The passing of Cuba's Fidel Castro—and with it the end of an era in U.S.-Cuba relations—was noted by President-elect Donald Trump last night with a celebratory tweet, a sentiment that appeared to be widely shared among many living in Miami's expatriot communities as Cuban immigrants and exiles took to the streets in a spontaneous display of relief and celebration at Castro's passing. In Cuba a period of nine days of official mourning began.
Estranged from the church for decades, late in his life the former Cuban president met with three popes in succession, beginning with a visit with St. John Paul II at the Vatican in 1996, as relations with the Holy See improved. In 1998 St. John Paul II visited Havana and met again with Castro. In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI also visited Cuba and met with the retired leader after celebrating Mass on Revolution Square. Pope Francis visited Cuba and Castro last year on his way to the United States. This morning Pope Francis was among world leaders noting Castro's death.
In a telegram sent to the current president, Raul Castro, Pope Francis offered condolences to Castro family members and the people of Cuba. "At the same time, I offer prayers to the Lord for his rest and I entrust the whole Cuban people to the maternal intercession of our Lady of the Charity of El Cobre, patroness of that country," the pope wrote.
In Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski issued a brief statement. Quoting the Book of Ecclesiastes, "both the just and the wicked God will judge, since a time is set for every affair and for every work.” (3:17), Archbishop Wenski wrote:
Fidel Castro has died. Now he awaits the judgment of God who is merciful but also just. His death provokes many emotions—both in and outside the island. Nevertheless, beyond all possible emotions, the passing of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgen of Charity, asking for peace for Cuba and its people.
“To Jesus through Mary, Charity unites us.” May Holy Mary, Our Lady of Charity, hear her people’s prayers and hasten for Cuba the hour of its reconciliation in truth, accompanied by freedom and justice. May, through the intercession of the “Virgen Mambisa,” the Cuban people know how to traverse that narrow road between fear which gives in to evil and violence, which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse. “Our Lady of Charity, cover us with your mantle.”
“Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him, " House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in a statement released on Nov. 26. "Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people, and the United States must be fully committed to that work. Today let us reflect on the memory and sacrifices of all those who have suffered under the Castros.”
On his Twitter account, Florida Republic Senator Marco Rubio commented, "History will remember Fidel Castro as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people."
President-elect Trump followed up his early morning tweet on Castro's death with a strong condemnation of Castro's memory, describing the Cuban leader as a "brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades." Mr. Trump said Castro's legacy is one of "firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."
Mr. Trump's statement continued: "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."
He said his administration will do "all it can to ensure Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty" and ended his statement on the hope of "one day seeing a free Cuba."
A statement issued by the Obama administration, which restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015 in a deal facilitated by the Holy See, took a more diplomatic course, looking toward the potential impact of Castro's passing on the future of U.S.-Cuba relations, rather than dwelling on the two nations' many past conflicts. "At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing," the statement began, "we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans—in Cuba and in the United States—with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him."
President Obama said, "For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing 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.
"This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans," the president said, "who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.
"Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America."
Editor's note: A reference to the excommunication of Castro was removed at 5: 30 p.m. because it is unclear if that often noted excommunication ever actually took place. See this corrective account. This article was updated at 3:51 p.m. with statements from U.S. political leaders and more detail about his relationship with the church.