As news of Fidel Castro’s death spread throughout the United States, hundreds of people critical of Castro cheered – including elected officials who have been vocal critics of the dictator’s reign.
Three U.S. senators are Cuban-American – Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and two men who battled for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).
All three quickly put out statements that spoke of the tragedies of Castro’s six decades in power.
Rubio said on NBC on Sunday that nothing had changed in Cuba since Castro’s younger brother, 85-year-old Raul, has been in charge for nearly a decade.
“His death is a historical milestone, but Cuba today is governed exactly the same way it was governed 48 hours ago,” Rubio said. “The younger Castro is 85. His No. 1 interest is making permanent this system of government, because they have an extended network of family and friends who depend on this for their income. They want this system of government to become the ideal way to run an island nation.”
Rubio said he planned to work with President-elect Donald Trump to roll back many of President Barack Obama’s changes to the Cuban embargo.
“I’m just against unilateral changes for which we get nothing in return for our country or on behalf of the Cuban people,” he said. Changes “should be specifically tied to something that we’re doing over here. Not to mention freedom of the press, freedom of information.”
Rubio’s parents came to the United States in the 1950s. The senator grew up in predominantly Cuban West Miami, according to The Washington Post’s Katie Zezima.
On Saturday, he had harsh words for Castro and his regime.
“Fidel Castro seized power, promising to bring freedom and prosperity to Cuba, but his communist regime turned it into an impoverished island prison,” Rubio said in a news release. “Over six decades, millions of Cubans were forced to flee their own country, and those accused of opposing the regime were routinely jailed and even killed.
“Sadly, Fidel Castro’s death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted. The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not. And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro; it will remember him as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people.”
In an editorial in Politico, Cruz called himself “the son of a Cuban who was beaten and tortured by Batista’s regime, and my aunt was likewise brutalized by Castro’s thugs.”
Cruz’s father, Rafael, migrated to the United States from Cuba in the 1950s. He worked as a dishwasher while teaching English and then put himself through the University of Texas, according to The Post.
“Fidel Castro’s death cannot bring back his thousands of victims, nor can it bring comfort to their families,” Cruz wrote on social media. “Today we remember them and honor the brave souls who fought the lonely fight against the brutal Communist dictatorship he imposed on Cuba.”
During the campaign, Cruz wrote in Politico that the United States should stand with Cuban dissidents: “In Cuba, the Castros have been the implacable enemies of the United States for more than half a century. It is in our interests to make common cause with the brave souls who oppose them.”
Menendez was born in 1954 to immigrant parents, The Post’s Michael E. Miller wrote. His mother was a seamstress; his father a carpenter.
“With the long hours, my parents got up early and were home late,” he wrote in his 2009 book, “So when classes were over, I was on my own. The order of the day was to go home, lock myself in, and do my homework until my parents arrived.”
Menendez’s rise from poverty to power culminated in the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From that seat, he was a frequent Castro critic.
“Since he took power over half a century ago, Fidel Castro proved to be a brutal dictator who must always be remembered by his gross abuses of human rights, systemic exploitation of Cubans, unrelenting repression, and stifling censorship upon his own people,” Menendez said Saturday in a statement.
“Fidel’s oppressive legacy will haunt the Cuban regime and our hemisphere forever. Under the Castros’ reign, Cubans have not had one single free election. Not one Cuban has been allowed to fully own his or her own company. Not one legitimate trade union has been allowed to be organized. Not one peaceful protest has occurred without being brutally squashed by the regime,” he said. “This was Cuba’s reality when the Berlin wall fell and it continues to be its reality in 2016.”