- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2016

Donald Trump will undo the Obama administration’s historic diplomatic reset with Havana unless the Cuban government moves swiftly to address human rights abuses and loosen restrictions on freedom of speech and religion on the communist island, the incoming president’s chief of staff says.

With Fidel Castro’s death fresh in the headlines, Reince Priebus, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Sunday that Mr. Trump will keep an open mind about future relations with Cuba but demand major changes before embracing the detente set in motion by the outgoing White House.

“We’ve got to have a better deal. We’re not going to have a unilateral deal coming from Cuba back to the United States without some changes in their government,” said Mr. Priebus, a top Trump adviser. “Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners — these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships, and that’s what President-elect Trump believes.”

His comments came as reactions to Mr. Castro’s demise, which was announced early Saturday, continued to reverberate around the world — with the starkest contrasts between the response among Cubans in Havana and that of longtime exiles in Miami.

People wept in the streets of the Cuban capital, where music fell silent and weddings were canceled as Cubans faced their first day without the leader who had steered their island to greater social equality and years of economic ruin during his nearly half-century reign.

Cubans across Havana said they felt genuine pain at the death of the 90-year-old dictator, whose words and image had filled schoolbooks, airwaves and front pages since before many were born.


SEE ALSO: Fidel Castro’s death brings about mixed reactions from world leaders


But in private, dozens expressed hope that his death will allow Cuba to move faster toward a more open, prosperous future under his younger brother and successor, Raul Castro.

“Raul wants the country to advance, to do business with the whole world, even the United States,” said Belkis Bejarano, a 65-year-old homemaker in the city. “Raul wants to do business, that’s it. Fidel was still holed up in the Sierra Maestra,” Ms. Bejarano said, referring to the mountain range from which the Castro brothers and bands of other bearded rebels emerged to create a communist regime 90 miles south of Florida in the late-1950s.

The scene was celebratory in Miami, where thousands took to the streets. Some banged pots with spoons. Others honked car horns or waved Cuban and U.S. flags as they whooped in jubilation on Calle Ocho — as Eighth Street in Miami’s Little Havana is known.

“We’re all celebrating; this is like a carnival,” said 72-year-old Jay Fernandez, who came to Miami when he was 18 in 1961 after he was jailed twice by the Cuban government. He and his wife and another woman held up a bilingual sign he’d made four years ago when Mr. Castro first became ill. “Satan, Fidel is now yours. Give him what he deserves. Don’t let him rest in peace.”

Police blocked off streets leading to Cafe Versailles, the quintessential Cuban-American hot spot where strong cafecitos — sweetened espresso — have long been as common as a harsh word about Mr. Castro, the nemesis of many exiles. Many said they recognize his death alone doesn’t mean immediate democracy or freedom for the communist-run island.

“We need for the people of Cuba to have the freedom we have in the U.S., but this changes nothing. There won’t be change until the people revolt,” said Juan Cobas, 50, who came to the U.S. from Cuba at age 13.

Rafael Torre, 80, wore a “Bay of Pigs Veteran” shirt as he stood amid the crowd, marveling that Mr. Castro had remained in power for so long. Cuban exiles such as Mr. Torre tried numerous ways to dislodge the dictator — including the failed CIA-backed invasion of Cuba in 1961.

“We tried for more than 50 years but couldn’t do it. Now he’s dead, and maybe things can change,” Mr. Torre told The Associated Press. “It might take three or four years. Maybe the revolution will be on the streets in three or four months.”

Few specifics from Trump

Uncertainty over Cuba’s future was swirling well before Mr. Castro’s death, as recent years saw Havana and Washington take their first tentative steps toward ending decades of hostility that had persisted since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the John F. Kennedy administration discovered that the Soviet Union had deployed ballistic missiles to the island.

In December 2014 President Obama announced that the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations and start easing a decades-old embargo on trade with Cuba — a thaw that so far has led to the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana.

But trade and other restrictions continue to limit the bilateral relationship, and Mr. Priebus suggested Sunday that Mr. Trump hopes to use that as leverage to muscle democratic reforms out of Cuba that many Republicans say were left by the wayside during Mr. Obama’s detente with Havana.

Mr. Priebus, who made his comments on Fox News, said the president-elect “is going to be looking for some movement in the right direction in order to have any sort of deal with Cuba.”

But the incoming White House chief of staff offered little in the way of specifics: “There has to be something, and what that something is,” he said, “is yet to be determined.”

For his part, Mr. Trump suggested he’ll focus on human rights reforms, asserting in a statement after the announcement of Mr. Castro’s death that the world was marking the “passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades” and whose “legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American and outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s reset with Havana, said Sunday that he’s hopeful about the president-elect’s posture.

For months Mr. Trump has “made it very clear that he felt that the moves that President Obama had made toward Cuba were wrong and that he would examine them and change the ones that needed to be changed,” Mr. Rubio, Florida Republican, told CNN on Sunday. “I think that’s very promising.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, also of Cuban descent, offered a more visceral criticism of the current White House’s reset with Havana.

“What the Obama administration has done is strengthen Raul Castro. Raul is the dictator now,” Mr. Cruz told ABC. “What Obama has done is funneled billions of dollars to [him], which is being used to oppress dissidents. You know, in 2015 roughly 10,000 political arrests occurred in Cuba — that is five times as many as occurred in 2010, when there were only about 2,000.”

Mr. Obama defended his policy in a statement Saturday and said history will be the ultimate judge of Fidel Castro’s legacy.

“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,” the president said.

“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,” he added. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.

‘Dictatorship of the exploited’

A hero to many across Latin America and a ruthless tyrant to others, the “Maximum Leader” proved a polarizing figure in Cuba and then on the world stage for decades, outlasting most of his closest allies and most ardent foes. Even in “retirement,” he emerged periodically to greet foreign visitors or to pen an op-ed piece critical of the latest policy move toward Cuba by the United States.

With his trademark olive-green military fatigues, flowing beard and marathon speeches, Mr. Castro was a pivotal figure in U.S.-Latin American relations from the moment he seized power in Havana in 1959 and nearly provoked a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union three years later.

Before stepping down in favor of his brother, he was, after Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s second-longest serving head of state. He survived CIA assassination attempts, a half-century of U.S. economic embargoes and the demise of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main patron, at the end of the Cold War.

But economic and political stagnation at home have tarnished many of the touted achievements of Mr. Castro’s revolution. Cuba’s international standing as a model of socialist justice and equality fell sharply in the later years of Mr. Castro’s rule.

Mr. Castro himself never expressed doubt that his one-man rule could transform his country. “The revolution is not a bed of roses,” he said in one of his most often-quoted remarks. “The revolution is a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters.”

In declining health, he handed power over to brother Raul temporarily in 2006 and then permanently in 2008, retiring from the public spotlight as his health declined.

State media say Cubans throughout the country will be invited to pay homage to Mr. Castro on Monday and Tuesday by signing a “solemn oath of complying with the concept of the revolution.”

The government then plans a mass gathering at the capital’s Plaza of the Revolution, where Mr. Castro often delivered the epic, trademark stream-of-consciousness speeches that could last eight hours or more to the masses. His ashes will make a cross-country tour starting Wednesday from Havana to Santiago, retracing in reverse the route Mr. Castro took when the revolution triumphed in 1959. He’s to be interred in a Santiago cemetery on Dec. 4.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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