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The Headline that Waited 20 Years

Binyamin Rose

Castro’s death and the Jews

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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HISTORY IN MOTION Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro passed away from natural causes in Havana at age 90 on November 25, 2016 (Photos: AFP/Imagebank)

C onsidering that more than half of America’s 2 million Cuban expatriates live in Miami-Dade County, the Miami Herald’s 16-page supplement on the death of Fidel Castro didn’t come as much of a surprise. For decades, Miami’s Cubans who fled Castro’s regime have prayed for the day Castro would die, so the Herald was well prepared for November 25, when the Communist leader passed away from natural causes in Havana at age 90.

Fidel Castro first took power in 1959, when he led a coup that ousted a US-supported government. Failing health forced Castro to step down for good in 2008, appointing his brother Raul to succeed him.

It’s standard for major newspapers with large staffs to prepare comprehensive obituaries of famous people well in advance of their deaths, to avoid a major scramble at deadline.

Behind the scenes, Politico reported, the Miami Herald devised a “Cuban plan” more than 20 years ago. “Every Herald editor throughout the decades, at least half a dozen, carried a hard copy of ‘the plan,’ just in case,” says the Herald’s executive editor Mindy Marqu?s. “Reporters and photographers knew their assignments. They also knew, as a former reporter tweeted, that ‘every vacation, weekend, and holiday plan came with a caveat: unless Castro dies.’ ”

The Herald staff can start enjoying weekends again, but for Cuba’s 11.4 million people, little change is expected.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau: “Despite his known disapproval of any form of anti-Semitism in Cuba, he was friends with the archenemies of the Jewish nation, including Yasser Arafat”

Much has been said of Fidel Castro’s relations with his nation’s 1,000 Jews.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Israel’s former chief rabbi, met Castro in 1993, two years after Cuba amended its constitution, redefining itself as a secular state, not an atheistic one. In a 2008 interview, Rabbi Lau told Mishpacha he found Castro to be a riddle: “Mainly due to the paradoxical fact that despite his known disapproval of any form of anti-Semitism in Cuba, he was friends with the archenemies of the Jewish nation, including Yasser Arafat.”

When Rabbi Lau tried to probe, Castro was dismissive: “The Arabs give me oil.”

Castro refused Rabbi Lau’s request for permission to import kosher meat. He said that would be showing favoritism to Jews in a country where meat is rationed. However, Castro did permit a shipment of matzos, calling it “a religious product and not food.”

Raul Castro began a process of economic liberalization in 2011. The pace picked up after President Obama began normalizing relations two years ago, but other than the tourist industry, Cuba’s economy is still stuck in the doldrums.

Cuba won’t find America friendlier under Donald Trump. Upon learning of Castro’s death, Trump tweeted: “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

United States relations with Cuba are still governed by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which keeps the longstanding US embargo in place until the Cuban government disbands some of its nastier intelligence and security institutions, establishes an independent judiciary, holds competitive elections, and shows respect for civil liberties.

Raul Castro, no spring chicken himself, is due to step down in 2018 when he reaches age 87. But his handpicked replacement, Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, is another hard-line Marxist cut from Cuba’s revolutionary mold. So don’t expect any of the reforms the US has demanded to improve relations any time soon.

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