Fidel Castro meeting with Barack Obama in Cuba may seem like political suicide for the United States president, but in Latin America, the revolutionary’s reputation is much more divisive.
Many on the continent and its accompanying islands see Fidel and his right hand man Che Guevara as symbols of a fight against American and European imperialism. Others coincide more with the view commonly held in the U.S.: Castro as a bloodthirsty dictator who casts lives aside in the pursuit of Marxist-Leninist revolution.
To say that Barack’s trip to Cuba will be marked by Fidel’s existence is a massive understatement. As prime minister and later as president, Castro ruled Cuba for nearly 50 years before handing over power to his brother Raúl in 2006, who officially took the office in 2008. For much of that time period, he was considered one of the U.S.’s greatest enemies.
Yet when traveling there, Obama will not be having a face-to-face meeting with Fidel. Official communication will be held entirely with the younger Castro, a practice which the White House is calling standard procedure. In a press conference detailing Barack’s Cuba visit last week, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes seemed to indicate that the feeling was reciprocated by Fidel, reported the Miami Herald.
“Neither we nor the Cubans have pursued such a meeting… He’ll be meeting with Raul Castro as the President of Cuba. That’s the appropriate government-to-government engagement, and so that’s what he’ll be pursuing.”
Of course, there is a much deeper connotation to Fidel neglecting to meet with Obama. On Castro’s side, it could represent a reneging on decades of the assertion that the U.S. is the leading combatant in the fight against capitalism. For Barack, the story is strikingly similar. Even tacit support of Fidel will be interpreted as approval of the anti-democratic principles many associate with the country.
In the last Republican debate in Miami before voting took place last Tuesday, all four of the Republican candidates in the race rejected Obama’s current deal with Cuba. Donald Trump boasted he would negotiate a better one. Ted Cruz said he would break relations altogether. Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race this week, said that opening relations with Cuba was detrimental to the Cuban people — allowing money to flow into the coffers of the Castro regime, reported The Guardian.
“Nothing will change for the Cuban people … In fact things are worse, than they were before this opening.”
Fidel himself has more or less rejected the easing of relations between the two countries. When Secretary of State John Kerry first traveled to the country last August, the elder Castro published a letter in state-run newspaper Granma denouncing the U.S. for waging economic and ideological war on the world in pursuit of its own interests. He ended the letter by affirming that the goal of Cuba’s Communist Party had always been the betterment of humanity.
“As has been expressed with clarity by Cuba’s Party and government, to advance good will and peace among all the countries of this hemisphere and the many peoples who are part of the human family, and thus contribute to the survival of our species in the modest place the universe has conceded us, we will never stop struggling for peace and the well-being of all human beings, for every inhabitant on the planet regardless of skin color or national origin, and for the full right of all to hold a religious belief or not.”
Clearly, both Fidel Castro and Barack Obama have a lot to lose when it comes to meeting publicly with one another. Each one hails from a base of support that is often at odds with it neighbor, be it in the case of Cuba or the United States. While the American president will assuredly discuss his nation’s interests during his visit, Rhodes noted that the future of Cuba is ultimately “for the Cuban people to decide.”
[Image via Mario Tama/Getty Images]