Castro Death Opens New Debate over Cuba


A viral Facebook video posted last Saturday by Ivis Suarez of Miami Lakes, Florida shows her  abuela, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, as she is overwhelmed with tears on receiving the news that Fidel Castro has died.

“Not even Alzheimer’s could take away the emotions my abuela Ata felt when she found out that monster had died!” Suarez wrote in the post, which was seen by over 400,000. “Thanks to her, my family is in this country today.”

Castro’s death aroused strong feelings, pro and con: In New York some people placed flowers at the Cuban consulate in Midtown Manhattan.

But when the partying, for some, and grieving, for others, are said and done, a bigger question, remains: What will Castro’s death mean for U.S. relations with the island nation at a time when President-elect Donald Trump takes office?

“The big question mark is Trump,” said Ron Howell, a professor at Brooklyn College and a journalist who covered Cuba for Newsday. “I think younger Cubans will make a difference because they largely want to see an opening.”

Castro’s death on Nov. 25 quickly ignited political debate in the United States.

“I hope we don’t see Barack Obama and Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lining up to lionize a murderous tyrant and thug,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is Cuban American, told ABC News. “If you wouldn’t go to Pol Pot’s funeral or Stalin’s funeral or Mao’s funeral because they were murderous communist dictators then you shouldn’t be doing what Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau are doing, which is celebrating Fidel Castro, a murderous communist dictator.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) slammed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for offering sympathy upon Castro’s death, calling his remarks a “parody.”

Trump followed.

“The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” Trump said in a statement following Castro’s death. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

During his campaign, Trump criticized “concessions” made to Cuba’s Communist government and threatened to void Obama’s U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission, a plan that was resurfaced by Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus when he told Fox News that Trump stands by his intention to negate the deal.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, bolstered the president-elect’s statement, tweeting “I called @RealDonaldTrump to let him know that the State of Florida will help his administration to support a pro-democracy movement in Cuba.”

Florida holds 67 percent of the nation’s 1.2 million eligible voters of Cuban descent,  many of whom live in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area, according to Pew Research Center.

Despite a 2014  Pew Research Center survey that found Cuban American registered voters have shifted toward the Democratic Party for over a decade, more than 54 percent of Cuban Americans voted for Trump, National Election Pool exit poll data showed. The number was almost double the 26 percent of non-Cuban Hispanic voters who supported Trump in the 2016 race.

This number is higher than the 47 percent who supported Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 race, according to the exit poll.

“The generally more conservative you are, the more you did not like Fidel Castro,” said Howell, who reported on Cuba for three decades and met Castro when he invited journalists to the Presidential Palace in Havana in 2001.

Studies show that while older Cuban Americans are strongly Republican, there is a divide between them and younger voters.

According to a study done by Pew Research in 2013, 56 percent of Cuban Americans aged 18 to 49 identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party compared to 39 percent of those 50 years and older.

“The future, I think, is in young people who want to preserve the achievements of the revolution, but also want to engage in more cooperative forms of governance and production,” according to Professor Alan Aja, professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College.

According to Aja, the Cuban government has long prepared for Castro’s death and a transfer of power well beyond his “more moderate” but equally aging brother.

“The paternalistic model of the revolution does not work for them but neither does free market capitalism because they know how much inequality it yields in the U.S. for their familial loved ones and in other Caribbean nations,” Aja said. “Contrary to our ‘exceptionalist’ thinking in the U.S. that we’re the only ones that matter, or know better, the Cuban government is self-aware and strategic.”


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