Castro’s Legacy in Puerto Rico

A Story of Two Islands

People walks pass a graffiti of Cuba's late president Fidel Castro in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba December 3, 2016. Enrique de la Osa / Reuters

There were few causes closer to Fidel Castro’s heart—and none more likely to arouse the ire of his country’s superpower neighbor—than the status of Puerto Rico, which came under U.S. control after the Spanish–American War in 1898, the very same conflict that led to Cuba’s independence. Given Cuba’s own experience with Spanish rule and U.S. occupation, the Cuban leader was always ready to champion decolonization.

But with an increasing chorus of prominent individuals—from politicians such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez, to celebrities such as Ricky Martin and Lin-Manuel Miranda—calling for President Obama to commute the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, the alleged leader of the FALN (a militant Puerto Rican separatist group), Castro’s support for radical Puerto Rican “independistas” deserves renewed scrutiny.

Castro considered Cuba and Puerto Rico “two wings of the same bird,” as the Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodriguez de Tio, put it; “They receive flowers and bullets into the same heart.” Indeed, Castro echoed this line during a secret meeting with U.S. officials in Havana in 1978, calling Cuba and Puerto Rico “two islands of the same sea, and two daughters of the same history, with a common language and culture and association with Latin American, not Anglo-Saxon, countries.” He believed that this shared history precluded perpetual U.S. control over the island. “From the depths of our hearts,” he continued, “we reject the idea that Puerto Rico could be a state of the United States.” In the following decades, Cuba publicly pressed for independence for Puerto Rico.

Just how far Castro took this policy, however, remains a matter of debate. Questions still loom about the extent of Cuba’s covert support for violent Puerto Rican separatists such as the FALN, based in the United States, and the Macheteros, based in Puerto Rico. Some on the left have argued that accusations about the FALN’s Cuba connections are part of an attempt

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