Longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro died Friday at age 90, bringing his half-century hold over the Caribbean island nation to a close. What does Castro’s death mean for Cuba? Several experts on the issue weighed in on Sunday’s “Face the Nation.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents were born in Cuba, said this could be an inflection point to make the country more democratic.
“I’d like to see more of a democratic opening on the island of Cuba,” he told “Face the Nation.” “Things like, I don’t know, free press. Stop putting people in jail because they don’t agree with you politically. Stop helping countries like North Korea evade UN sanctions. Don’t invite the Russians to open a military base 90 miles from our shores. Allow independent political parties to be able to function.”
The coming generational transfer of power in Cuba after the Castros -- Raul Castro, the Cuban president and Fidel Castro’s surviving brother, is 85 -- could also help usher in an era of democratic reforms, Rubio said.
“There is going to be a generational leadership change in Cuba over the next five to 10 years -- hopefully sooner,” he said, noting the Castros’ ages. “And we need to ensure that our foreign policy towards Cuba incentivizes and makes it easier for there to be a democratic transition.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of The Atlantic, said Mr. Trump is taking office at a “really pivotal moment” for the U.S.-Cuba relationship.
“What the Obama administration is trying to do is lock in some of the changes before it’s too late, before Donald Trump comes in,” Goldberg said. “He has threatened, obviously, to reverse some of these changes -- what the Obama administration right now is trying to do is make sure that these openings continue.”
Rubio said Cuba is important in the post-Cold War world for three reasons: because it’s a “source of instability” in the region, because it allows countries like China and Russia to “conduct espionage” against the U.S., and because its leaders “harbor fugitives of American justice.” The Florida senator, who has been one of the most vocal critics of Mr. Obama’s efforts to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, said he isn’t opposed to changes in the U.S.-Cuba relationship, but that he wants them to be “reciprocal.”
“I am not against changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba. I just want to make sure that those changes are reciprocal, that they’re reciprocated by the Cuban government,” he said. “That was not part of what President Obama did. And I want to make sure that they are the kinds of things that help create a pathway towards democracy in Cuba. That’s how I would examine our foreign policy towards Cuba.”
What President-elect Donald Trump will do on U.S.-Cuba policy, however, is less certain. He initially said he thought the opening with Cuba was “fine,” but in September said he would reverse Mr. Obama’s efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations and end the trade embargo.
Julia Sweig, a foreign affairs analyst who focuses on U.S.-Latin America foreign policy, said Mr. Trump “has a choice to make” about the extent of U.S. involvement in Cuba’s future.
“Does he want to go back to the Cold War and pick a fight and punish 11 million people for the trespasses of two guys named Castro?” she asked. “Or does he want to take the opportunity coming in 2018, when Raul Castro says he will step down, to really shape the direction of the two countries relationship?”
Rubio said he is planning to “give [Mr. Trump] a chance to succeed,” but that he won’t hesitate to disagree with Mr. Trump on issues of foreign policy.
“I want to give him a chance to succeed. If I agree with him on a foreign policy matter, I look forward to working with his administration. If I do not agree with him on a foreign policy matter, be they a Republican or a Democrat, I’ll disagree, and try to offer an alternative, and hopefully do what we can from the Senate to change and influence our foreign policy,” Rubio said.