally, the Soviet Union, stationed nuclear missiles in the island nation only 90 miles away from Florida.

Reaction to the strongman’s death has been mixed. Castro is reviled by many as a repressive dictator who abused the human rights of his people. His passing was a cause for celebration in Miami, which has a large community of Cuban-Americans whose families fled his regime. President-Elect Donald Trump released a statement calling him "a brutal dictator" whose legacy is filled with “firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

Others, including President Obama, have taken a more neutral approach in the hope of improving America’s relationship with Cuba. The White House released a statement to "extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people" during a time when “powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation” are coming to the surface because of his death.

Where do things stand between the U.S. and Cuba?

During the last few years, Obama has looked to ease tensions between the two nations that were on opposite sides of the Cold War. In 2014, he reached an agreement with Raúl Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel as Cuban president, to reestablish diplomatic ties for the first time in 50 years and in 2015 both countries re-opened embassies in the other’s capital to formalize the renewed relationship.

Other aspects of U.S. policy toward Cuba have evolved in recent years as well. While the economic embargo against Cuba that began in the 1960s and was expanded during the 1990s is still in effect, executive actions taken by the Obama administration have made it easier for U.S. companies to do business in Cuba.

The ban on travel by American citizens to Cuba has been lifted and other financial restrictions, such as banning transactions involving U.S. credit and debit cards, have gone by the wayside as well. This has led to an influx of investment by American businesses, particularly in the travel and tourism industries as U.S. airlines and hotel operators have begun offering their services in Cuba.

What will Trump and Congress do?

While on the campaign trail in September 2016, Trump said that he would reverse Obama’s actions unless Cuba’s leaders met his demands for improved "religious and political freedom for the Cuban people." The man who will serve as White House Chief of Staff when Trump takes office, Reince Priebus, told Fox News that Trump would “absolutely” undo Obama’s policy changes unless Cuba’s government addresses certain issues:

"Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners — these things need to change in order to have open and and free relationships, and that’s what president-elect Trump believes, and that’s where he’s going to head."

Congress hasn’t taken steps toward lifting the economic embargo (which the Obama administration called a key component of normalizing relations with Cuba) and appears unlikely to do so. That said, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has introduced a bill to lift the embargo that gained the support of three Republican cosponsors in the Senate. You can weigh in on that bill or let your reps know where you stand on this issue using the "Take Action" button.

— Eric Revell


Written by Countable

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