Fidel Castro, leader of communist Cuba for half a century, has died at the age of 90. The news of his death comes less than two years after US President Barack Obama took the most substantial actions in decades to ease the tense relationship between Cuba and the US, and follows the election of Donald Trump, raising many questions.
Though given less attention than Castro’s death, in other news this week the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons released documentation confirming that it sent a delegation to a “black site” in Afghanistan in 2002, where bureau officers provided “basic correctional practices training” to CIA personnel overseeing the facility, informally known as the Salt Pit. The bureau reportedly noted that “there is nothing like this in the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” and one would hope this to be the case, given that at least one detainee at the Salt Pit, Gul Rahman, was tortured to death.
While President Obama made some progress on US-Cuba relations, one area where he fell embarrassingly short of his campaign rhetoric was in his promise to close the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which became a worldwide symbol of American excess and hypocrisy in fighting the early post-9/11 War on Terror. President-elect Trump, meanwhile, has a different view of Gitmo. Last December he said that at the very least he “would leave it just the way it is,” but added that he would “probably fill it up with more people that are looking to kill us.” He has also said of Guantanamo that “we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”
As to whether “some bad dudes” detained at Guantanamo could include US citizens charged with terrorism, Trump has once again left the door open to taking unprecedented action, saying that if Americans charged with terrorism were to be tried by military commissions at the US base in Cuba, “that would be fine.” Trump has also made clear on several occasions his “love” for waterboarding, an “enhanced interrogation” method widely considered throughout the world to be torture and banned by the US government for the past several years.
“I like it a lot,” Trump said of the practice in June. “I don’t think it’s tough enough.” He has said that he “would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” because “torture works.”
After speaking with retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis this week, however, Trump “was surprised” by the general’s answer to his question about the effectiveness of waterboarding. Trump said Mattis told him that in his experience, “give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.” Mattis is said to be a potential candidate for Secretary of Defense, and Trump is now reportedly “reconsidering his previous support for bringing back waterboarding,” according to US News & World Report.
While the New York Times went as far as saying that regarding “the issue of torture, Mr. Trump suggested he had changed his mind about the value of waterboarding after talking with James N. Mattis,” close observers of Trump’s statements also note that he didn’t commit to anything. “I’m not saying it changed my mind about torture” he reportedly went on to say of his talk with Mattis. At this point it should probably go without saying that everything Trump says needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
Following news of Castro’s death, “it remained unclear,” according to Reuters, “whether Trump would continue efforts to normalize relations with Cuba or fulfill a campaign promise to close the U.S. embassy in Havana once again.”
“The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” Trump said in his statement. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
“While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long,” he said, also noting his “hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.”
As we can all recall from watching The Godfather Part II, of course, pre-revolution Cuba was an up-and-coming haven for jet setters and mobsters, with Havana serving as something like a little Las Vegas in the Caribbean until Castro’s communist forces ushered in a new order in the late 1950s. For someone like Trump — a real estate tycoon with reputed mafia connections and a penchant for bragging about the millions he’s made through his empire of hotels, golf courses and casinos — the allure of post-Castro Cuba may be too much to resist, despite assurances that White House lawyers will make sure Trump avoids conflicts of interest once in office.
With the right kind of luck, Trump will turn the entire island of Cuba into a non-stop brothel-casino-adventure theme park stretching from Havana to Guantanamo Bay — it will be huge, believe me — where world leaders and the forgotten men and women of America alike can dream of playing golf with the commander-in-chief one minute, the next being cuffed and carted onto a bullet train bound for the torture chambers. Such a vision for the future of “a free Cuba” is surely in line with the basic precepts of President-elect Trump’s plan to Make America Great Again, and all of the more nuanced details of that plan that he’s outlined thus far.