MIAMI (WSVN) - It is the moment many in South Florida knew would come, and when Fidel Castro died late Friday night, the local Cuban-American community took to the streets to celebrate, remember loved ones and share stories.
7’s Skyforce HD hovered above the thousands who chanted “libertad” as they waved U.S. and Cuban flags and banged on pots and pans outside Cafe Versailles on Southwest Eighth Street, in Little Havana, early Saturday.
For Eliette Rodriguez, the occasion felt surreal. “You want it and you long for it, but you are not ready for it,” she said, “and when it happens, it’s like a dream.”
“I feel happy. I feel like I am celebrating the day of the devil,” said one man.
Kevin Simon said the joyous display makes it feel as if all of Miami-Dade Cuban-Americans were out on the streets. “Millions of people, several million in Dade County celebrating the man. Not his life, but his death,” he said.
The celebration got underway minutes after word got out of Castro’s passing. “This is news that people waited more than 50 years to hear,” said City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado. “The sad thing is, there are lot of people here who are coming on behalf of their grandparents and parents who could not see Fidel dead.”
Miami Police quickly shut down Southwest Eighth Street between 35th and 37th streets as the crowd grew to more than 3,500 people at one point.
Salma Bustamante brought her 89-year-old father Nemesio to Versailles to be part of the hundreds who, like him, escaped the Castro regime. “When I woke him up this morning and I told him, he was half asleep, but then after he got up, he goes, ‘¿Se murió? (He died?)'” she said. “I said yes, and he goes, ‘Vámonos. (Let’s go).'”
Bustamante showed 7News a framed photograph that of her family on the day they arrived in Miami in 1963. “This is myself, my mother, who passed away in March, and my sister, who was 6,” she said.
Bustamante said her father, a journalist, grabbed his family and got out of Cuba. “He had to leave, because they were after him for his life, because he was reporting the truth, the fair truth,” she said.
Diana Byerly also held up a family photo. “It’s my mom and dad. They both passed away, but I had to make sure they made it here,” she said.
Byerly said her parents came to the United States with nothing in the 1960s. She said she wishes they could be in Little Havana to witness history with these crowds.
“They would be joyful like we are, but they would also sad to think not a lot has changed there and people are suffering,” said Byerly.
Emotions ran high as multiple generations of family members celebrated together, like Fernando Crespo, who danced in the street with his young daughter. “She is going to understand the reason why she is here is because of all the sacrifices my uncle and my grandparents went through,” said Crespo, “so we could have the freedom of coming to the United States and she could be born.”
One man said the Castro regime fostered fears that he has carried with himself for decades. “This was indescribable. This was evil incarnate that has passed away,” said Domingo Alfonso.
“We’re celebrating the end of a man who separated so many families throughout the years, a man who killed many,” said Carmen Gonzalez del Valle.
One woman remembered her late husband, who was there during the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. “He would feel the same as I feel, very happy. He is celebrating up there,” she said.
“I don’t like celebrating anyone’s death, but I feel like we are celebrating, not the death of a human being, but the death of a dictatorship,” said one man. “Hopefully a chance for Cuba, a step in the right direction.”
Castro’s death also brought to the surface a lot of emotions for the Cuban-Americans who lined the street in front of La Carreta near Bird Road and Southwest 87th Avenue, in Westchester.
“I’ve been waiting for this day since I was 6 years old,” said Santiago Llano. “[I’m] elated, just joyous. I know it’s not right to want someone dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.”
7News cameras captured people waving U.S., Cuban and Venezuelan flags and cheering loudly for hours as cars passed by honking their horns for hours.
One woman held a picture of Sergio Perez, a loved one who, she said, died as a prisoner during Castro’s rule.
“Cuba libre para todos los cubanos. Arriba la libertad. (Free Cuba for all Cubans. Long live freedom),” said a woman as she waved her Cuban flag for 7News cameras.
Also making his voice heard was U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla. who is Cuban-American. He joined the growing crowd Saturday in front of La Carreta.
“This day represents a new beginning, hope for all the people of Cuba,” said Curbelo. “All the victims of Fidel Castro, people who suffered over 58 years, of course, are celebrating. Anytime a dictator dies, those who were oppressed by him will celebrate.”
But not everyone in his family are here to witness this moment. “We’re here today in representation of so many people in my family who were never able to see this day,” he said. “They lived every day hoping to see the day their country could take the step toward freedom and democracy.”
Cuban-American resident Norma Barcelo brought her elderly mother so she could experience the historic occasion. “She’s 93 years old, and look at her. She came because she has been a woman taking care of her children all by herself since 1958. [A] fire squad [shot] my father in 1962.”
Broken families who persevered told 7News they came together on the side of the road to feel strength in numbers, to send a message and to share their hope for a free Cuba.
In Hialeah, Lourdes Orozzo was unafraid to celebrate alone. She picked a street corner and held her flag high. “I couldn’t wait to come out and show my feelings,” she said. “My parents are dead, but you know what? I’m sure they see from up there. They finally got their gift.”
“Fidel Castro did one thing right in his life,” said Byerly. “[He] died on a Saturday, one day when we could all be here and not at work and not at school.”
Some revelers returned Sunday morning to get breakfast at the very place they were celebrating at hours earlier. Others also brought their children to show them that even though they will never know the experience of living under Castro’s reign, you must still learn from history.
Regalado said he expects this celebration to continue for days. There is even a rally planned for this week where many are hoping to pressure the Cuban government to finally change.
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