I will grade the statements later made by the various national leaders below. But I think it’s important to create a semi-central repository of some of the more important leadership responses.
Interestingly, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA-03) on a conference call this morning said that he believes Obama and Clinton both are more flexible than their public statements indicate.
Here are some of the statements I have seen:
“Today should mark the end of a dark era in Cuba’s history. Fidel Castro’s stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba.
“Cuba’s future should be determined by the Cuban people and not by an anti-democratic successor regime. The prompt release of all prisoners of conscience wrongly jailed for standing up for the basic freedoms too long denied to the Cuban people would mark an important break with the past. It’s time for these heroes to be released.
“If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades. The freedom of the Cuban people is a cause that should bring the Americans together.”
“As you know, Fidel Castro announced that he is stepping down as Cuba’s leader after 58 years of one-man rule. The new leadership in Cuba will face a stark choice — continue with the failed policies of the past that have stifled democratic freedoms and stunted economic growth — or take a historic step to bring Cuba into the community of democratic nations. The people of Cuba want to seize this opportunity for real change and so must we.
“I would say to the new leadership, the people of the United States are ready to meet you if you move forward towards the path of democracy, with real, substantial reforms. The people of Cuba yearn for the opportunity to get out from under the weight of this authoritarian regime, which has held back 11 million talented and hardworking citizens of the Americas. The new government should take this opportunity to release political prisoners and to take serious steps towards democracy that give their people a real voice in their government.
“The American people have been on the side in the Cuban people’s struggle for freedom and democracy in the past and we will be on their side for democracy in the future.
“As president, I will engage our partners in Latin America and Europe who have a strong stake in seeing a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba, and who want very much for the United States to play a constructive role to that end. The United States must pursue an active policy that does everything possible to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and opportunity in Cuba.
“The events of the past three days, including elections in Pakistan and Kosovo’s declaration of independence, are a vivid illustration of people around the world yearning for democracy and opportunity. We need a president with the experience to recognize and seize these opportunities to advance America’s values and interests around the world. I will be that president.”
“Today’s resignation of Fidel Castro is nearly half a century overdue. For decades, Castro oversaw an apparatus of repression that denied liberty to the people who suffered under his dictatorship.
“Yet freedom for the Cuban people is not yet at hand, and the Castro brothers clearly intend to maintain their grip on power. That is why we must press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections.
“Cuba’s transition to democracy is inevitable; it is a matter of when — not if. With the resignation of Fidel Castro, the Cuban people have an opportunity to move forward and continue pushing for the moment that they will truly be free. America can and should help hasten the sparking of freedom in Cuba. The Cuban people have waited long enough.
“Let us hope that the long ruthless dictatorship of Fidel Castro is truly over, and that freedom and democracy may come to Cuba.
Replacing one dictator with another, as appears to be the case, isn’t the answer to the repression, brutality and fear produced by five decades of Castro. But that doesn’t diminish the hope for or the efforts toward the day when the Cuban people can choose their own leaders and enjoy the freedom that Castro so relentlessly denied.”
“This is not the cause for celebration that some would believe. This does not represent the replacement of totalitarianism with democracy — instead, it is the replacement of one dictator with another. In essence, today’s action makes official what has been in place for a while now, with Raul continuing to lead the same iron-fisted regime that his brother brought to power almost 50 years ago. Just because the dictator is now named Raul instead of Fidel, it doesn’t mean that the regime’s repressive rule will automatically change.
“What this move does perhaps present is a moment of hope. Raul does not have the same relationship with the Cuban people as Fidel, and now is the time to challenge him. Cubans who have been clamoring for change may see this as the opportunity to peacefully protest and make their aspirations known. The recent activism of Cuban youth wearing white “Cambio” bracelets is a reflection of that desire for change.
Here in the United States, it is a time to further nurture the human rights activists, political dissidents and independent-minded journalists inside of Cuba who have the capability to stoke the movement toward freedom.”
“It is important to realize that, as of this time, there has been no change in totalitarian Cuba.
Fidel Castro has been critically ill and immobile for over a year and a half. Accordingly, he has decided to relinquish the titles of “President” of his “Council of State” and “Commander in Chief”. But in totalitarian Cuba, Fidel Castro’s absolute power is not based on titles.
The dictator’s written declarations have the effect of totalitarian decrees, whether signed with the title “Commander in Chief” or “Comrade”, or simply with his name. What we all need to be concentrating on is the urgent need for a democratic transition in Cuba, beginning with the liberation of all political prisoners, the legalization of all political parties, labor unions and the press, and the scheduling of free, multiparty elections. Let us not get confused with the dictator’s titles or lack of them. For now, nothing has changed in totalitarian Cuba. It is time for the international community to unite to press for freedom for all the political prisoners and for free elections in Cuba.”
“The reign of Fidel Castro marked a brutal and dictatorial chapter for the Cuban people,” said Flake. “Let’s hope that his resignation opens a new chapter.”
“Whether that new chapter will be open, however, largely depends on a new approach to Cuba by the U.S. Government. The U.S. embargo gave Fidel a tremendous advantage in terms of lengthening his tenure. Let’s not give his successor the same advantage by keeping the embargo in place.”
Congressman Flake, a critic of the U.S.’s current Cuba policy, believes that the most effective way to hasten democratic reforms in Cuba is to ease trade and travel restrictions currently imposed by the U.S.
“With Castro’s resignation, Cuba’s darkest days could finally be coming to an end, opening up a new age of possibility for the Cuban people and Cuban-American relations. But a possibility is not a guarantee.
“Whether Raul Castro, or another, is named successor, we should not consider lifting the embargo until Cuba frees political prisoners, respects human rights and allows independent civil organizations. However, we should not sit back and wait for the successor to act; there are steps we should take now to support the Cuban people and to start to put in place a strong foundation for freedom and free enterprise.
“First, we should allow increased travel of Cuban Americans to the island for family or humanitarian visits. Second, we should expand family remittances from Cuban Americans to include extended family. Third, we should allow U.S.-based companies and non-profits to send remittances to Cubans to support small business, and we should establish an Enterprise Fund, like the ones we set up after the end of communism in Eastern Europe, to jump start small and medium-sized private enterprise. Finally, we must establish direct mail service to Cuba.
“The Cuban-American community has a lead role to play in these efforts. Together, we can build the kind of bright future Cuba’s people deserve after decades in the dark.”
“Fidel Castro’s welcome resignation provides a new opportunity to revisit our failed Cuba policies and put U.S.-Cuba relations on a new path,” said Baucus.
“It is time to get our Cuba policy right for America’s farmers and ranchers — including those in my home state of Montana, who are ready to sell their goods to Cuban buyers — and for families across the Florida Straits by beginning to ease trade and travel restrictions now.”
Last summer, Baucus — along with Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Representatives Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), introduced legislation to make it easier for U.S. farmers and ranchers to sell their world-class products to Cuba by easing restrictions on travel to and payment from Cuba.
Baucus held a hearing on the “Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2007” on December 11, 2007, and is working with colleagues in the Senate to move the bill forward this year.
An independent International Trade Commission study commissioned by Baucus found that removing U.S. export restrictions would increase the annual U.S. share of CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s agriculture imports to as much as nearly 70 percent, representing an annual boost of over $300 million in U.S. agriculture sales.
“The resignation of Fidel Castro is a reason to hope that freedom is closer than it was when he was the public face of an oppressive regime, but is not a guarantee of a democratic future for the people of Cuba.
As Cubans at home and those living abroad continue their efforts to create a true democracy in their nation, all of us in the international community should continue to encourage the aspiration of the Cuban people for liberty — the fulfillment of which is long overdue.”
— Steve Clemons