The Cable

Fidel Castro Doesn’t Share His Brother’s Enthusiasm About U.S. Thaw

Fidel Castro blasts President Obama following his historic visit to Cuba.

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Goodwill between the United States and Cuba dominated President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana last week. On Monday, former Cuban President Fidel Castro took a sneeringly frosty tone toward his former Cold War rival.

In an editorial published in the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma, the older brother of Cuba’s current president, Raúl, called Obama’s language “syrupy” and enough to give Cubans a “a heart attack.” These were the first public comments from the former Cuban strongman following Obama’s historic visit.

“We don’t need any gifts from the empire,” Fidel Castro wrote, addressing the U.S. president as “Brother Obama.”

Fidel, 89, yielded power to his brother in 2008 and is thought to be in ill health. But his words still carry great weight with the Cuban people, and his shadow loomed large as Obama visited Havana.

They are also an indication that while much progress has been made toward normalization of relations between the former adversaries, there’s still work to be done on both sides, according to Danforth Newcomb, a Cuba sanctions expert at the law firm Shearman & Sterling. Only Congress, he noted, can lift the financial embargo against Cuba that has been in place since the Kennedy administration.

Newbomb also told Foreign Policy that the relationship between Fidel and Raúl is complicated, and that the older Castro might not share his brother’s enthusiasm about the U.S.-Cuba thaw.

“There’s an interesting dynamic between the two brothers,” Newcomb said. Raúl, for example, recognizes that Cuba’s former backers — primarily Russia — don’t support the Castro regime with the vigor it once did, he said.

“The Soviets have disappeared, and Venezuela is in trouble,” Newcomb said, referring to Havana’s ally in South America. “Cuba needs to get back into the international financial world” and building ties with the U.S. is the only way to do that.

This need hasn’t moved Fidel.

“No one should pretend that the people of this noble and selfless country will renounce its glory and its rights,” Castro wrote. “We are capable of producing the food and material wealth that we need with work and intelligence of our people.”

Photo credit: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/Getty Images

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