Sunday 17 December 2017

Trump in threat to reverse relations with Cuba

US President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty
US President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty

Harriet Alexander and David Lawler Havana and New York

Donald Trump yesterday threatened to reverse the restoration of diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba unless the Cuban regime makes concessions to Washington.

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the US as a whole, I will terminate deal," the president-elect said in a warning on Twitter.

That deal was struck in 2014 by President Barack Obama and Raul Castro, the Cuban president, and led to embassies being restored, expanded trade and an increase in travel between the two countries after a half century of frozen relations.

In the days after the death of Fidel Castro - Raul's brother and the Cuban leader for a half century - Mr Trump and his top advisers have foreshadowed a hawkish approach to the Communist island.

It came as tens of thousands of Cubans poured into Plaza de la Revolución in Havana yesterday, queuing in the baking sun for hours to pay their respects to Castro.

Standing solemnly in a line that snaked on two sides around the plaza, winding out of the square like giant tentacles, many had arrived at the scene hours before dawn broke - bringing umbrellas for shade, photos, and placards proclaiming their adoration.

With his ashes under lock and key in the ministry of defence across the road, a shrine had been set up inside a chamber beneath the giant statue of Jose Marti, Cuba's independence hero.

Flanked by a purple curtain and protected by ornately-dressed military guards, a wreath of white flowers was placed beside a black and white photo of Castro in his guerrilla days, gazing out across the mountains.

Canons were fired on the hour to mark the day of mourning, blasting out from the fort at the mouth of the bay of Havana and echoing along the Malecón seafront.

"Fidel was my first love," Teresa Avello Bardez (80) said, who had queued since 6.30am to file through the square. "I give him eternal thanks. He was a giant of humanity, and can never be forgotten."

The carefully orchestrated scene in the plaza had been many years in the planning, and will be continued today - his revolution in essence coming full circle, with Castro bidding farewell from the same square where he proclaimed himself Cuba's leader.

Tomorrow, a procession of his ashes will set out from the plaza, travelling 1,100km, the length of Cuba, for burial on Sunday in Santiago. The route will retrace his "Caravan of Liberty" - the journey he made from Santiago to Havana in 1959, to announce that his guerrilla army had taken over.

Precise points on the voyage were yet to be confirmed, but it was expected to pass through historical sites such as the Bay of Pigs, Santa Clara - scene of an epic battle led by Che Guevara - and his birthplace of Biran, 100km north of Santiago.

World leaders are split over whether to attend the funeral. Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, announced yesterday that he would not attend, days after his warm comments about Castro caused a backlash. British PM Theresa May will not be travelling to Cuba, and last night Mr Obama's spokesman confirmed he would stay away.

Mr Trump condemned Castro on Saturday as a "brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades". "Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights," he said in a statement.

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