USNEWS – Thousands fled Cuba after he came to power, and relations between the U.S. and its island neighbor forever changed.
In the streets of “Little Havana,” in Miami, Cuban-Americans are rejoicing.
On the streets of old Havana, in Cuba, some are mourning.
It’s a measure of Fidel Castro’s lasting hold on his Caribbean nation of 11 million people — those who never have fled from his tyrannical rule — that his surviving brother Raul, a comrade in arms in the Cuban revolution, remains as president.
Since Fidel Castro entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, overthrowing the dictatorial Fulgencio Batista with a speech outside the deposed leader’s military headquarters attended by thousands of cheering Cubans and a released dule of white doves, his grip on power — and punishment of political enemies — was relentless. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans escaped, fleeing to the United States and other counties.
Castro’s own confrontations with the United States were legendary.
In allowing the Soviet Union to start staging missiles in Cuba in 1962, he initiated a standoff with American President John F. Kennedy that brought the U.S. and Russia to the brink of a nuclear showdown. Cuban forces already had squelched an ill-planned U.S. invasion of the island, at the Bay of Pigs, the year before.
These encounters led to decades of alienation between two governments — Castro, dead at 90, sparred with 11 U.S. presidents. And the U.S. has accepted generations of Cuban refugees, while also rejecting some. President Barack Obama only recently has started easing a longstanding U.S. embargo against trade with Cuba and pursued normalization of relations — including reopening of a U.S. embassy.
The White House issued measured words on Saturday about Castro’s passing: “We extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” Obama said in a statement. The moment, he noted, stirs “powerful emotions” among Cubans both at home and in the U.S. but history “will judge the enormous impact of this singular figure.”
Yet many remain defiant in opposition to the oppression for which Castro stood.
“Fidel Castro is dead!” President-elect Donald Trump wrote in a four-word Twitter message early Saturday morning from his transition retreat in South Florida.
Later Saturday he elaborated.
“Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” he said in a statement.