Miami revelers celebrate ‘Freedom!’ at Fidel Castro’s death
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Miami revelers celebrate ‘Freedom!’ at Fidel Castro’s death

‘It took too long,’ say exiles in largest Cuban-American community, as people of all ages dance in the streets

People dance together as they react to the news of the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro outside the restaurant Versailles on November 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America/AFP)
People dance together as they react to the news of the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro outside the restaurant Versailles on November 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America/AFP)

MIAMI, Florida (AFP) – Cuban-Americans poured onto the streets of Miami early Saturday to cries of “Cuba Libre!” and “Freedom! Freedom!” celebrating the death of their nemesis Fidel Castro.

Revelers — many exiled by Havana’s communist regime — honked car horns, banged on pots and drums, and danced, cried, and waved Cuban flags in a crush of communal euphoria.

Castro died late Friday, his brother Cuban President Raul Castro announced on national television around midnight.

In Miami — home to the largest concentration of Cuban-Americans in the United States — the news spread quickly and with fervor.

“It’s sad that one finds joy in the death of a person — but that person should never have been born,” said Pablo Arencibia, 67, a teacher who fled Cuba 20 years ago.

“Satan is now the one who has to worry,” because “Fidel is heading there and is going to try to get his job,” joked Arencibia amid the loud party-like atmosphere.

A person holds a poster printed by the Miami Herald with a headline that reads that the former Cuban President Fidel Castro is dead, outside the restaurant Versailles on November 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)
A person holds a poster printed by the Miami Herald with a headline that reads that the former Cuban President Fidel Castro is dead, outside the restaurant Versailles on November 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

Sensing the historic moment, younger revelers streamed the event on Facebook Live, posted pictures on Instagram, and broadcast the celebrations on FaceTime and Skype to friends and relatives on the island.

Little Havana and Hialeah — Miami neighborhoods where many Cuban exiles settled — saw people dance, hug, and exchange comments like “it took so long,” and “now only Raul is missing.”

“Cuba Libre” — Free Cuba — has been a rallying cry for exiles ever since the Castro brothers took over Cuba in 1959. The rum and Coke drink of the same name, however, predates the Castro regime.

Some two million Cubans live in the United States, nearly 70 percent of them in Florida.

Pajama party

The late-breaking news roused some out of bed to join the street party in pajamas.

Some sang the Cuban national anthem. Others shook up bottles of champagne and sprayed fizz among the revelers.

People of all ages gathered, mostly of Cuban descent, but also some Americans.

“It’s a major moment for the Cuban community and I’m with them,” said a retired Florida native named Debbie. “I live in Little Havana and this is a big part of our lives. The community always comes together here.”

Debbie and her friend Aymara, a Cuban-American, celebrated outside the Cafe Versailles, where exiles met for decades to plot their return to the island and strategies to protest the Castro regime.

“He should have died a long time ago! He’s a criminal, a murderer and a wretched being!” screamed 78-year-old retiree Hugo Ribas in a voice full of rage mixed with euphoria.

Cuban Americans celebrate the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the streets of the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida on November 26, 2016. (Rhona Wise/AFP)
Cuban Americans celebrate the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the streets of the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida on November 26, 2016. (Rhona Wise/AFP)

“The brother should have died too — in that family they’re all criminals!” added Ribas, who has been in Miami for four years.

“It took too long,” said Cuban immigrant Analia Rodriguez, 23, who has lived in Miami for a decade.

“There was too much pain and too many broken families, and now — I’m happy!” she laughed as her boyfriend streamed the conversation with AFP on his mobile phone.

Cuban President Fidel Castro speaks during the 6th Session of the Cuban Parliament at the Conventions Palace in Havana on December 22, 2005. (AFP PHOTO/Antonio LEVI)
Cuban President Fidel Castro speaks during the 6th Session of the Cuban Parliament at the Conventions Palace in Havana on December 22, 2005. (AFP PHOTO/Antonio LEVI)

Arencibia noted the mix of generations in the crowd, which was unlike the group of elderly Cuban exiles who gathered just weeks ago to hear then-candidate Donald Trump fulminate against the Castro regime.

“Those people who said that the exile community is one of old men, they should see here that… the desire of a democratic and progressive Cuba is a wish of all Cubans,” she said.

‘It lasted too long’

By noon on Saturday, the party in Little Havana was undiminished, with young and old waving Cuban flags, cheered on by drivers honking horns.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said he was joining Cuban-Americans across the country “who are incredibly hopeful for the future of Cuba.”

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a campaign rally at the Rohan Recreation Center on March 13, 2016, in The Villages, Florida. (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images/AFP)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a campaign rally at the Rohan Recreation Center on March 13, 2016, in The Villages, Florida. (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images/AFP)

“After decades of oppression, the Cuban people deserve freedom, peace and democracy,” the Republican added in a statement.

He was joined by the Cuban-American Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who called Castro an “evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people” and turned Cuba into an “impoverished island prison.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida. (AP/Harry Hamburg)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida. (AP/Harry Hamburg)

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another Republican Cuban-American who represents southern Florida’s 27th district where many Cuban exiles live, also 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.

But beyond the celebration for the end of an era, many Cubans in Miami were not hugely optimistic about the island’s future.

“It took too long,” Aymara said of Castro’s death, adding, “I don’t think it will change anything.”

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