While many world leaders praised Cuban leader Fidel Castro as a powerful and iconic revolutionary following his passing on Friday, President Obama responded to Castro's death by asking both Cubans and Cuban-Americans to look toward the future. In his statement released by the White House on Saturday, Obama sidestepped talk of Castro's politics and focused on the renewed relations between Cuba and the United States. The president mainly focused on the Cuban people and reminded them that they "have a friend and partner" in the U.S. government.
"At this time of Fidel Castro's passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people," Obama began his statement. "We know that this moment fills Cubans...with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation."
Obama didn't call Castro a revolutionary or socialist leader, but "a singular figure" who no doubt made an impact on his nation and the rest of the world. He claimed that history "will record and judge" Castro's political influence and social impact.
The president also didn't go into detail about Castro's long and tumultuous relationship with the United States, which includes the Bay of Pigs invasion, near-nuclear warfare and harsh economic sanctions that crippled the Cuban economy over the last five decades. Instead, Obama summarized Castro's antagonistic relationship with the United States and its presidents since the Marxist-Leninist leader assumed power in 1959.
"For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements," Obama said in his statement. "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 we share as neighbors and friends."
Obama has eased up on several American policies targeting Cuba, including the long-held travel ban, which barred Americans from visiting the island under most circumstances. In May 2016, the Obama administration announced that Americans can now take solo trips to Cuba for "people-to-people" tours. The president also made a symbolic trip to Havana in May.
In October 2016, the Obama administration lifted sanctions on Cuban imports such as rum and cigars. It was the latest move in Obama's plan to eradicate the half-century economic sanctions against Cuba and establish new post-Cold War relations with the socialist state.
In his statement about the Presidential Policy Directive on Cuba implemented in October, Obama said:
In December 2014, following more than 50 years of failed policy, I announced that the United States would begin a process of normalizing relations with Cuba. Since then, we've worked with the people and the government of Cuba to do exactly that – re-establishing diplomatic relations, opening embassies, expanding travel and commerce, and launching initiatives to help our people cooperate and innovate. ... Challenges remain – and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights – but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values. The progress of the last two years, bolstered by today's action, should remind the world of what's possible when we look to the future together.
Obama's October statements on Cuba reflect his pithy remarks on Castro's death. It's clear that the president wants America to move forward alongside Cuba and to bury the controversial Cuban dignitary in the not-so-distant past of Cold War tensions and fierce ideological fights. How Castro's legacy and influence will play out in America, though, still remains to be seen.