Return to Transcripts main page


Former Cuban Leader Fidel Castro Dies At 90; Miami's Little Havana Reacts To Fidel Castro's Death. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired November 26, 2016 - 06:00   ET



[06:00:11] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We're so grateful to have your company. I'm Christi Paul.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell. We welcome our viewers from the U.S. and around the world. We begin with breaking news out of Cuba. Former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro is dead at the age of 90. His brother and Cuba's president, Raul Castro, made that announcement on Cuban TV. This video is from his 90th birthday celebration.

PAUL: In Havana, the streets are quiet. News slowly reaching people this morning. Many people waking up to this news today. The Cuban Revolutionary who installed a communist government in the country obviously is no more.

Look here, though, at what you're seeing happening in Miami. Very different atmosphere there. Cuban exiles to the state of Cuba are on the streets. They are cheering. They are waving Cuban flags. You can hear them banging pots and pans, and many of them, we've been hearing chanting freedom.

SAVIDGE: We have CNN's Patrick Oppmann in Havana. He is the only U.S. television correspondent in Cuba.

PAUL: So Patrick, I've been hearing that you have been actually been breaking the news to some of these people that you're talking to that Fidel Castro is dead. Help us understand what that's like for you and what's their reaction is, in that moment they realize that he's gone.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: People are just stunned. Even though Fidel Castro, of course, has been ailing now for a decade. There have been numerous false reports of his death. So many said when he finally did die, nobody would believe it, but that has not been my experience.

As I've now told many people throughout last night and this morning, the news of Fidel Castro that it really slowly trickled out here, after Raul Castro's surprise announcement. When I would tell them, they would be stunned, stiffen up, and look downcast.

One woman I told I've known for many years now who I know does not admire Fidel Castro just began to sob not because for the love of the man but the sense of finality and perhaps the weight of history on their shoulders and certainly what it means for the future of this island.

Now, we know what the next few weeks will bring which is a period of official mourning when you have an event like this in Cuba. Bars and restaurants are closed. Children are prohibited to sing in school sometimes.

Here, we'll see massive rallies in Havana and Santiago, the Cuba city that was really Fidel Castro's home when he grew up. And then his ashes, Raul Castro said that Fidel Castro will be cremated early this morning, will be transported, and will retrace the journey he took when his revolution took power across the island.

And of course, then, supporters came out along the streets and highways to welcome him, as his young charismatic revolutionary was driven to Havana to take control of this country, now he will retrace that route and a man who has been so controversial, so divisive, in Cuba, will be buried in Santiago, Cuba.

In just a few hours, you have to think when the sun rises over us, it rises over a very different Cuba and Cubans. It will take some time to fully absorb this news and begin to wonder about what this news means for their future.

SAVIDGE: All right, Patrick Oppmann, thank you very much.

Fidel Castro was born in August 13th of 1926 in Biran, Cuba. He led the Cuban revolution in 1959 turning that island nation into the first communist regime in the western hemisphere.

Castro ruled Cuba for nearly 50 years, first as prime minister and then as president. He was known for his long fiery speeches, military fatigues, and of course, cigars.

He brought social reforms to Cuba, but he's been widely criticized for oppressing human rights and freedom of speech. During his reign, thousands of Cubans fled the U.S. Health problems finally forced Castro to resign the presidency in 2008. He named his brother, Raul, as his successor.

The cold war era ruler lived long enough to see a historic thaw in the relations between Cuba and the United States. Joining me now is chief international correspondent, CNN's Christiane Amanpour in London. First, let me get your reaction, Christiane to the news.

[06:05:05]CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Martin, it was inevitable, 90 years old, ailing, everybody knew that one day Fidel would go. It is interesting that he outlasted ten U.S. presidents, but the last one, Barack Obama, has outlasted him and changed the dynamic, since 1959, when Cuba came under Castro's control and re-established those diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Of course, the embargo is still on. That can only be lifted by an act of Congress and it remains to be seen whether in fact that will ever happen in the foreseeable near term future. Of course, Castro put a communist dictatorship 90 miles away from the United States. The distance between Florida and Cuba is very, very short, and this revolution, right there, had so much trouble for the United States, not least, of course, in 1962, the Cuban missile crisis, but also influencing Latin-American countries all over the region.

And countries in Africa and elsewhere who were inspired by his anti- Americanism and anti-imperialism and revolutionary fervor. Of course, many, many others who opposed him and who were very, very upset with the kind of rule that he had inside of Cuba.

I think I was there in 1988, when he started to open the door just a teeny chink when he invited Pope John Paul II to Cuba. It was the first time a pope had ever come. It was a small opening of the door to the rest of the world and that was really a very interesting moment.

And just to follow on with what Patrick was saying about people getting the news, the writer and journalist, Anneliese Bartack (ph), has a friend in Havana, who reports that when the news came down, the night club that he was at said we have major news, we are stopping our performance. Fidel Castro is dead.

In Cuba, they never stopped the music. So that was a major thing and then report of a lot of police presence in the streets -- Martin.

PAUL: You know, Christiane. It's Christi here. I know you had a rare interview with Castro's niece about the U.S.-Cuba deal. What was your reaction? Help us understand what that conversation was like, what was she like? What was the expectation?

AMANPOUR: Well, I did talk to her then and also earlier, as her father Raul Castro took over from Fidel and started to make a few reforms. Economic reforms and a tiny little bit of sort of a mini- liberation going on there. But is by no means achieved it and there's a huge, huge amount of work to do.

But Mariana Castro herself, being part of that family, it's a family dynasty. It's a family party. It's not even a one-party system. It's the Castro family that runs that island. She herself started to sort of lobby for a lot more freedom, for instance, for the gay community.

She was very, very into freedoms and respects for the gay community. And of course, at the beginning, they were considered illegal and heavily oppressed at the beginning of the Castro revolution. She was hoping that there would be a lot more between the world and particularly the United States.

So interestingly even though President Obama did sort of run around the State Department and held these cards very close to himself when he announced that almost two years ago now in December 2014, that when Obama went to Cuba with his family in march of this year, Fidel was sort of holed out of his sick room.

Off of his sick bed, wearing that bright blue track suit looking incorrectly frail, but going to the party to one last voice on his politics, and he denounced any idea of reform. And he was very critical of President Obama in an article after President Obama left.

But it is assumed that without his say-so and without his blessing, so to speak, his brother, Raul, would not have made that. Still, a real conflicted relationship between Castro's Cuba and the United States. Not to mention vice versa.

SAVIDGE: Christiane Amanpour, thank you very much. I know we'll be talking again with you throughout the morning. Thank you.

Ahead, we're live from Miami, where Cuban-Americans are inspired by what Fidel's death could mean for the future of Cuba.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been waiting for 56 years for this night. Thank God I have a day off after Thanksgiving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a very important day for me because you know what, my grandfather suffered a lot to see the man who took everything from him, to see him dead today. You know what, this has been an emotional day for me today, as a Cuban-American.




SAVIDGE: Welcome back. We continue with our breaking news coverage of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's death.

PAUL: In Little Havana, in Miami, his death is being tweeted as we see here. Take a look. There are smiles. There is cheering by Cuban exiles who escaped his regime.

CNN's Chris Moody and Alejandro Fonseca are joining us live. Chris, I want to start with you. I'm sure that you've talked with some these people in the crowd.

I will point out that U.S. Representative Arianna Ros-Lehtinen who was born in Havana, Cuba and represents Florida's 27 District there that what we are seeing isn't necessarily a celebration of his death, but, quote, "an opportunity to begin a new chapter of freedom."

Are you seeing that or are you seeing people seems to celebrate the fact that Fidel Castro is dead this morning?

CHRIS MOODY, CNN POLITICS SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: I think that's what a politician would say, but there are people in the crowd who are explicitly and absolutely celebrating the death of Fidel Castro. This is day, even though it might not have sparked change right now or immediately, a day that they have been waiting for a very long time.

So they've been out here in the streets all night. The sun is just now rising and people are still dancing in the streets and will continue throughout the day here in the part of Miami where so many Cuban exiles live.

SAVIDGE: Alejandro, what are you hearing from friends and family members?

[06:15:08]ALEJANDRO FONSECA, CNN WRITER, PRODUCER: It's -- I think, that what we're seeing -- what I'm hearing from friends and family at least my in-laws were originally from Cuba, and they kind of downplayed it, but at the same time, you could tell that this is a big moment for them.

They've fled their home. They had to start anew here. It's just bittersweet to know that the man who forced them out essentially has passed on now. Speaking with friends, I had a friend of mine today who was -- last night was fighting back tears knowing what his family lost following the revolution, what could have been.

Now at this point, it's just a "what if" for a lot of people, we're just wondering at this point, how the community moves forward, and if we can really patch up those open wounds that have been festering for so long.

PAUL: OK. So Alejandro, that's what I want to ask you about, as we look forward, what is the expectation of people like your wife, of your in-laws, as they try to craft in their minds what is forthcoming now that Fidel Castro has died? What is their expectation for Cuba and U.S. relations? And for them particularly who may still have family in Cuba.

FONSECA: Yes, Christi, I think there's been talk for years of just having open dialogue, freedom of expression, we have the women in white, who are constantly out on the streets, vouching for their husbands or for their loved ones who have been wrongfully imprisoned. They're political prisoners at this point.

And they are just hoping that at least that can move forward and we can start to do that, just the basic of needs and privileges that we have here in the states that they want for their family across the bay.

SAVIDGE: All right, Chris Moody and Alejandro Fonseca, thank you both for joining us. We will talk to you again as well. CNN correspondent, Boris Sanchez, is joining us on the phone. Boris, you were born in Cuba and you moved to the U.S. for political asylum with your family. We're wondering your thoughts this morning.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Good morning, Martin and Christi. Really, my thoughts are with my grandparents, to be honest with you because they've been the ones that have suffered the most. They've been praying for this moment for many, many years. They're not with us anymore, unfortunately.

There's no gray area. Some people exult him and believe that he stood as a figure that challenged, what they perceived as U.S. imperialism around the world. Many believe that what he's done in Cuba has been a success with the fact that Cuba has the highest literacy rates in the world. They have doctors that they send, again, all over the world, to assist in all kinds of emergencies. And then you'll find people that, as I said, were anxiously awaiting this day. I can tell you, as long as I can remember, my grandmother had an obscenely large Cuban flag that she was waiting to use. She kept it under her bed.

She was waiting for this day to go outside and pop open a bottle of wine and celebrate. Fidel took everything from here. She had a business and land in Cube. Shortly after he took power, it didn't belong to her anymore.

My grandfather actually fought in the Cuban revolution. He didn't fight on Fidel's side. He was in a different faction, but he risked his life to bring democratic elections to Cuba. After the revolution ended and Fidel took power, he saw the direction that things were heading and openly started to organize against Fidel.

As many have suffered the same fate over the years, he was thrown in prison. He's sentenced to 20 years in prison basically for speaking his mind. The interesting thing about that, he always considered himself lucky because so many of his friends were put in front of firing squads.

That's kind of the legacy that you get with Fidel. You have someone that some people see as an unbelievable leader, in the sense that he took this tiny island of about 11 million people and made it relevant on the world stage. He was a towering figure.

And then you also have people that have taken, as many belongings as they can carry and put them on a floating plank of wood to risk their lives in the ocean to get away from what this man created. So there really is no middle ground with Fidel.

My thoughts right now, of course, as I said, with my grandparents and my parents. In terms of political system, the real question is what's going to happen in 2018, where Fidel's daughter, Raul, has said that he will step aside.

[06:20:01]But in terms of political changes, it's mostly a symbolic figure. He's been mostly a symbolic figure for the past years. By the way, I can tell you, at least for my parents, today is the day they've been waiting for a very, very long time.

SAVIDGE: Boris Sanchez, thank you very much for what is both a politically insightful kind of rundown there but also a very personal as well. We thank you and again we'll be talking to you as well. Thanks.

PAUL: Our President-elect Donald Trump is threatening to undo efforts by President Obama to bring the U.S. and Cuba closer together. This was part of his conversation throughout the election. So what does Castro's death now mean for U.S./Cuban relations?


PAUL: We want to welcome you, our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Christi Paul.

SAVIDGE: And I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell. Breaking news this morning, former Cuban Leader Fidel Castro has died. He was 90 years ago old. His brother, President Raul Castro announced his death at 10:30 last night. He says that he will be cremated early this morning.

PAUL: Castro's death has prompted a mix of reaction in Miami, as you see here, there are smiles you see. There is also grief until other parts. Celebrations erupted overnight, though, in Miami, where many Cuban exiles view him as an enemy of human rights. They were popping champagne. They were cheering. Waving the Cuban flag.

In the meantime, Cubans declared nine days of mourning and that started about a half hour ago. Now world leaders are reacting to Castro's death.

[06:25:04]The president of Mexico, for example, tweeted this, "Fidel Castro was a friend of Mexico and promoted a bilateral relation based on respect, dialogue and solidarity."

The president of Ecuador have this say, quote, "A great one has gone. Fidel died. Long live Cuba. Long live Latin America." And the president of Venezuela said this, quote, "I just spoke with President Raul Castro to send him the solidarity and love for the people of Cuba with the departure of Commander Fidel Castro."

SAVIDGE: There is new reaction this morning to the death of Fidel Castro, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress tweeting, quote, "Tyrant and thug, Fidel Castro is dead. We must work for a Cuba that is free, democratic, and prosperous."

PAUL: Remember, Castro lived long enough to see a historic thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States, including the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana last year. Rafael Romo has more on that.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): Fidel Castro knew his days were dwindling telling Cuban communists before his 90th birthday this year, "Soon I will be like everyone else." After a near fatal illness in 2008, Castro turned the reigns of power to his younger brother, Raul.

As Cuba's new president began taking tentative steps towards reform, the U.S. began to ease its restrictions. But Fidel Castro was suspicious writing in January 2015 that although he does not trust U.S. policies and have not exchanged a word with them, this does not mean however that I will would oppose a peaceful solution to conflicts or threats of war."

In September of last year, Fidel met with Pope Francis and they talked about common problems of humanity that the pope had once condemned what he called Cuba's authoritarian and corrupt regime. In March this year, American President Barack Obama visited Cuba seven months after the two countries reestablished diplomatic relations. He met with Raul Castro but not Fidel.

At his 90th birthday party in August this year, a frail Fidel Castro appeared a theater named for Carl Marx and was shown in occasional photos with foreign leaders.

Fidel Castro came to power as a revolutionary inspired by Marx, but as he died, Castro was watching his revolution change in a way that was beyond his control. Rafael Romo, CNN.


PAUL: Let's bring in Juan Carlos Lopez, senior political correspondent for CNN Espanol. Juan Carlos, thank you so much for being with us. First of all, I want to get your reaction to the news. While it's something that I guess came as a surprise to many people in Cuba as reported Patrick Oppmann who broke the news to a lot of people in Cuba.

At the end of the day, the government has been planning for this, this is not a surprise necessarily at all. But from your perspective, when you heard that he had passed on, what was your initial reaction?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN ESPANOL SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I was surprised. I was asleep. I was awoken by the story and I couldn't believe that it was happening but, yes, Cuba had been preparing. The government had been preparing. Fidel Castro has been preparing.

And that speech that you showed right after President Obama had left Cuba, he had said goodbye to Cubans. This was expected. He was in poor health. The transition had started many years before.

So you see a very iconic figure survived of the 20th Century that survived the 21st century. That over lived at least in power ten or 11 U.S. presidents. And now he passes right before President-elect Donald Trump assumes the White House.

But, yes, you see a figure that is revered by many, hated by others, very conversational. But someone who is able to establish a communist government 90 miles from the U.S. and have that government survive through pressure and become a respected leader as he showed in those message from Latin-American leaders. It is a very, very big story. It is not surprising.

SAVIDGE: I know you were in Cuba in March when President Obama visited there, what were people saying about renewed relations with the United States?

LOPEZ: Well, you have to go back to 2014 when President Obama made the simultaneous announcement by Raul Castro. There was a lot of hope. People were really happy. President Obama is a very popular figure in Cuba.

But as time passed and they saw that changes weren't coming as fast as many expected, people have lost some hope but they still expect that things will change in the future.

After President Obama was there, everyone was acknowledging how important this was. But then you have Fidel Castro saying goodbye. It's a moment of transition for Cubans, they expect some things to happen.

But there is a perception both in some parts of the island and in segments, and also in the U.S. that things haven't advanced as fast as they could. The question is what would happen when the White House is occupied by someone different from Barack Obama who wanted to have his as part of his legacy and then goes to Donald Trump.

[06:30:00] PAUL: Yeah, and there are questions about how that -- that transition will be made. I want to just point out to our viewers that the picture they were just seeing there was the last known picture or public picture of Fidel Castro, ten days ago. He was -- he was meeting there with one of the other -- the humanitarian security council of the Vietnamese, I believe, leader, who had come to meet him.

So this is the -- this is the last picture, public picture that we have; 10 days ago, of Fidel Castro, but Juan Carlos, when we talk about change and you talk about it, we see -- what we're seeing in Miami, I don't know if we can pull up shots from Miami, if we have any, of what you've been seeing there this morning as people have been hearing this news, obviously the crowds are dissipating a little bit, but you can still see they're flying the American flag there; they've been very vocal chanting 'Freedom'.

How expeditious do you believe change may be? Because at the end of the day, Raul Castro will still be leading Cuba at least for -- is it the next year? Correct me here, is it the next year?

LOPEZ: The next year, yes.

CHRISTI PAUL: He announced the next two years. He announced he will -- he will stay in leadership and he will then pass on the baton.

LOPEZ: This is where it's very interesting, because Cuba had already started this process after Fidel Castro resigned in 2008. Raul Castro took over the government. He's been in front, and he's been the head of the re-establishment of relations with the US. But this was already a process that was ongoing, so there is no surprise there is no vacuum of power in Cuba right now. It will be interesting to see how Cubans react on the island once they find out when they wake up this morning. Many of them are finding out right now; what, if anything happens, different from people expecting that this would happen now.

Raul Castro is to Cubans their president, the leader of their government. He's the one in charge, they saw Fidel Castro from -- what we can get from speaking to people, from listening to them, they saw Fidel Castro as a figure of -- an important figure an influential figure. Someone who the government went for advice, but he wasn't the leader of the country anymore so it will be interesting to see the next hours not only in Miami, but also in Havana. BLACKWELL: Juan Carlos Lopez thank you very much for that. We'll

check back. Still ahead, we will talk with a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who knew Fidel, and he'll share what he knows about the late Cuban leader.


[06:36:03] BLACKWELL: From photos with the anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela and celebrated civil rights activist Mohammed Ali, the late Fidel Castro has been pictured in some of the most iconic of images.

PAUL: Yeah, and David Turnley, the man behind those famous photos is with us right now. David, thank you for taking the time to be with us. I know that you were worked with --


PAUL: Good morning -- that you've worked with Fidel Castro during some of history's biggest moments. First of all, I want to put up a picture here, and would you please tell us your experience in watching Mandela's inauguration and the -- I guess the reaction of the two; of Castro and Mandela. As I understand that there was a complete silence as they embraced. Is that correct?

TURNLEY: Yeah. On the day of Nelson Mandela's inauguration in 1994, which was, of course some approximately 30 years since Mandela had been given a life sentence, and spent 27 years in prison fighting for the end of apartheid in South Africa. Just after he was in fact inaugurated there was a luncheon for heads of state from around the world, and it was in a very large tent and everyone was seated. I remember I was actually kneeling next to Hillary Clinton and the delegation that had come from the United States.

People that I'd known from having spent time with President Clinton when he ran for president in 1992, and all of a sudden, in walks Fidel Castro, and really this whole group of people who had been obviously very much connected through politics, through history, to Fidel Castro, none of them had actually ever seen Fidel in person before. And what I think was probably very surprising to people is just the presence that he has. He's first of all extremely tall. He's like Nelson Mandela, he's about 6'3"-6'4", and they both have extraordinary wide shoulders and when he walks through the room, the excitement, and I remember the excitement in the American delegation.

They just all got big smiles on their faces. And he then greeted Nelson Mandela and the two of them were standing one in front of the other. Fidel had been very important for President Mandela and for the South African struggle in terms of the support that the struggle received from Fidel and the Cubans. And I think ideologically they just had such respect for what Fidel -- like, at least in their minds had represented in terms of the aspirations of certain views of equality. I think their view of Fidel was that he had -- he had conducted a revolution and it's a society that at that time really was very disparate in terms of opportunity. BLACKWELL: Let me -- I just want to bring this next photo of him,

because it's also quite remarkable when you took, and I know exactly what you mean about the electricity that goes through the room when Fidel walks in, I've in person felt it a number of times. But here you have Mohammed Ali and Fidel Castro, two highly charismatic people. What was going on in this photo?

TURNLEY: Yeah, so again, and it was so interesting with Fidel and Muhammad Ali. I'd gone to Cuba with Ali in the late 90s as was taking Mediterranean goods to the Cubans and they had a meeting, and again it's just -- it's always striking the times I've been around Fidel, and certainly in these two cases with Ali and with Mandela, it just -- interestingly again, Fidel was an athlete, and so that was an immediate connection that he had and that Ali had with him. And it's interesting you have two very strong men, who have been tremendous athletes in their lives with the kind of charisma that they both have, the electricity that, you know, the pulse that you experience is pretty amazing and they just love each other.

I had brought with me a book of photographs, all the kinds of work- piece that were photographs over 30 years of my work from around the world, and I presented it to Fidel at that time, and I speak Spanish, and he took the time to get through everything and he was fascinated by the geopolitical dynamics in every single image and wanted to discuss them. He was actually very grandfatherly in his way and could not have been more magnanimous in the time that I had the opportunity to speak with him.

PAUL: Well, David, thank you so much for sharing --

BLACKWELL: Your experience.

PAUL: -- your experiences. (CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: Appreciate it.

PAUL: Yeah, that's something that not a lot of people have had the opportunity to do so. We appreciate hearing your voice in this, thank you.

TURNLEY: Thank you very much.

[06:40:57] BLACKWELL: They take us far beyond just the, sort of official bio -- biography.

PAUL: Right.

BLACKWELL: It takes us into a person, thank you. Fidel Castro was a Catholic, before he was a communist, and he welcomed three Popes to be out on the Cuba with next Pope Francis's role in buying relations between Cuba and the U.S.


[06:44:41] BLACKWELL: We're following breaking news this morning, where the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died. He was 90 years old.

PAUL: Long before he was a communist revolutionary, Fidel Castro was a Jesuit, that's an order of religious men within the Catholic Church. Now as Cuba's leader, he welcomed three Popes to the island, most recently of course Pope Francis, also a Jesuit, last year. Now Pope Francis was instrumental in growing the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. And joining is right now live from Rome, CNN international correspondent Ben Wedeman.

So Ben, talk to us about how pivotal the role of the Pope was in his last meeting with Fidel Castro.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well certainly he was pivotible -- pivotal in the sense of really laying the groundwork for the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, which of course has been cut off since the early 1960s. Now, Pope Francis of course is the first Latin American pope. He's very interested in the relationships between the Latin, or the Latin America and the world.

But really when you look at the development of the relationship between the Vatican and Cuba, it's been quite interesting. For instance the Vatican did not cut off relations with Cuba when it officially became socialist in 1961. That was a year when the Cuban government cut down, rather shut down the Catholic University of Villanueva. It shut down 350 Catholic schools, it confiscated hundreds of churches.

Nonetheless, the Vatican maintained its relations with Cuba and it wasn't until 1996 when Pope John Paul-the second met with Fidel Castro, that things started to change in 1998. You had that historic visit by Pope John Paul-the second to Cuba and the relationship developed. In fact in the end, Pope John Paul-the second met with Fidel Castro five times and that really set the groundwork for this gradual improvement in relations and of course that relationship between the Vatican and Cuba was critical in re-establishing relations between Washington and Havana. Cristi, Martin.

PAUL: All right. Ben Wedeman, reporting live for us from Rome there. Ben thank you so much for that perspective.

BLACKWELL: Fidel Castro leaves behind a very different Cuba than the one that he held power for 47 years. Up next, we'll talk about how those years of defiance of the U.S. shaped the legacy of several American presidents.


[06:51:03] BLACKWELL: Welcome back. We're following breaking news this morning, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro dead ant 90.

The U.S. and Cuba have had a long and strained relationship that's only recently started to normalize, going back to 1960, not long after Fidel Castro took power, the U.S. launched a trade embargo against that island nation. In 1961 of course there was the Bay of Pigs, an invasion; a failed attempt to overthrow Castro. Tensions increased in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the

resulting nuclear standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In 1980, some 125,000 Cubans fled to Florida in what became known as the Mariel boatlift. And then in 2002 tensions remain high during the Bush administration with the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

One Castro or another has now rule to go over a period that spans seven decades and 11 U.S. presidents. Fidel Castro outlived six of those presidents, including John F. Kennedy Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

PAUL: Want to bring in CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley. He's joining us via phone. Douglas, first of all, your reaction to the news this morning that so many people making that out Castro has died.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well it's -- you know, nobody should be surprised. His health has been deteriorating for some while. He hasn't wanted to be photographed very often. He's been overseeing a new opening in this country with his brother Raul, which President Obama has been able to take some advantage of, and the fact that Americans now can go and travel to Cuba.

I teach at Rice University in Houston, and a group of our college baseball players are headed right now down there to play the first college baseball series in Cuba. So things have changed. But the point big about Fidel Castro is what you mentioned in the lead, and how he's outlived so many American presidents. I mean, it's just mind boggling to think that you are coming in when Dwight Eisenhower was president, and to adopt to this whole litany of U.S. presidents and still be in power.

So he's been a big part of the consciousness of all time, and a major figure in American history because during the Cold War, he offered alternative to people in Latin America to the United States. So he always made the United States his boogieman and promised to over -- some day overthrow Yankee in journalism, and he's attracted people in Latin America -- and later years his great friendship with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, where, you know, helps keep Cuba afloat. Once the Soviet Union pulled money out of Cuba, Venezuela started spending petro dollars there to keep the Castro government propped up.

But it's been -- he's been an enemy of the United States. Fidel Castro on the other hand, people have been mesmerized by his ability to survive, and the fact that he could run a dictatorship of times, just so close to American shores of Florida.

BLACKWELL: You point out Douglas that, you know, he referred to the U.S. as kind of the bogeyman of Cuba, but it also worked the other way around. There were a number of presidents that considered Cuba to be this arch enemy. There was just such a short distance off shores, so it justified military spending, it justified about a lot of things defensively.

BRINKLEY: Well, the problem became the Bay of Pigs with John F. Kennedy, and you know, Cuban exiles from the Battista regime were living in Florida. They trained to become their own military force or CIA backed that effort, and they invaded -- these exiled Cubans invaded Cuba early in John F. Kennedy's presidency and it was a boondoggle that failed. We considered it -- when I teach on John F. Kennedy, we talk about the failure of the Bay of Pigs disaster to the United States.

But if you go to Havana like I did, there's a museum there that celebrate the Bay of Pigs. Well, attention has started occurring and Cuba decided, well, we could be invaded again, we need protection. And they allowed the old Soviet Union to come in and start putting up ballistic missiles, building missile sites and that clearly did a terrible tension, in which led to the Cuban missile crisis. It's the most dangerous moment of the entire Cold War, with the United States in the Soviet Union the seeming could have gone to war.

[06:55:49]BLACKWELL: They could indeed. We're going to have to leave it there, Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian. Thank you very much.

PAUL: All right. You are watching breaking news coverage of the death of Cuba's Fidel Castro.

BLACKWELL: News Day continues after a short break.