Cuba faces renewed tensions with US

By Nick Miroff

Fidel Castro once called George W. Bush a "functional illiterate".

Ronald Reagan was "the worst terrorist in the history of mankind," Castro said, with ideas "from the Buffalo Bill era".

Castro thrived on confrontation with US leaders, and he almost surely would have enjoyed facing off against America's next one.

In his statement on Castro's death, US President-elect Donald Trump denounced him as "a brutal dictator," and that's the sort of dig that wouldn't have gone unanswered in the past.

But brinkmanship and barb-throwing are not the forte of his successor, Raul Castro. Raul Castro, 85, has refrained from criticising Trump and even sent congratulations after his win.

Raul Castro's plans to secure the legacy of his brother's 1959 Cuban Revolution appear to be on a collision course with the incoming Trump Administration, whose top members said that Cuba would have to make significant "changes" in order for the normalisation path charted by US President Barack Obama to continue.

If tensions between Cuba and the United States ratchet up again under a Trump presidency, it would be a new stress test for Raul Castro and his quieter, more austere leadership style. Cuba will enter the Trump era with Fidel Castro's one-party socialist state firmly in command but without the super-charged politics and nationalist fervour he relied on to sustain it.

A return to more hostile relations with the United States could also bring a new crackdown in Cuba and further slow the pace of Raul Castro's modest liberalisation measures at a time of stalling economic growth. Hardliners in Cuba's Communist Party would gladly take the country back to a simpler time, when the antagonism of the United States - not the failure of government policies - was to blame for the island's problems, and the threat of attack, real or imagined, was used to justify authoritarian political control.

On Fox News, Reince Priebus, Trump's incoming chief of staff, said: "There's going to have to be some movement from Cuba in order to have a relationship with the United States". Castro would have to take steps to allow more political, economic and religious freedoms, Priebus said.

Obama announced in December 2014 that the United States would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in 1961. Trump said during his campaign that Obama didn't get a good "deal," and Cuba must do more. While only the US Congress can lift the Cuba embargo, Trump could reverse many of the executive orders that have brought a surge of US visitors to Cuba and a rush of new interest from American companies.

Young Cuban rafter Elian Gonzalez. Photo / AP
Young Cuban rafter Elian Gonzalez. Photo / AP

Elian: Castro like a father

Elian Gonzalez, the boy who found himself at the centre of a controversial custody battle between his father in Cuba and his relatives in the United States 16 years ago, praised Fidel Castro, who, he said, made it possible for him to return to his home country.

Gonzalez appeared on a government-run television programme yesterday and said Castro, who died on Saturday at the age of 90, was a friend to him. "He is my father who, like my father, I wanted to show him everything I achieved. That he would be proud of me. That's how I was with Fidel," Gonzalez said in the interview.

Gonzalez was 5 when his mother and several others tried to get to the US. His mother died, but the boy survived the voyage and was rescued by fishermen. He was later taken to his relatives' home in South Florida. What followed was an international tug-o-war waged by Castro.

In April 2000, heavily armed federal immigration agents raided the boy's family's home in Miami. Gonzalez was later reunited with his father, stepmother and 6-month-old half-brother. US authorities eventually sent him back to Cuba. Last year, Gonzalez, then 21, told ABC News that he'd like to go back to the US, but only as a tourist.

- Washington Post

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