Last night, just as I was going to bed, I learned that Fidel Castro, age 90, had died. I remember how excited I was, as a small child learning how he had freed his country from the fascist grasp of the U.S.-backed dictator. I wanted to dedicate my bar mitzvah to him but my mother had the rabbi talk me out of it. In later years, like many of his earliest admirers, I was aghast at some of the decisions he made that took him down from the perch I had constructed in my mind for him. He turned out to be nearly as bad as other political leaders, reminding me at the time of one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs. (No, that's not my rabbi in the background, but he was someone I shared a jail cell with one day after a huge anti-draft protest.)
At first, Trump didn't have much to say about the passing of the longest serving world leader– a 4 word tweet with an exclamation point. Donna Edwards' response was more to the point:
Later Trump's office released the official El Presidente-elect Señor Trumpanzee response, more in line with the hate-filled Republican Party party line.
Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.
While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.
Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.
Obama's official statement was more decent, more anodyne… and more diplomatic:
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.
Other leaders around the world had more fitting statements. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, traveling in Madagascar said that “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.
“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for 'el Comandante.'
“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.
“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
While far right American politicians like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen could barely hide their glee, most people were more mournful and respectful.
Castro was lionized by Latin America's populist leaders like leaders Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador and even anti-populists like Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico had the sense to mark Castro's passing respectfully. Other international leaders:
• French President François Hollande: “Fidel Castro was a towering figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution, in both its hopes and subsequent disillusionments. France, which condemned human rights abuses in Cuba, had equally challenged the US embargo on Cuba, and France was glad to see the two countries re-establish dialogue and open ties between themselves.”
• Russian President Vladimir Putin: “The name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history; Fidel Castro was a sincere and reliable friend of Russia… [He built] a free and independent Cuba that became an influential member of the international community and served as an inspiration for many countries and peoples… strong and wise person who always looked to the future with confidence… his memory will forever remain in the hearts of the citizens of Russia.”
• Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “Fidel Castro was one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century. India mourns the loss of a great friend. I extend my deepest condolences to the Government & people of Cuba on the sad demise of Fidel Castro. May his soul rest in peace.”
• Chinese President Xi Jinxing: “The Chinese people have lost a good and true comrade. Comrade Castro will live forever… a great man of our time.”
My favorite tribute, though, came from U.K. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn:
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis