November 28, 2016
On November 25, 2016, Fidel Castro, Cuban revolutionary, died at age 90. The Cuban government will observe nine days of mourning. After two days of observances in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, Castro’s ashes will be transported across the country to the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. The final mass and ceremony will take place Dec. 4, and his ashes will be interred in the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia.
In November 2003, my wife Judi and I took a 12-day trip to Cuba with Elderhostel. Elderhostel was licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department to conduct People-To-People tours to Cuba. Its license was not renewed for 2004. During our trip, we visited Havana, Vinales, and Santiago de Cuba. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip; we learned a lot and enjoyed meeting the people. It certainly helped that Judi is fluent in Spanish, which allowed for better interaction with Cubans.
In April 1959, shortly after taking power, Fidel Castro traveled to the U.S. The Eisenhower administration could have embraced him, offering him economic assistance. But remember this was during the Cold War and Castro smacked of socialism/communism. Eisenhower snubbed him. He met instead with Vice President Nixon for a few hours. No economic assistance was offered. The next year Castro turned to Russia for economic assistance and the rest is history.
Under Castro, Cuba improved significantly in education, medical care, religious tolerance, and racial relations. However, opponents of normalization with Cuba accuse the Cuban government of systematic human rights abuses, including arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials, and extrajudicial execution.
We applaud President Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba. Making a bit of history, this year the U.S. abstained for the first time in an annual UN General Assembly condemnation of the half-century-old American trade embargo against Cuba. However, only Congress can annul the embargo, and it is not likely under a Republican-controlled Congress.
Full normalization must include the return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuba. The Platt amendment to a U.S. Army Appropriations Bill of 1901 gave the U.S. the right to intervene militarily in Cuban affairs whenever the U.S. decided such intervention was warranted. Cubans were given the choice of accepting the Platt Amendment or remaining under U.S. military occupation indefinitely. In 1903, the U.S. used it to obtain a perpetual lease of Guantánamo Bay, a blatant example of U.S. gunboat diplomacy.
I have mixed feelings about Fidel Castro. Castro was like a welcome guest for dinner, who overstayed his welcome. The revolutionary became a dictator for life. But consider that the U.S. got along fine with Fulgencio Batista the thug Castro overthrew. Then Americans were free to frolic at the nightclubs, casinos and beach resorts during Batista’s thuggish regime. But then Batista was in our pocket, whereas Castro was not.
With Fidel Castro’s death, I don’t imagine much will change in Cuba. However, his brother Raúl Castro is 85. What will happen after he dies?
Most of Obama’s normalization policies are by executive order, which Trump has threatened to reverse until Cuba grants religious and political freedom for the Cubans and the freeing of political prisoners. Isolating Cuba, however, has not worked. Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959 and then handed power to his brother Raúl in 2008. Thus, the Castro brothers have outlasted eleven U.S. presidents and would probably outlast a Trump presidency.