Nation/World

After Castro's death, Cuban exiles cheer in Miami while Havana stays silent

HAVANA, Cuba – Just as they were during the long and sprawling life of Fidel Castro, global leaders and ordinary people were divided Saturday over the legacy of late Cuban revolutionary leadersome hailing him as a liberator; others cursing him as a dictator.

In Miami, the island's exiles and their children and grandchildren took to the streets, banging pots and pans, waving American and Cuban flags, and celebrating in Spanish: "He's dead! He's dead!"

In the morning hours on Saturday in Havana, the streets were quiet just hours after Castro's brother and successor, Raúl, announced that the former dictator died at 10:29 p.m. Friday. He did not give a cause of death.

Castro's enemies have long imagined that his death would potentially produce a crisis on the island. But ill health forced Castro to renounce his executive functions in 2006, and his brother Raul, 85, has been running Cuba since then.

The government has had years to prepare for Castro's death, and a nine-day period of mourning has been declared, heavy with revolutionary symbolism.

Castro's body will lay in state Monday and Tuesday in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution, where Cubans will be able to "pay tribute and sign a solemn pledge to fulfill the concept of Revolution," according to a statement in the Communist Party daily, Granma.

After a mass gathering in the plaza planned for Tuesday, Castro's body will be carried to Santiago de Cuba, at the eastern end of the island, reversing the journey that his bearded rebels made in January 1959 after seizing power.

Castro will be cremated on the morning of Dec. 4 and laid to rest at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, the site of the tomb of Cuban national hero José Martí and other 19th-century independence leaders.

A hush seemed to fall over the capital as Havana residents woke up to the news of Castro's death on Saturday. There were no visible signs of Cubans gathering to discuss the news; there were no public moments of mourning. Police and soldiers sealed off access to the city's central plaza where most of the headquarters of the Communist Party and government buildings are clustered. But there was no heavy security deployment visible in the city's streets.

Cubans who were out shopping or heading to work went about their business. Castro was once a near-daily presence in their lives, giving lengthy televised speeches and leading them in countless marches against American "Yankee imperialism," but in recent years he had receded dramatically.

The last time most Cubans saw Fidel Castro – at a gathering of the Communist Party in April – he was in a wheelchair. Cubans have been watching him fade away for years.

"It's a huge loss for us," said Jose Candia, 70, who woke up to the news and took his dachshund for a walk along the Malecon sea wall.

Candia and other elderly Cubans dedicated their entire lives to low-paying government jobs that demanded absolute loyalty and discipline.

"I think of his bravery. His honesty. I've been committed to him all my life," said Yolanda Valdes, 75, a history teacher. Tears began running down her face. She said she'd been crying all morning. "I adored him," she said.

As the news spread in Havana, the popular Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez tweeted, "the silence deepens, it is dawn, but fear is palpable in the air. Complicated days are coming . . ."

"He is not here, he's gone, we have survived Fidel Castro."

Cuban state TV began airing marathon documentaries about Castro's life and times.

He defied the will of 10 U.S. presidents before President Obama held out an olive branch this year that included a visit to Cuba and a resumption of travel from the United States. American tourists are now pouring in; there are direct flights from Miami.

President-elect Donald Trump, who has been critical of the normalization of relations with Cuba, responded with a succinct tweet: "Fidel Castro is dead!"

Obama seemed to take the middle path. "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. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him," the president said in a statement.

Obama noted the long and acrimonious history. "For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements," he said. "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."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtine (R), whose political career in South Florida has been built upon her opposition to the Castro regime, was tweeting in the early morning in English and Spanish.

"After so many decades of oppression the tyrant Castro is dead and a new beginning can finally dawn on Cuba and its people," she wrote.

In Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, celebrators outside of the Cuban restaurant Versailles chanted, "Fidel, take your little brother with you!"

The Miami Herald reported the mood in "the cradle of the Cuban exile community was one of pure, raw emotion. This time, after decades of false alarms, Castro's death was real."

But across Latin America, leaders spoke mostly kind words. Some stirred with revolutionary passion; others employed more diplomatic language. All acknowledged the iconic role of the Castro in the region's history.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hailed Castro as "a friend of Mexico, a promoter of a bilateral relation based on respect, dialogue and solidarity."

The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, said that 60 years after Castro and small band of fighters set sail aboard a fishing yacht called Granma, from Mexico to Cuba, to launch the revolution, "Fidel has joined the immortals."

Maduro – whose own revolution has imploded since the death of predecessor and Castro ally Hugo Chávez and the onset of hard economic times – said Castro's death should inspire "all us revolutionaries to honor his legacy."

"Hasta victoria siempre!" he typed, employing the popular slogan "ever onward, to victory!"

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa tweeted: "A great man has left us. Viva Cuba! Viva Latin America!"

Cuban American baseball slugger Jose Canseco reminded his fans that he was an exile. "Can't say I feel anything for his death," Canseco wrote. "There is a reason many defected to USA."

Miami Herald columnist and longtime Castro watcher Andres Oppenheimer, who wrote "Castro's Final Hour" in 1993, wondered whether history will absolve Castro or vilify him.

Social media users debated Castro's legacy. Some focused on the inspiration he gave oppressed people in Latin America and praised Cuba's health-care system and universal literacy. Others condemned Cuba's lack of freedom and democracy, and its moribund economy.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed Castro's dueling legacies. "A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation," Trudeau said in a statement. "While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro's supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for 'el Comandante.'"

Castro, who struggled for years with a mysterious ailment, prepared his people for his approaching death in April, while addressing the Communist Party of Cuba.

"I'll be 90 years old soon," Castro told his comrades. "Soon I'll be like all the others."

In the speech, Castro defended his legacy: "The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them."

Other leaders far from Cuba paid homage. South African President Jacob Zuma thanked Castro for his support to overthrow the country's apartheid regime. IndianPrime Minister Narendra Modi called Castro "one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century" and a "great friend" of India.

Palestinian diplomats posted photographs of Castro with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to the Cuban president that read in part, "The name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history."

Spain's foreign ministry called Castro "a figure of great historic importance . . . who marked a great turning point in the destiny of his country and had great influence across the region."

In Brazil, newspapers recalled that the Brazilian government was quick to recognize the new Cuban regime in 1959, just months after Castro came to power. In recognition, Castro visited the new capital of Brasilia that President Juscelino Kubitschek was building. But after Brazilian generals established a military dictatorship in 1964, Castro didn't return for decades.

As news of his death spread Saturday, Brazilian leftists lamented his passing and shared a YouTube video of a typically long speech Castro had made at a Rio university in 1999. But others recalled Castro's human rights abuses and hoped his death would not feed into Brazil's polarized political environment.

"A dictator who sent gays, gypsies and political opponents in general to be killed behind walls or left to rot in Military Units to Aid Production without any right to defense," Sao Paulo filmmaker Bruno Jorge wrote on Facebook.

Former leftist president Dilma Rousseff praised Castro's legacy in a blog post.

"Dreamers and progressive militants, everyone who fights for social justice and for a less unequal world, we all woke up sad this Saturday," she wrote. "Fidel was one of the most important contemporary politicians and a visionary who believed in the construction of a more fraternal and just society, without hunger nor exploration, and in a united and strong Latin America."

Other politicians in Brazil reacted according to script.

Franklin Martins, a communications minister in the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, fought in the armed resistance to Brazil's dictatorship. Martins trained in Cuba after taking part in the kidnapping of Charles Burke Elbrick, in Rio, in 1969. On Saturday, he praised Castro in an interview with the Estado de S. Paulo news site.

"The Cuban Revolution had a symbolic importance," Martins said. "He showed it was possible to defeat the dictatorships of Latin America, which were always supported by the United States. And Fidel symbolized this idea that it was possible to fight and win."

The Washington Post's Anne-Marie O'Connor in Jerusalem and Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

 

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