The recent death of Fidel Castro did not generate any statements from Connecticut’s congressional delegation, however, members of the all-Democratic group, when asked for their reaction several days later by CTLatinoNews.com, shared an abhorrence of how Castro had ruled his country, but also look forward to keeping the normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba that the Obama administration negotiated.
“Fidel Castro was a cruel dictator who oppressed his own people for decades,” said U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy, a member of the Senate’s influential Committee on Foreign Relations. He added, “The damage he did to his country and its place in the world will take decades to unwind.”
Another harsh appraisal of how history will view the Castro regime came from Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-5). “Fidel Castro’s enduring legacy is the harm he inflicted on the people of Cuba,” she said.
Rep. John Larson (D-1) called Castro’s passing a “historically significant moment. ” He also observed, “My hope is that the future brings freedom for the Cuban people and a continued opening and exchange between Americans and Cubans.”
The state’s representatives in Washington also offered a measured optimism about the future of the island nation. This outlook is largely contingent, they said, on how much Trump acts on his threat to dial back the diplomatic and economic reconciliation initiated a year ago by President Obama.
The state’s senior senator Richard Blumenthal took a proactive stance. “After Fidel Castro’s passing, our focus now should be on the future, continuing to expand and enhance our relations with Cuba and the rights and freedoms of its people,” he said.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-4) said, “It is my hope that the passing of Fidel Castro, a dictator who caused immense suffering for the people of Cuba, will hasten the return of Cuba to the global community and further pave the way for improved relations between our two countries.”
While Connecticut’s Cuban-Americans are a relatively small group, about 10,000 people, compared to the large clusters of refugees from the Castro regime and their descendants who live in Florida and northern New Jersey, they have made significant contributions to the state’s culture, economy and politics. The only Latino currently serving in the state Senate is Art Linares of Westbrook, whose grandfather was among the hundreds of thousands who fled Castro’s Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s as well as during the Mariel exodus early in 1980.
Like Linares, a harsh critic of Castro, many of these people maintain strong personal and families ties to Cuba and are following watching for indicators of what the U.S. government might do under Trump and a Republican-dominated Congress. They also want to know where their own representatives in Washington stand.
Commenting about four days after Castro died, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3) said, “I am hopeful for the future of the Cuban people following the death of Fidel Castro.” She added, “Working over the past several years with the Obama Administration to normalize relations with Cuba has been among my proudest acts as a member of Congress.”
A similar prospectus was offered by Esty. “Now we have an opportunity to move forward, advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people, stop the ongoing abuses of human rights, and build a political and economic relationship that benefits the people of both our nations,” said the congresswoman. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the incoming administration to achieve these shared goals,” she continued.
A darker picture was provided by the three Cuban American senators — Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). In making public statements within hours after Castro’s on November 25 was announced, they stressing this was a joyless milestone for Cuba and were pessimism about any immediate change in the conditions endured by the Cuban people.
Menendez told the Associated Press that Cuban President Raul Castro is not the softer Castro brother that some make him out to be, but has “more blood on his hands” than Fidel.
This low opinion of the younger Castro was echoed by Rubio. “His (Fidel’s) death is a historical milestone, but Cuba today is governed exactly the same way it was governed 48 hours ago,” the Florida senator said on a November 27 news program.
Larson all noted that there is much room for improvement in Cuba. “The Cuban people have suffered greatly for many years, and even with recent developments in U.S.-Cuba relations, they continue to have their voices silenced and face extreme economic hardships,” the high-ranking Democrat said.
However, Murphy and other members of the Connecticut delegation said there have been indications recently that political and economic conditions will improve in Cuba and there can be greater stability in the Caribbean region where Castro had become an intrusive nemesis for the United States.
“Despite Castro’s legacy,” Murphy said, “over the past year, the U.S. has made great strides in improving relations and expanding commerce with Cuba, which will pave the way for increased cooperation with nations across Central and South America.”
A remnant of the Cold War, the relationship between the United States and communist Cuba has been mostly adversarial and icy since Castro and his revolutionary forces seized power from another authoritarian regime led by Fulgencio Battista on January 1, 1959 after a long revolution.
A major change took place in December 2015 when, after secret diplomatic relations, the Obama Administration re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba and began to ease the long-standing economic embargo.
This policy change has been criticized by prominent Republicans, including Rubio, who said he supports Trump’s plan to dial back on removing some embargos pending a better deal on issues such as democracy and human rights.
Still, Murphy and other Democrats prefer to see the recent reopening of trade and travel with Cuba to move forward. “I remain confident that re-establishing diplomatic relations is the best way to bring democracy and prosperity to the people of Cuba,” Murphy said. “Fidel Castro’s passing only reinforces to me that we should focus on that more open future,” the Democrat added.
DeLauro said she will continue her efforts in Congress to support the Cuban people directly, “so that they can access economic freedom and embark on a new path to prosperity. For that reason, I will continue to call for an end to the Cuban embargo, while also pressing the Cuban government to embrace political and social freedom for the Cuban people.”
Esty said, “I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the incoming administration to achieve these shared goals.”
Noting that he had visited Cuba last year, Larson said, “I think that we need to continue down the path that President Obama has set out – engaging further with the Cuban people.”