Loved and loathed, Fidel Castro’s death brings joy and grief
HAVANA, Cuba — The death of Fidel Castro triggered both celebration and mourning as critics welcomed his passing while supporters grieved for the polarizing strongman who dominated Cuba for decades.
Castro died Friday at 90.
His brother Raul Castro announced his death in a televised statement.
“I say to the people of Cuba, with profound pain I come here to inform our people, our friends of America and the world, that today, 25 November, 2016, at 10:29 pm, died the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz,” he said.
He was to be cremated early Saturday “following the explicit desires of leader Fidel,” Raul Castro said.
His funeral will be held December 4 in Santiago de Cuba following nine days of national mourning, according to Granma, the Cuban state news outlet. Cuba began an official mourning period at 6 a.m. Saturday.
During this time, all activities and public performances will stop, and the flag will be flown at half-staff in public and military establishments. Radio and television will broadcast patriotic and historical programming, Granma reported.
In previous mourning periods for prominent figures from the revolution, restaurants and bars have been shut, and singing and celebrations were prohibited.
In Bíran, a town near Cuba’s far eastern tip where Castro was born, people were calling and knocking on the door of his half-brother, Martin Castro.
They wanted to know if the hometown revolutionary was dead.
“They have been knocking and calling and asking if it is true,” said Angel Daniel Castro, a nephew of Fidel Castro, early Saturday. “Many people are crying. Some complain of high blood pressure. Fidel was a good man.”
“For us, he was like a father. And Cuba sees him as a father. One woman just called crying and saying she had lost her father. Everyone feels it.”
Jubilation in Miami
But to the north in Florida, revelers spilled into the streets of Miami, the center of the Cuban exile community. They popped champagne, clanged pots, cheered and waved the Cuban flag in jubilation. They stood outside the popular Versailles restaurant in Little Havana with signs reading, “Satan, Fidel is now yours.”
“This is a celebration, but not a celebration of death, but a beginning of liberty that we’ve been waiting for many years. The hope is … that it opens up Cuba a little bit more,” a Cuban-American man said.
“It means a lot for us Cubans,” another reveler told CNN affiliate WSVN-TV. “It’s a moment that we’ve been waiting for 55 years. We’re free at last. The man that caused so much suffering, so much people to be sad in my country … has passed away.”
Castro reigned in Havana for nearly five decades with an iron hand, defying a US economic embargo intended to dislodge him.
But he lived long enough to see a historic thaw between Cuba and the United States. The two nations re-established diplomatic relations in July, and President Barack Obama visited the island this year.
Historic figure of the 20th century
To some, Castro became a romantic figure and a legendary survivor despite what Cuban officials say were more than 600 attempts to kill him. During a rare public appearance in April, Castro marveled that he had lived to turn 90.
“Soon I will turn 90 years old, never would such a thing have occurred to me, and it’s not the outcome of any effort; it was fate’s whim,” Castro said, discussing his health, usually a taboo subject on the island. “Soon I will be like everyone else. To all of us comes our turn.”
Castro had many admirers, who saw him as a stalwart with his ubiquitous military fatigues and fiery oratory. He clung to a socialist economic model and one-party Communist rule, even after the Soviet Union disintegrated and most of the rest of the world concluded that state socialism was a bankrupt idea whose time had come and gone.
The Cuban Communist Party mourned for “the commander of the Cuban Revolution” with the hashtag #UntilVictoryAlwaysFidel.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto called Castro a friend of Mexico, who had promoted bilateral relationships based on “respect, dialogue and solidarity.”
In an official Kremlin statement sending condolences to the Cuban people, Russian President Vladimir Putin remembered him as a “symbol of an era in recent world history” and “a sincere and reliable friend of Russia.”
Putin hailed Castro for building of a “free and independent Cuba” and described him as “an influential member of the international community.”
Pakistani politician Imran Khan hailed Castro as “an iconic revolutionary leader” who stood against the United States.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century. India mourns the loss of a great friend.”
‘End of an era for Cuba’
Other leaders noted Castro’s global impact but did not praise a man whose record on human rights was questionable.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted that his death marked “the end of an era for Cuba” but the start of a new one for the Cuban people.
French President François Hollande said Castro “was a figure of the 20th century” who “embodied the Cuban revolution, with the hopes it aroused and then in the disillusion it provoked. Actor of the Cold War, he corresponded to an era which ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was able to represent for Cubans the pride of the rejection of external domination.”
Hollande also said he welcomed the recent thaw in US-Cuba relations, noting that France had always opposed the US embargo.
Many viewed Castro as an enemy of human rights, who suppressed and imprisoned dissidents.
“I am shedding tears tonight, but they’re tears of joy,” said Armando Salguero, a Miami Herald columnist. “Hell has a special place for Fidel Castro and there’s one less vacancy in hell tonight.”
He said many Cubans were cheering, because they had been forced to come to the United States when they couldn’t have the freedom to make a life in their homeland.
Repressive laws allow the government to jail and punish its critics, such as dissidents and journalists with long prison sentences, according to Human Rights Watch. The government also uses beatings and public acts of shaming, the organization reported.
US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents a district in South Florida, tweeted, “Tyrant + thug Fidel Castro is dead,” saying his death was an opportunity to have a more free and democratic Cuba.