President-elect Donald Trump has condemned the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba, and after the death of leader Fidel Castro, he called him a “brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.” Trump has also vowed to withdraw from diplomatic relations if he believes his new demands go unmet in the future. We speak with Peter Kornbluh, co-author with William LeoGrande of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to today and the response of the U.S. leaders. You had President Obama actually tweeting, I believe, after Donald Trump, the president-elect, did. First, he [Trump] tweeted, “Fidel Castro is Dead!” exclamation point, then condemned the late Cuban leader. In a statement issued hours after Castro’s death, the statement read—not clear who wrote it or tweeted it: “[T]he world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castrol’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.” And then—that was Donald Trump. This is Donald Trump’s senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway.
KELLYANNE CONWAY: We’re allowing commercial aircraft there. We pretend that we’re actually doing business with the Cuban people now, when really we’re doing business with the Cuban government and the Cuban military. He’s been very clear that the major priority now is to make sure Cubans on Cuba have the same freedoms that Cubans here in America have, which is political, religious and economic freedom, make sure those political prisoners are finally released into freedom, and make sure the American fugitives face the law.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Kellyanne Conway. Peter Kornbluh, can you respond to her description and also talk about what this means for today, as this all takes place in this period leading into a Donald Trump presidency, and what this means?
PETER KORNBLUH: I can. But let me just follow up on Lou Pérez’s point by saying a very personal anecdote. When news, very early Saturday morning, came in that Fidel Castro had died, I spoke to a very special friend of mine from Peru, and she said to me, “For all—most of my life, he was a hero to me for standing up to the United States.” And certainly throughout Latin America and much of the Third World, that, I think, was a prevalent thought about Fidel’s passing. He stood up to the United States. He gave pride, nationalism, self-determination, sovereignty, independence to Cuba, but also created a model and an aspiration for many other peoples and many other countries in the Third World that had been under the thumb of the United States for many years.
You know, we’re in a very delicate moment right now with the election of Donald Trump. Trump, in September, went to Miami and tried to garner hardline Cuban-American votes by saying that he was going to rescind and reverse all of the executive orders that Barack Obama had made to move the process of normalization of relations with Cuba forward, and that he would reverse those, that process, unless the Cubans gave in to our demands, gave in to our—and made concessions to the United States. And I can tell you, from being in Cuba often, that the word “concession” is a true four-letter word in Cuba. It leads to almost an explosive negative reaction, the idea that Cuba would ever make any concessions to the United States. That is the pride they have in their revolution. What Obama has done is not made a bad deal with Cuba. He hasn’t made any deal with Cuba at all. He had said to the Cubans, “We are going to move forward in the interests of U.S. policy, in the interests of our relations with the rest of Latin America and in our own interests that we should have a different relationship with you, and we think it’s going to have an impact on your society, on your economy and on your politics over the long term. But we’re going to move forward towards normal relations, and you can join us if you want, or if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
And the Cubans have always wanted normal relations with the United States. The secret declassified history of Fidel’s efforts to reach out to the United States, in between speeches denouncing imperialist Yankees, is very clear in the book that Bill LeoGrande and I did, Back Channel to Cuba. Fidel wanted the validation for the Cuban revolution of having a peaceful coexistence with the United States. And as Lou Pérez so importantly pointed out, Cuba preferred not to live in the shadow of the security threat from the colossus of the North. They would much prefer not to have the threat of U.S. intervention hanging over them. And that’s what normal relations would eventually mean to them. And now we have a situation where Trump may want to roll back these great gains, that are happening this very moment with these direct flights to Havana and tens of thousands of Americans going—
AMY GOODMAN: Landing as we speak for the first time, direct flights.
PETER KORNBLUH: Landing as we speak. I mean, this is a dramatic moment, and it’s really the moment in which U.S. citizens and citizens around the world are going to have to really organize to press for a continuation of this very important process of peace and dignity and harmony between the United States and Cuba, which is now being threatened by the position of the incoming president, Donald Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the description of Fidel Castro as a brutal dictator, Peter?
PETER KORNBLUH: Well, listen, Fidel Castro was an authoritarian. He ruled with an iron fist. There was repression and is repression in Cuba. In his—in Fidel’s kind of argument, he did it in the name of a different kind of democracy, a different kind of freedom—the freedom from illness, the freedom from racism, the freedom from social inequality. And Cuba has a lot of very positives that all the other countries that we don’t talk about don’t have. There isn’t gang violence in Cuba. People aren’t being slaughtered around the streets by guns every day. They defeated the Zika virus right away. There is universal healthcare and universal education. So, this is the debate over the legacy of Fidel Castro. But the more—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to—we’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you so much for being with us. And then we’ll continue this discussion. Thanks to our guest Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, co-author of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana. Thanks to Lou Pérez, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. And Bill Fletcher, columnist for BlackCommentator.com, founder of the Black Radical Congress.
And that does it for our show. I’ll be interviewing Bernie Sanders tomorrow on the show. Please send us your questions at email@example.com. And check out our 20th-anniversary celebration December 5th; check our website, democracynow.org.