As thousands of Cubans lined up Monday in Havana to say good-bye to Fidel Castro, Donald Trump threatened to end Washington’s diplomatic thaw with the one-party state.
“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” the U.S. president-elect tweeted.
President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro renewed diplomatic ties in 2014 after a half-century of Cold War hostility. Since then, through a series of executive orders, Obama has eased restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and U.S. firms doing business there.
In a case of bizarre timing, U.S. airlines this week began offering regularly scheduled commercial flights between the United States and Havana for the first time since 1961. The first, an American Airlines flight from Miami, landed on Monday.
In Havana, Cubans from across the country stood in three lines, each leading past an identical shrine to the revolutionary leader and former president, who ruled for 49 years. Each featured a large photograph showing Castro as a young, black-bearded guerilla soldier and arrangements of white roses and his various military and civilian decorations.
Mourners, most of them senior citizens, women and children, said they were disappointed to not see the urn holding his ashes.
“It makes me very sad to not see the remains,” said 51-year-old Raul Torres. “But I’m happy to be here and to tell him how much we appreciate him.”
Claudia Romero, 65, arrived at 4 a.m. to pay her respects to Castro. “He fought so that we could have a better life,” she said, wiping away tears. “I will always be grateful.”
Castro’s death on Friday at age 90 is unlikely to usher in quick political change on the island nation of 11 million. Under his brother Raul, citizens have been allowed to travel more easily and to engage in limited private enterprise, but there have not been significant political reforms.
As for Cuba’s future relationship with the U.S., it was not clear what Trump meant by a “better deal.” An email seeking clarification from his transition team was not answered.
Previously, Trump has called for the release of political prisoners and more open space for free expression of opinions and dissent. The Obama administration has made the same demands while choosing not to delay economic progress.
From a legal standpoint, Trump could easily reverse Obama’s executive orders with little more than a signature. Politically, however, renewed estrangement would be more complicated and would isolate the U.S. as the only country in the world that does not recognize the Communist-led government in Havana.
Trump and his top aides have sent conflicting signals over his likely Cuba policy. His staff released a statement Saturday saying a Trump administration would “do all it can” to help Cubans achieve prosperity and liberty. But it did not mention reversing Obama’s actions to expand ties.
“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,” Trump said.
Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump advisor, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that “nothing is definite” when it comes to Cuba. But Trump’s soon-to-be White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said that Trump would be looking for “some movement in the right direction” to keep the opening of Cuba on course.
Conservative Republicans oppose detente with Cuba as long as any Castro continues to rule. But a growing number of Cuban Americans, as well as most Democrats and a substantial segment of the business community, want better ties and opportunities for economic exchange.
Staff Writer Tracy Wilkinson reported from Washington. Sanchez, a special correspondent, reported from Havana.