For Cuban exiles, Thanksgiving came a day late.
That’s how one local Cuban characterized the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro late Friday night.
As Miami grappled with the news into Saturday, most while out celebrating on Calle Ocho, thoughts turned to a future without the man that has defined Cuba — and South Florida’s relationship with the island — for nearly five decades.
While Castro’s death serves as a symbolic severance of the ties that bound the country to its communist dictator, his influence as a leader, at least, has dimmed in the past decade. Castro ceded control of the island nation to his brother Raul in 2006.
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In terms of politics, many locals said change is unlikely in a Cuba still controlled by a Castro. Of most concern to them and Cuban family members on the island, is the future of the United States’ relations with its island neighbor under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. In a statement early Saturday, Trump said his administration “will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.” He has previously said he is against President Barrack Obama’s rapprochement with the country, pledging to reverse Obama’s executive orders until freedoms are restored in Cuba.
In submissions to the Miami Herald via the Public Insight Network, South Floridians reflected on Castro’s death, its symbolism in their lives and what comes next.
“A person should never celebrate another person's death, but the death of this communist marks the end of a horrid and painful history for the Cuban people.
I am thinking of family members who did not live to see this day and who died with the painful memories of the life and youth they lost. I am thinking of my parents who educated me on the horrors of the Cuban revolution and today celebrate the end of a dark chapter. I am thinking of my sister and cousins who fled Cuba as children never to return again. Finally, I am thinking of my future children and how I will have a duty to educate them about the actions of this evil man and how hate and envy lead to destruction.
As a Cuban American, this marks the end of a painful chapter, but the real work has only begun. Cuba is still a Communist dictatorship and Raul Castro will ensure his brother's legacy is protected. This is a only a symbolic end. Now, the Cuban people have to decide what happens next.”
Arianna Mendez, Doral
“Castro's death is completely inconsequential in my life. He's been out of the picture for over a decade since he stepped down. By far, my family in Cuba is more worried by the incoming administration in the U.S — I have just spoken to them.”
Chaz Mena, Coral Gables
I am 54 years old, I arrived at the age of 6. The first and only time I saw my father cry was on the plane as we left his home for the last time. That day is still etched in my mind. I remember the old timers who had their suitcases packed because the revolution was going to end soon and they would return. One, by one, the have all died, and that day has not come. I remember, people saying that they would take out the pots and pans and celebrate the death of the tyrant. Well, last night it finally came.
It is bittersweet, because my father is no longer with me (he would have been 89 today). My mother is plagued by old age and forgetfulness. Yet if they were here they would not have ever been able to recover the days and moments that they lost because of their separation with their families. My mother's mother died, while my mother could not be at her side. My uncles, many refused to leave because by doing so they would have to leave many loved ones behind, so they endured the conditions. I grew up without knowing my first and second cousins.
In essence, his death reaches down deep and unleashes lots of emotions. Although, I don't feel proud of rejoicing in the death of anyone, I am unrepentant in my joy because it is not just for me it is for all of those who could not see the day. I pray for the land of my birth and for the people who still call it home. I pray that some day, they can taste a life that is free any despot where they can work to find happiness rather than the next meal or a better life. I pray that they no longer have to risk their lives to find the promise of a better life just 90 miles away. I pray for them.
Jose Companioni, Kendall
“I doubt anything will change. More than two generations have lived under Communist rule, and the death of one person isn't likely to change anything overnight.
I left in 1962 as one of the Pedro Pan kids. My father left a few months later on a rickety boat, right after the missile crisis. And my mom left a year or so later via Spain. We reunited in 1964 in Puerto Rico, where we lived until 1976. I only wish my parents had lived to see this day, but personally I feel removed from it. Also, I find it rather disturbing for anyone to be celebrating someone's death, even Castro’s.”
Nora Martinez, Pompano Beach
"It does not mean much, [except the] end of an era. I do not live in the past, I do not live with rage or resentment. I want Cubans in the island to have a better future.
My only fear is Trump: Will he respect the positive steps taken by President Obama or will he obey the inhuman demands of the so called Cuban-Americans in Congress? That is what worries me."
Bernardo Gutierrez, Kendall
“My family left because father was an Air Force Pilot. Along with other pilots he was arrested by Castro and went to trial. They were sentenced to 30 years. My father was a political prison for 20 years. He came to this country at age 52, went to night school and got his electrical engineering license. [He] opened his own business, worked for the county as well. He died in May after living the American dream and being free for over 30 years.
Nothing will change until there is a free Cuba without any of the Castros or their cronies. It just is a significant moment to finally see the end of someone who has caused so much harm die. A glimmer of hope for a free Cuba. May my country of birth know democracy and freedom, liberty and justice for all soon once again. I am grateful to have been adopted by this wonderful nation. God Bless America. VIVA CUBA LIBRE!”
Ana Lam, Coral Gables
“This is monumental. I have lived most of my life in Miami, and worked at the Guantánamo Naval Base, traveled to Cuba on environmental projects. This man as such a huge part of Miami history, always seemingly outsmarting the U.S. at every step (Mariel boat lift, Elian Gonzalez, death of Jorge Mas Canosa). This will change the landscape of our relations with Cuba. Here will be a shift of attitudes, and in Miami, more people will be willing to start a new relationship with Cuba.”
Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, Coral Gables
“Once both Castros are gone I foresee an evolution toward democracy, since most in the Congress were born after the revolution. With U.S.’s influence that evolution will be successful.”
Miguel Melgar, Sweetwater
“Our family left Cuba because my mother was working in the counter-revolutionary movement and my father was afraid that my mother would be arrested at any moment. My father had been a professor at Villanueva University and an economist, and he did not agree with where Castro was taking Cuba.
I asked myself how I felt and I felt incredible sadness. To think that I came to this country 55 years ago as a child thinking that we would be back in a few months only to realize years later that this was a permanent exile. This man was able to jail, torture, and maim hundreds, if not thousands, and destroy a prosperous country and turn it into the backwater country that it is today.
My parents, if they were alive today, would have probably felt the same way I feel.”
Maria Luisa Castellanos, Coral Gables
This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their insights with WLRN. Become a source at wlrn.org/topic/public-insight-network