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Cuban-American Representatives Use Castro's Death to Slam Obama-Era Opening

As their constituents took to the streets with pots and pans to celebrate Fidel Castro’s death, South Florida’s Cuban-American congressional delegation blasted the Obama administration for the brief diplomatic opening that preceded the dictator’s death.

“The largest financier of Castro right now, has become the Obama administration,” Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart told reporters at a Miami press conference. 

Credit Rowan Moore Gerety / WLRN
Valdomero Nieto, 90, cheers on the death of Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro, whose regime held him as a political prisoner for two decades.

Diaz-Balart’s older brother Lincoln, who preceded him in Congress and was an architect of US-Cuba policy in the 1990s, called President Obama the “strongest and most effective” supporter of the Castro regime’s efforts to “pass on the dictatorship as though it was a family farm.”

“When the regime has been cash-rich, they’ve used those resources to aggressively hurt our interests all over the world,” added Congressman Carlos Curbelo, calling for more support of Cuban dissidents and denouncing any economic activity that involves the Cuban government. 

“What we have seen about more interactions, is that this means more interactions and more money for the regime,” said Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, calling on the incoming Trump administration to roll back Obama’s executive actions on Cuba. “Our conditions for the Castro Regime are already set forth in U.S. law: respect for human rights, freeing of all political prisoners, free and fair elections, allowing political parties to form,” Ros-Lehtinen said. 

As The Who sang: 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.' —Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Fidel’s death may be a symbolic victory, she allowed, but could be all it is: “As The Who sang, ‘Meet the old boss, same as the old boss,’” she said, quoting lyrics from the 1971 hit “Won’t Get Fooled Again.“

In some respects, the rhetoric put forward by this quartet of South Florida Republicans sounded closer to that decade than this one. The group was quick to discount any chance of progress stemming from the recent thawing U.S.-Cuba relations, but there was no mention of the trade embargo that has dominated American policy towards the island for more than 50 years—or of the fact that the embargo has at times played into Castro’s portrayal of the U.S. as a malevolent capitalist overlord. 

Credit Rowan Moore Gerety / WLRN
A man sells Cuban flags during an impromptu celebration of Fidel Castro's death outside La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant in Westchester.

Castro’s detractors remember him in similarly extreme terms. Lincoln Diaz-Balart called Fidel Castro “the brain of evil” while his younger brother described the regime as “the most barbaric, the most corrupt, most savage dictatorship in the history of our hemisphere.”

They’ll find no quarrel from Valdemoro Nieto, 90, who stood in front of La Carreta on Bird Road Saturday morning, basking in the glow of history while passing drivers honked and waved Cuban flags from their windows. Nieto came to the U.S. after 20 years as a political prisoner in Cuba. “Even the ocean is crying today, for all the thousands of people that were killed there,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “Obama gave Castro everything in exchange for nothing. “Trump, Trump, and Trump, once more, will change this country,” he said. “You’ll see.”

Listen to our special coverage of the aftermath of Fidel Castro's death here: