Indeed, Fidel’s passing comes at a time of historic change for Cuba. In 2015, the U.S. and Cuba formally re-established diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostility. Since then, President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro have taken steps to improve relations. They’ve reopened embassies in each other’s capitals, exchanged prisoners, and relaxed some trade and travel restrictions.
But whether the U.S.-Cuba thaw will continue is uncertain. Donald Trump, who is set to become president on January 20, has pledged to undo many of Obama’s policy changes. He says the oppressive Castro regime doesn’t deserve to have closer ties with the U.S. until Cuba’s government allows Cubans to have greater freedoms.
It’s also unclear whether Raúl—who spent much of his life in Fidel’s shadow—will steer Cuba in a different direction. His brother’s death may give Raúl the freedom to pursue further economic and political reforms. But many Cuban-Americans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, don’t expect change anytime soon.
“Sadly, Fidel Castro’s death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted,” says Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants. “The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not.”
Still, the next few years are sure to be a time of transition. Raúl, now 85, has said he’ll step down from the presidency in 2018. His vice president, Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, is expected to take over. But how, or if, a new leader will change things remains to be seen.