Fidel Castro, the Communist Cuban who loomed large over Latin America for nearly five decades, has died at age 90. His brother Raul announced the death late Friday night.
Castro is perhaps the most controversial political figure in modern Latin American history. His supporters saw him as a tireless hero for the poor, while his detractors saw him as a ruthless, repressive dictator who destroyed Cuba’s economy and was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands.
As the Miami Herald noted in their very worthwhile obit, “Few national leaders have inspired such intense loyalty — or such a wrenching feeling of betrayal […] He held a unique place among the world’s leaders of the past century. Others had greater impact or won more respect. But none combined his dynamic personality, his decades in power, his profound effect on his own country and his provocative role in international affairs.”
In the hours since Castro’s death was announced, his divisive legacy has been reflected in the outpouring of mixed reactions from Cubans. Outside Miami’s Versailles restaurant and on the streets of Hialeah, Cuban exiles and Cuban-Americans whose families were torn apart by the regime took to the streets to celebrate. Spontaneously shutting down SW 8th street between 35th and 37th avenues, they banged pots and pans, popped champagne, and jubilantly honked their car horns. In Havana, on the other hand, the streets were much more quiet – with some mourning somberly, others seemingly indifferent.
This divided reaction was also laid out in the Op-Eds that have since been published in newspapers and blogs all over the Americas. Below, we’ve pulled some of the Cuban voices who have wielded their pens – or keyboards, as it were – to express and process what Fidel Castro’s death means:
"There is no RIP for Fidel Castro in Miami. Just good riddance."
In the Miami Herald, Fabiola Santiago writes, “I’ve been waiting all my life for this moment. Finally, the traitor whose Communist rule uprooted me from all I knew and loved and brought me to these shores with a broken heart is gone.”
Describing the six decades of totalitarian rule under the Castro brothers that motivated some of Miami’s celebration, she urges readers, “Don’t judge us harshly. Give us this moment. Our exile is his doing. There’s no RIP from us for the embodiment of evil in our collective and personal histories.”
"The Last Great Revolutionary"
Cuban blogger and professor Harold Cárdenas Lema writes, “When the news broke I didn’t want to believe it, it hurt as much as I knew it would – there are some things that overtake all else. No foreigner can truly understand that for Cubans, the subject of Fidel is more emotional than it is rational – and that’s considering that I prepared myself for this day. I’m a practical Marxist who knows objective reality, the meaning of life and the laws of dialectics. But nothing prepares you.”
"Farewell to Cuba’s brutal Big Brother"
In the Washington Post, author and Yale professor Carlos Eire parses the discrepancy between those who mourn and those who praise Castro’s memory.
He writes, “Deceit was one of Fidel Castro’s greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world’s greatest frailties. A genius at myth-making, Castro relied on the human thirst for myths and heroes. His lies were beautiful, and so appealing. According to Castro and to his propagandists, the so-called revolution was not about creating a repressive totalitarian state and securing his rule as an absolute monarch, but rather about eliminating illiteracy, poverty, racism, class differences and every other ill known to humankind. This bold lie became believable, thanks largely to Castro’s incessant boasting about free schools and medical care, which made his myth of the benevolent utopian revolution irresistible to many of the world’s poor.”
"The Old Revolutionary Died Long Ago"
Miriam Celaya, of Cuba’s 14ymedio, writes from Havana, “Finally, we’ll get clarity on whether the prophecy that ‘Cuba will truly change once Fidel has died’ is true or false – because for nearly all Cubans it’s usually more comfortable to wait for changes wrought by nature than it is to take a risk and make the change for themselves. Nations that are embarrassed of their destinies tend to lay the blame of their collective irresponsibility on the backs of Satraps.”
"In the U.S., We Rebuilt What Fidel Destroyed"
Writing for NBC News, Carmen Pelaez examined Miami as a symbol and proof of Castro’s failure. “As I walked through the crowds in front of the famed Miami Cuban restaurant Versailles in the early morning hours of Saturday, I wondered what it would look like to people who don’t know much about Cuba,” she writes.
“What they would think as they watched hipsters, grandpas, recent arrivals and historical exiles bang on drums and pots and pans? Would they think we were barbaric for celebrating the death of a human being? Or would they understand that our chants for ‘Libertad! Libertad!’ is more of a prayer than an expectation for thirteen million human beings whose freedom comes with an asterisk.”