MIAMI: Cuban-Americans poured onto the streets of Miami Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to cries of “Cuba Libre!” and “Freedom! Freedom!” as they celebrated the death of their nemesis Fidel Castro.
Revelers – many of whom had fled 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.
A series of memorials will begin Monday, when Cubans are called to converge on Havana’s iconic Revolution Square.
Castro’s cremated remains will then go on a four-day procession through the country, before being buried in the southeastern city of Santiago on December 4.
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.
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 – areas where many Cuban exiles settled – saw people dance, hug, and exchange comments like “it took so long,” and “now it’s Raul’s turn.”
“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.
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 Cuban-American Aymara 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.
“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.
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 rail 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 still on, 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.”
“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 Sen. 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, 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.
Cuban-born entertainers also got into the act, with musician, producer and entrepreneur Emilio Estefan, husband of singer Gloria Estefan, exclaiming, “for Cuba, one morning dawned with a new sun full of hope.”