Castro's death puts renewed focus on Trump's Cuba policy
Published: 2016-11-26 22:15:43.0 BdST Updated: 2016-11-26 23:55:39.0 BdST
US President Barack Obama has offered a "hand of friendship" to Cubans after the death of Fidel Castro, while his successor, Republican President-elect Donald Trump has given his first reaction on Twitter, declaring "Fidel Castro is dead!"
Trump, who takes office on Jan 20, threatened during his campaign that concerns about religious freedom in Cuba could prompt him to reverse Obama's moves to open relations with the Cold War adversary after more than a half-century's estrangement.
Obama said on Saturday Castro's death was an emotional moment for Cubans and Cuban-Americans because of the "countless ways" Castro "altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation."
"At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people," Obama said, offering condolences to Castro's family, but noting his administration had "worked hard to put the past behind us."
Republicans closely await what Trump - a billionaire businessman known for his unconventional approach to politics and policy - will do on Cuba once he takes office.
At a Miami rally in September, Trump said he would roll back Obama's Cuban policy reforms unless Cuban leaders allowed religious freedom and freed political prisoners.
"The next president can reverse them, and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands," Trump told supporters.
A bloc of mostly Republican Cuban-American lawmakers has worked to keep tight restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba for years. Some Republican lawmakers broke with party orthodoxy to back Obama's reforms, drawn by the economic benefits of restoring ties.
But many have chafed against the changes, saying Cuba's government was still too repressive to ease restrictions.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who ran against Trump to be the Republican presidential candidate, said Castro turned Cuba into "an impoverished island prison" where dissidents were routinely jailed and killed.
"The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not," Rubio said in a statement. "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."
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a senior Republican House lawmaker from Florida who fled Cuba as a child, said on CNN that Castro's death changes nothing.
"We lost our native homeland to communism," Ros-Lehtinen said. "They just rule over Cuba with an iron fist."
Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped Raul Castro would "turn the page" on oppression. "Freedom and democracy are long overdue in Cuba," he said in a statement.
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