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Castro's death triggers strong and varying reactions among U.S. political leaders

Responses by top U.S. officials to the death of Fidel Castro varied far and wide Saturday, exposing a partisan divide in how to approach future dealings with the island nation.

President Barack Obama, who normalized relations between the United States and Cuba, struck a hopeful note by offering "a hand of friendship to the Cuban people" and the promise of not dwelling on the mistakes of the past.

"We offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people," Obama said in a statement. "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."

While Obama mentioned how Castro had "altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation," he said he'd leave it to history to judge the dictator.

President-elect Donald Trump, however, didn't hesitate to offer his judgments of Castro's legacy.

"The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades," Trump said in a statement. "Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."

While harsher than Obama's reaction, Trump didn't call to roll back normalized relations, either.

Both Republican leaders of Congress said Castro's death was an opportunity to push for greater freedoms within Cuba.

"Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him," said House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. "Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people, and the United States must be fully committed to that work."

"While Fidel Castro is gone, sadly the oppression that was the hallmark of his era is not," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "It is my hope that the Cuban regime will use this opportunity to turn the page for the good of the Cuban people and for all those living in the Americas. Freedom and democracy are long overdue in Cuba."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he spoke Saturday morning with Trump and offered the state's help "in any way to support a pro-democracy movement in Cuba."

"I join Cub-an-Americans and Floridians across the country who are incredibly hopeful for the future of Cuba," Scott wrote in a statement. "Today's news should usher in an era of freedom, peace and human dignity for everyone in Cuba, and the state of Florida stands ready to assist in that mission."

Sen. Marco Rubio, the Republican son of Cuban immigrants and critic of Obama's efforts to normalize relations with the island nation, also urged action.

"The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights," Rubio said in a statement.

Florida's other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, urged caution with Castro's brother Raúl, who remains in power. But Nelson voiced support for the continued opening of relations between Cuba and the United States.

"Now that Fidel is gone, the U.S. should continue to press hard against his brother Raúl and continue to take steps to support the Cuban people until he provides basic rights and freedoms to all the people of Cuba," Nelson said. "In the meantime, the new Trump administration should continue the policy of opening travel and communication with Cuba."

Nelson was joined by another Florida Democrat, Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, in pushing for normalization between the United States and Cuba.

"With the election of Donald Trump, hardliners opposed to diplomatic relations and engagement with everyday Cubans have urged an end to new flights, travel, and cooperative efforts," Castor said. "Slamming the door shut at this point in time would be disastrous. Instead, Fidel Castro's death should encourage all of us to meet the challenge of better diplomatic relations, economic opportunities for Cubans and Americans, expanded travel, and support for the dignity of the Cuban people."

Republicans like Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O' Lakes, marked Castro's death as a cause for celebration.

"(Castro) was a thug. His passing only makes this world a safer, better place," Corcoran said on Twitter. "I join all Floridians today in praying that Castro's death will somehow pave the way for freedom and democracy to at last emerge and flourish on the island."

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam tweeted: "Florida is richer for all the families who arrived after Fidel took all they had. More to be done. Cuba libre!"

Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Twitter: "Fidel Castro leaves behind a legacy of repression and tyranny. History will not absolve him. We must work and pray for a free Cuba."

Castro's death triggers strong and varying reactions among U.S. political leaders 11/26/16 [Last modified: Saturday, November 26, 2016 7:16pm]
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