Cuba's former president of nearly fifty years, Fidel Castro, died on Friday according to a televised statement by his brother and current Cuban President, Raúl. World leaders have responded to Castro's death in varied ways, as Castro and his reign are among the most controversial in history. President Obama's statement on Fidel Castro's death, released by The White House Saturday morning, captures the complexity of the U.S.'s relationship to Cuba, as well as the people of Cuba's feelings about Castro.
President Obama's full statement reads as follows:
At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, 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.
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, 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.
In March of 2016, President Obama became the first sitting president since before World War II to travel to Cuba. The entire Obama family took a trip to Havana, where he met with Raúl Castro. Both leaders had been invested, throughout Obama's presidency, to restore relations between the two countries, which have been fraught with tensions for decades. Obama had intended to lift travel restrictions and the embargo on trade that's defined U.S.-Cuba relations for the better part of the 21st century.
With those tasks left incomplete and Obama's presidency nearly at its end, the fate of U.S.-Cuba relations lies in the hands of Obama's successor, Donald Trump. And with Raúl Castro expected to step down from the presidency in 2018, Trump may not make headway until a new leader comes to power.