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Fidel Castro: The thorn in Washington's side

AFP file photo | Cuban leader Fidel Castro

The thaw in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States began in 2014 under the leadership of Barack Obama and Raul Castro. While Fidel Castro never publicly opposed the move, he never stopped speaking out against his arch foe.

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Castro, who died on Friday night at the age of 90, was throughout his lifetime praised from many quarters as an anti-imperialist hero unafraid to defy the United States.

While he steered the small Caribbean island away from Washington’s sphere of influence and thwarted an infamous US-backed invasion of the island in 1961, Castro nevertheless lived long enough to see the two countries re-establish diplomatic relations and limited trade ties.

The first key milestone in the rapprochement came in May 2015, when the US removed Cuba from a list of countries supporting terrorist groups.

In July, the two countries then opened up embassies in their respective capitals.

When Obama visited Havana in March 2016 – holding direct talks and an awkward press conference with Raul Castro – it was the first time a US president had set foot in Cuba in 88 years.

The historic visit did not include a meeting with Fidel, whose appearances had become increasingly rare due to illness since he stepped down from office in 2008. The Cuban revolution’s historic leader did not attempt to thwart the diplomatic thaw, but he never stopped his virulent trademark criticism of Washington.

Less than a week after Obama's trip, the ageing leader said that the Cuba would “never not forget its past confrontations with the United States”, in an essay published in the Cuban press, defiantly adding that "we don’t need any gifts from the empire.”

'US owes Cuba compensation'

Several months later, on the occasion of his 89th birthday, Fidel Castro announced that the US owed Cuba millions of dollars for the US-imposed embargo dating back to 1962.
“Cuba is owed compensation equivalent to damages, which total many millions of dollars, as our country has stated with irrefutable arguments and data in all of its speeches at the United Nations,” he wrote.

Exactly one year later as Castro turned 90, he used the opportunity to once again lash out at Washington, reminiscing over its failed attempts to kill him while he was in power.

"I almost laughed at the Machiavellian plans of the American presidents," said Castro, who according to Cuban intelligence services, was the target of more than 600 US assassination plots during his five-decade rule.

According to Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue group, Castro’s death may lead to a greater opening up of Cuba.

“[His death] will take the weight off Raul [Castro], who will no longer need to worry about contradicting his big brother,” Shifter told the AFP on Saturday.

With Fidel now unable to play spoiler, the ball appears to be in Washington’s court. The Cuban embargo, which has crippled the island economically, can only be completely lifted by US Congress.

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