WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday in a statement on Fidel Castro’s death that history would be the judge of the Cuban revolutionary leader’s “enormous impact.”
In a statement on the White House’s Web site, Obama also noted that the United States was extending a “hand of friendship to the Cuban people” at the time of the death of Castro, who passed away Friday night at the age of 90.
The U.S. president said Castro altered the lives of his nation and its people in countless ways after taking power in 1959, adding that his death was a moment of “powerful emotions” for Cubans on the Caribbean island and in the United States.
“History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” Obama said.
Relations between the United States and Cuba were marked for decades by “discord and profound political disagreements,” Obama said in the statement, while also recalling the process begun in late 2014 to restore full diplomatic relations with America’s Caribbean Cold War enemy.
The goal of normalizing ties (embassies were reopened last year) was to pursue “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.
That engagement has included the contributions of Cuban Americans, “who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.”
In March, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years. During his stay on the island, he met with President Raul Castro – the revolutionary leader’s younger brother, who has led the country for a decade – but not with Fidel.
Obama issued a presidential policy directive in October aimed at making the U.S. opening toward Cuba “irreversible,” although his successor in the White House – Republican Donald Trump, who will take office in January – pledged during the campaign to roll back the U.S.-Cuban thaw until “freedoms are restored” on the Communist-ruled island.
In a statement Saturday that contrasted sharply with Obama’s, Trump said Castro was a “brutal dictator” who oppressed his own people and left a legacy of “firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”