President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday called Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro a "brutal dictator," but made no overt mention of earlier threats to roll back a historic rapprochement with the communist island nation.
Castro died Friday night aged 90 after defying the United States during a half-century of iron-fisted rule.
He "oppressed his own people for nearly six decades," Trump said in a statement. "Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."
Trump's shock victory earlier this month has cast uncertainty over two years of work by President Barack Obama to end more than 50 years of Cold War enmity between the two countries.
"While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve," Trump said in a statement.
He did not mention Obama's policy, saying only "our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty."
The United States restored diplomatic ties with Cuba in July 2015 and re-opened its embassy in Havana a month later, signaling an end to more than a half-century of Cold War enmity with the communist island. Obama made a landmark visit to Cuba in March.
Blocked from ending the US embargo on the island by a Republican-controlled Congress, the president has pushed smaller reforms using executive authority.
That means Trump, who takes office on January 20, will be able change course just as easily, potentially reinstating trade and financial restrictions and reversing developments such as the resumption of air and cruise-ship travel, and postal service.
During his campaign, Trump threatened to reverse the rapprochement if Cuba didn't budge on the sensitive issue of human rights and free political prisoners.
Cuba says it refuses to be dictated to by foreign powers.
"All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands," the Republican real estate billionaire said in September.
Obama on Saturday said the United States is extending "a hand of friendship to the Cuban people" following the death of Fidel Castro.
"During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us," he said.
His warming of relations with Cuba has been criticized by many of the politically influential Cuban exiles and their families living in the United States.
Trump's closest rival in the Republican presidential primary race, Texas Senator Ted Cruz -- whose father is Cuban -- said on Facebook that Castro's death "cannot bring back his thousands of victims, nor can it bring comfort to their families."
"Today we remember them and honor the brave souls who fought the lonely fight against the brutal communist dictatorship he imposed on Cuba," Cruz said.
Another Trump primary challenger, Florida Senator Marco Rubio -- who is also Cuban-American -- called Castro an "evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people" and turned Cuba into an "impoverished island prison."
"The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not," he added, calling on Congress and Trump's future administration to support Cubans' "struggle for freedom and basic human rights."
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another conservative Cuban-American who represents southern Florida's 27th district where many Cuban exiles live, hailed Castro's death.
"A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western hemisphere," she wrote on her website. "We must seize the moment and help write a new chapter in the history of Cuba; that of a Cuba that is free, democratic, and prosperous."
But Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, urged Trump to "continue the policy of opening travel and communication with Cuba."