Friday 24 March 2017

'Castro is dead and Miami is alive' - Crowds welcome Fidel's death with street celebrations

People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, REUTERS/Javier Galeano
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Large crowds have gathered in Miami, Florida at the news of Fidel Castro's death.

CBS is reporting that the the crowd is cheering dancing and waving Cuban flags. Cuban Americans in the street are hugging each other.

The Press Association says thousands of people banged pots with spoons, waved Cuban flags in the air and whooped in jubilation on Calle Ocho - 8th Street, and the heart of the neighbourhood - early Saturday.

Horns and strains of salsa music from car stereos echoed against stucco buildings, and fireworks lit up the humid night sky.

News broke early on Saturday that revolutionary leader Castro died, aged 90.

It’s a day many people in the crowd have waited for for a very long time.

Complex News tweeted: 'Castro is dead and Miami is alive'

Police blocked off streets leading to Cafe Versailles, the quintessential Cuban American hotspot where strong cafecitos - sweetened espresso - were as common as a harsh word about Fidel Castro.

"Cuba si! Castro no!" they chanted, while others screamed "Cuba libre!"

Celebration, not grief, permeated the atmosphere. That was no surprise. Castro has cast a shadow over Miami for decades, and in many ways, his policy and his power have shaped the city and its inhabitants.



Cubans fled the island to Miami, Tampa, New Jersey and elsewhere after Castro took power in 1959. Some were loyalists of Fulgencio Batista, the president prior to Castro, while others left with the hope they would be able to return soon, after Castro was toppled. He never was.

Many others believed they would not be truly free under Castro and his communist regime. Thousands left behind their possessions, loved ones, and hard-earned educations and businesses, travelling to the US by plane, boat or raft.

Many Cubans died on the ocean trip to South Florida. And many never returned to see their childhood homes, their neighbourhoods, their playgrounds, their businesses, their cousins and aunts and uncles, because Castro was still in power.

The ones that made it to Miami took a largely, and vehemently, anti-Castro stance.

Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro looks at the crowd during a mass rally in Cordoba, Argentina July 21, 2006. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro fights a yawn on the first day of the VII Ibero-American summit on Margarita Island in this November 8, 1997 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro relaxes in a swimming pool during a visit to Romania in this May 28, 1972 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (L) exchange documents during a treaty signing ceremony in Havana in this April 4, 1989 file photo. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn/File Photo
Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana in this March 28, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Alex Castro-Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) visits his then Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro in Havana in this August 13, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Estudios Revolucion-Granma/Handout/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during a meeting of the National Assembly in Havana, in this December 2, 1976 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (C) casts his ballot at a polling station in Havana in this February 3, 2013 file photo provided by Cubadebate. REUTERS/Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Former South African President Nelson Mandela (L) hugs Cuba's President Fidel Castro during a visit to Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg in this September 2, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Kotze/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (L) talk during a meeting in Havana in this March 30, 2011 file photo. The woman in the center is a translator. REUTERS/Alex Castro/Courtesy of Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Ernesto Che Guevara (front) plays golf as Fidel Castro stands behind him at Colina Villareal in Havana in this undated file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) winks at a woman at the graduation of hundreds of Cuban art students at Havana's Sports City in this October 28, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an event with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez on Havana's Revolution Square in this February 3, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro listens during a meeting with his brother Cuban President Raul Castro (R) and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (L) in Havana in this June 17, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Estudios Revolucion/Handout/File Photo
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) listen to the Cuban national anthem at the baseball stadium "Latinoamericano" in Havana in this May 14, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Rafael Perez/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro walks to the podium during the May Day commemoration ceremony in Revolution Square in Havana in this May 1, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro salutes as the national anthem plays during a reception for the Cuban baseball team in Havana in this March 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro talks to then Pope John Paul II during the presentation of their delegations at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana in this January 22, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo
People are seen through a poster with a picture of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro and late Argentine revolution leader Che Guevara (L) during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square in this May 1, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Fidel Castro (L) is seen during a hunting trip in Romania in this May 1972 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro (L) talks to Elian Gonzalez during a political rally in celebration of Elian's 12th birthday in Cardenas, Cuba in this December 6, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro acknowledges the applause of the audience while standing underneath an image of late revolutionary hero Ernesto Che Guevara, during the inauguration of games involving mainly Cuban and Venezuelan athletes in Havana in this June 17, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (L) holds up the arm of his brother, Cuba's President Raul Castro, during the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana in this April 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro attends manoeuvres during the 19th anniversary of his and his fellow revolutionaries arrival on the yacht Granma, in Havana in this November 1976 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro plays baseball in Havana in this August 1964 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meeting in Havana in this April 28, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/Files
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during a political rally in celebration of the 12th birthday of Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez in Cardenas in this December 6, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro laughs during the year-end session of the Cuban parliament in Havana in this December 23, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez chat on the field after taking part in a friendly baseball game between their two countries at the Barquisimeto baseball stadium in this October 29, 2000 file photo. Picture taken October 29, 2000. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/Files
Cuba's President Fidel Castro attends a Mercosur trade bloc summit in Cordoba, Argentina in this July 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/David Mercado/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro gestures during a tour of Paris in this March 15, 1995 file photo. Ailing Cuban leader Castro said on February 19, 2008 that he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro speaks during celebrations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in Havana in this September 28, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona play with a ball during an interview in La Havana, in this October 26, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Canal 13/Handout/File Photo
Iin this Feb. 6, 1959 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro speaks to a crowd during his triumphant march to Havana after the fall of the Batista regime. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/File)
Fidel Castro, left, raises his brother's hand, Cuba's President Raul Castro, center, as they sing the anthem of international socialism during the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba.(AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro glances over his shoulder during the May Day commemoration at Revolution Square in Havana, in this May 1, 2004 file photo. Picture taken May 1, 2004. REUTERS/Rafael Perez/Files
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the crowd at the Plaza de la Patria (Homeland Square) in Bayamo, Cuba, July 26, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro listens to a speaker during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square in this May 1, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (L) and his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro joke after joining their medallions, given by medical graduates, at Havana's Karl Marx theatre, in this August 20, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez joke during a batting session where Chavez pitched to Castro after taking part in a friendly baseball game between their two countries at the Barquisimeto baseball stadium in this October 29, 2000 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro attends the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana in this April 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
In this March 14, 1957 file photo, Fidel Castro, the young anti-Batista guerrilla leader, center, is seen with his brother Raul Castro, left, and Camilo Cienfuegos, right, while operating in the Mountains of Eastern Cuba. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew St. George, File)
In this Aug.18, 1999 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro gestures at a speaking event as he explains that he does not understand why he is not blind after all the camera flashes he has received in Havana, Cuba. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia, File)
In this April 19, 2016 file photo, Fidel Castro attends the last day of the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba. Fidel Castro formally stepped down in 2008 after suffering gastrointestinal ailments and public appearances have been increasingly unusual in recent years. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP, File)
China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (L) writes in a notebook as former Cuban leader Fidel Castro holds it during a meeting in Havana in this August 1, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Roberto Chile/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro attends a conference on terrorism in Havana's convention centre June 3, 2005. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo
Cuba's President Raul Castro announces the death of his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in a still image from government television in Havana, Cuba November 26, 2016. Cuban Television via Reuters TV
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 1998 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, left, greets former Pope John Paul II at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/Ruth Fremson, File)

On New Year's Eve every year, Cubans in Miami utter a toast in Spanish as they hoist glasses of liquor: "Next year in Cuba."

But as the Cuban exiles aged, and as Castro outlived them, and as US President Barack Obama eroded the embargo and younger Cubans returned to the island, the toast rang silent in many households.

In Miami, where Havana is closer both geographically and psychologically than Washington, the news of Castro's death was long anticipated by the exiles who left after Castro took power, and in the decades since.

Rumours have come and gone for decades, and Castro's death had become something of a joke - mostly because it seemed to happen so frequently.

This time, though, it was real.

"I don't celebrate. Nobody does. You can't celebrate somebody's death. I just hope for democracy," said Arnold Vidallet, a 48-year-old financial adviser who was woken by relatives with the news and who went to Domino Park, in the heart of Little Havana, to witness history unfolding.

Nearby, at the Bay of Pigs memorial, Antonio Hernandez, 76, rode his bicycle up in a light rain and stood at the eternal flame that honours the men who tried, and failed, to wrest Cuba from Castro's grip in 1961.

"Everybody's happy. Now this guy won't do any more damage," said Hernandez, who went to Miami on the Mariel boat lift in 1980. "His brother will now go down, too. But the world has to pay attention to this, not just we Cubans."

Many Cubans made successful livings and raised families in Miami despite having to learn a new language and start their lives again.

Exiles who arrived as teenagers with no money in their pockets became millionaires, political leaders, clergy members, teachers - influential members contributing to the fabric of American society.

Cemeteries in South Florida abound with the remains of those who fiercely wished Castro had died before them. Their children weep today because they could not see their parents and grandparents return to Cuba under a democratic regime, to see their homeland one more time.

Gabriel Morales, a 40-year-old financial executive, monitored social media early Saturday from his home in Miami. His parents both left Cuba decades ago. His father left Cuba before Castro took over, and then returned to visit during Castro's regime. He vowed never to return until the regime changed, Morales said.

Morales' mother left after Castro assumed power, her family had their property appropriated by the government, Morales said.

"Feels weird," Morales said in a text message to an Associated Press reporter. "Been waiting to hear this news all my life. Seems unreal."

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