Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half-century rule, died at age 90, eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday on state television.
He survived long enough to see Raul Castro negotiate an opening with President Barack Obama in 2014, when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since they were severed in 1961. He cautiously blessed the historic deal in a letter published after a monthlong silence.
Cubans took to social media shortly after Castro's brother announced his death to share their reactions and their personal histories with the Cuban leader. Late Friday night, crowds took to the streets in Little Havana, Miami, yelling "Cuba libre!" and "Libertad!"
On Saturday morning, shortly after 8 a.m. ET, President-elect Donald Trump reacted to the news with a tweet that read, "Fidel Castro is dead!" During his presidential campaign, Trump had said he would reverse Obama's deal to reopen diplomatic relations unless the Cuban regime restores political freedoms and frees political prisoners.
Fidel Castro is dead!
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2016
He later released a full statement, calling Castro a "brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades." Trump said his legacy is one of "firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."
His statement continued: "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."
Trump said his administration will do "all it can to ensure Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty" and ended his statement on the hope of "one day seeing a free Cuba."
Also on Saturday morning, President Obama released a statement on Castro's passing, addressing the powerful emotions his death brings for Cubans in Cuba and in the U.S.
"For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements," the statement reads. "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."
Read @POTUS's statement on the passing of Fidel Castro: https://t.co/ihVoLdqbRQ pic.twitter.com/sPZfvpeQVB
- The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 26, 2016
Andy Garcia, who directed and starred in The Lost City, in which Gonzalo Menendez delivered one of several big-screen portrayals of Castro, released a statement Saturday to The Hollywood Reporter:
"It is necessary for me to express the deep sorrow that I feel for all the Cuban people both inside and outside of Cuba that have suffered the atrocities and repression caused by Fidel Castro and his totalitarian regime. The promises of his so-called revolution of pluralism and democracy, were and continue to be apromise and a betrayal of all basic human rights," he said. "The executions, persecution and imprisonment of political dissidents and the LGBT community, denial of free press, elections and religious freedoms, continue to be his legacy. He claimed that history would absolve him, but it can also condemn him."
Garcia, who was five years old when he fled with his family from Cuba to Miami, continued: "I stand as I always have with the Cuban people who love, cherish and celebrate liberty. Hard-working, helpful people who open their hearts and homes to all, whether in Cuba or in exile. I pray for what I have always prayed for: the restoration of our constitution and absolute freedom for the people of Cuba. That dream is very much alive, that fight is very much alive. Let the spirit of Jose Marti and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. show us the way."
See other reactions on social media below.
I was born in Cuba and Fidel Castro was our leader. Came to the USA because of him.
- Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) November 26, 2016
Can't say I feel anything for his death. There is a reason many defected to USA
- Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) November 26, 2016
#FidelCastro dead at 90 #Cuba pic.twitter.com/wo6caxgNDY
- Daisy Fuentes (@DaisyFuentes) November 26, 2016
RIP to everyone's favorite television mom, Fidel Castro.
- billy eichner (@billyeichner) November 26, 2016
#BREAKING Grab your pots and pans, Miami. Fidel Castro is dead at 90.
- Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) November 26, 2016
Fidel Castro has died. Beloved and despised. A symbol of resistance against western imperialist oppression and labeled an oppressor himself
- Lupe Fiasco (@LupeFiasco) November 26, 2016
Although the death of a human being is rarely cause for celebration, it is the symbolic death of the destructive ideologies that he espoused that, I believe, is filling the Cuban exile community with renewed hope and a relief that has been long in coming. And although the grip of Castro's regime will not loosen overnight, the demise of a leader that oversaw the annihilation of those with an opposing view, the indiscriminate jailing of innocents, the separation of families, the censure of his people's freedom to speak, state sanctioned terrorism and the economic destruction of a once thriving & successful country, can only lead to positive change for the Cuban people and our world. May freedom continue to ring in the United States, my beautiful adopted country and may the hope for freedom be inspired and renewed in the heart of every Cuban in my homeland and throughout the world. Aunque la muerte de un ser humano es raramente causa para celebrar, es la muerte simbólica de las ideologías destructivas que el patrocinó que, en mi opinión, están llenando al exilio Cubano de esperanza renovada y un alivio que ha tardado mucho en llegar. Y aunque el agarre del régimen Castrista no se aflojara de un día para otro, el deceso de un líder que supervisó el aniquilamiento de aquellos con puntos de vistas opuestos al suyo, el encarcelamiento de inocentes, la separación de familias, la censura de la libertad de expresión, el esparcimiento de terrorismo sancionado por su gobierno y la destrucción económica de un país exitoso que prosperaba, solo puede llevar a cambios positivos para el pueblo Cubano y el mundo. Que la libertad siga viva en los Estados Unidos, mi bello país adoptivo, y que la esperanza para la libertad crezca y se renueve en los corazones de cada Cubano en mi tierra natal y a través del mundo./a>
A photo posted by Gloria Estefan (@gloriaestefan) on Nov 26, 2016 at 9:48am PST
Barbara Walters on the death of Fidel Castro: "He made clear to me that he was an absolute dictator and that he was a staunch opponent of democracy. I told him that what we most profoundly disagreed on was the meaning of freedom." #cuba #fidelcastro
A photo posted by David Muir (@davidmuirabc) on Nov 26, 2016 at 1:09pm PST
Read more: Fidel Castro's Cuban Government: A Timeline