Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, the communist revolutionary who held control over the country for nearly 50 years, died Friday at age 90.
The Marxist-Leninist nationalist rose to power in 1959 after exile in Mexico and imprisonment at the hands of the dictator former president, Fulgencio Batista. When Castro led his rebel army to victory, he promised Cubans relief from dictatorial policies of repression choking the country and promised to bring about democracy. But Castro soon broke those promises and maintained a tight grip over Cuba for nearly 50 years until health problems forced him to relinquish power permanently to his younger brother, Raul, in 2008.
“The day that the people, both inside the island and out, have waited for has arrived: A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western hemisphere.”
“The passing of the dictator marks the end of a long, horrifying chapter in #Cuba’s history. The #Cuban people need our solidarity,” Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, the son of Cuban exiles, tweeted early Saturday morning.
Castro, whose rallying cry was “socialism or death,” once said during a trial on Oct. 16, 1953, for his rebel attack that effectively launched the Cuban Revolution, “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”
Once in power Castro sought out close ties to the Communist Soviet Union, a pact that brought the world come periously close to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Over his five decades of rule Castro survived more than 600 assassination attempts and kept his nation mired in economic stagnation by refusing to implement human rights reforms that could have ended the U.S. trade embargo. Instead Castro maintained the practice of arresting dissident clergy or journalists. U.S. relations with Cuba only began to thaw when his brother Raul Castro took power. In May 2015 President Obama, who had campaigned on a platform of appeasing many of America’s longtime adversaries, lifted the embargo despite protests from much of the Cuban-American community about lingering human rights issues.
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“The day that the people, both inside the island and out, have waited for has arrived: A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western hemisphere,” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban native, said in a statement Saturday. “The message is now very clear to those who think they will continue to misrule Cuba through oppression and fear. Enough is enough. The Cuban people have been shortchanged for too long to continue down this reviled path.”
Ros-Lehtinen called on “Fidel’s apologists around the world” to aid in the restoration of freedom and human rights for the Cuban people by turning over a new leaf.
“No regime, no matter who leads it, will have a shred of legitimacy if it has not been chosen by the people of Cuba in free and fair elections,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We must seize the moment and help write a new chapter in the history of Cuba; that of a Cuba that is free, democratic, and prosperous. A Cuba where faith in God has prevailed over tyranny, a Cuba whose people rose up to meet the challenges placed before them and overcame them through sheer patriotism and love of country.”
President-elect Donald Trump released a statement Saturday in which asked Americans and the world to never forget Castro’s egregious human rights violations and systemic oppression. Trump also thanked the many Cuban-Americans who supported his presidential bid and promised that his administration would do everything in its power to support the Cuban people.
“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said. “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”