After Fidel Castro died on Friday, the Obama administration was criticized for not openly condemning the life and pernicious record of the dissident who ruled over the island nation with a brutal iron fist.
Those who wanted to celebrate the dictator’s demise found solace in the words of the incoming Trump administration, and politicians like Marco Rubio, but there are subtle sings of Obama’s condemnation of the Castro legacy.
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The first sign is that President Obama will not send a formal delegation to Castro’s funeral. Instead, he is sending Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top American diplomat in Cuba, will also attend.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest described relationship as “quite complicated.” Over the last two years, Obama has fought hard against the legacy of Castro, and has opened up relations as the aging Castro retreated from daily governance in Cuba. “There are many aspects of the U.S.-Cuba relationship that were characterized by a lot of conflict and turmoil, not just during the Castro regime,” Earnest reminded reporters.
“So, we believe that [the humble contingent from the U.S.] was an appropriate way for the United States to show our commitment to an ongoing future-oriented relationship with the Cuban people,” Earnest said.
Obama is not going to the funeral. He did go to Cuba earlier this year, hoping his trip could influence the political climate of Cuba, which was shifting as Castro turned over control.
“My view is that this is the beginning, not the end, of what is going to be a journey that takes some time,” Obama said before his trip. “This is a matter of us engaging directly with the Cuban people and being able to have candid, tough conversations directly with the Cuban government. We will have more influence and have greater capacity to advocate on behalf of the values that we care about when we’re actually talking to them.”
“Our starting point is that we have two different systems,” Obama explained. “What I have said to President Castro, is that we are moving forward and not looking backwards.”
“President Castro, I think, has pointed out that it, in his view making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security in old age, that those things are human rights as well.”
“The goal of the human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how to govern themselves,” the president continued. “Hopefully, we can learn from each other.”
These remarks angered many of the Cuban community here in the United States, Cubans who fled from the oppressive Castro regime. Human rights were not high on Castro’s list of priorities, and these people felt betrayed by what they perceived as an attempt by Obama to ignore the past and work more closely with the oppressive regime.
After Castro’s death, though, Obama took a very diplomatic stance. While it isn’t as harsh as the rhetoric from Trump, or Pence, Obama’s role in opening the island nation called for more subtlety, and that’s what he provided:
Nov. 26: At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.
For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends – bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.
Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.