President Obama, who took the historic move of restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than 50 years of severed ties, said Saturday that the U.S. extends "a hand of friendship" to the Cuban people as they deal with Fidel Castro's passing.
"We know that this moment fills Cubans — in Cuba and in the United States — with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation," the president said in a statement. "History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him."
Castro died Friday at age 90.
The U.S. severed ties with Cuba in January 1961 during the Eisenhower administration in opposition to Castro's communist regime. Obama became the first president in more than 50 years to visit the island nation. He traveled to Cuba in March of this year after announcing in December 2014 that he had ordered the full restoration of diplomatic ties.
"For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements," Obama said Saturday. "During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends — bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba."
The U.S. still has an economic embargo against Cuba that only a vote of Congress can lift. However, Obama has moved to ease restrictions to try to create more economic opportunities between the two nations. Commercial airline flights between the U.S. and Cuba began last summer.
"Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people," Obama said. "In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America."