By denouncing America and exploiting Cuba’s strategic location, Fidel Castro became a monumental player on the world stage, but New York politicians on Saturday stressed the brutality of his reign.
Castro, who died Friday, ran Cuba under his own brand of communism from 1959 to 2008.
“He basically stood for a tyrannical dictatorship, the violation of freedom, of human rights,” Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said.
Warning against romanticizing or mourning Castro, King called the former Cuban president “an evil dictator who carried out a reign of terror against his own Cuban people and attempted to subvert democracies throughout Latin America.”
“Fidel Castro ran a harsh dictatorship, denied freedom to the Cuban people and could not deliver economic growth,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) also focused on the suffering Cubans faced under Castro.
“Fidel Castro hurt many people during his life and suppressed his own people to selfishly consolidate his own power,” Zeldin said.
Right from the start of Castro’s 1960 trip to Manhattan for a United Nations session, he departed from diplomatic traditions, staying at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem. King’s father, NYPD Sgt. Peter E. King, served on the security detail during the trip.
“I just remember my father saying how wild it was in the hotel,” King said. “They had chicken in the room, a lot of drinking.”
Castro further ignited controversy by meeting with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Malcolm X and the poet Langston Hughes — and by attacking American imperialism in a lengthy United Nations speech.
King’s father told his son police were concerned Castro’s enemies would try to assassinate him — the same problem they faced guarding Khrushchev.
“Both actually had enemies in the United States,” King said. “But . . . everybody went home safe.”
All three Long Island politicians said Castro’s death might finally allow Cuba to restore freedoms and rebuild its economy.
“Hopefully we are approaching the end of a very dark chapter in the history of a nation with limitless potential to thrive with liberty and opportunity,” Zeldin said.
King said Castro’s demise might create “an opportunity to have some sort of productive dialogue with the Cubans.”
To show good faith, Cuban President Raul Castro should extradite Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper but who escaped to Cuba and was given refuge there, King said.
Schumer noted President Barack Obama already has thawed relations between the two nations by easing a decades-old trade embargo.
Now that Castro’s era has ended and Obama “has charted a new path to the future for our two nations, we hope that this engagement and his successor changes Cuba for the better,” Schumer said.