Within half an hour of the Cuban government’s official announcement that former President Fidel Castro had died, Miami’s Little Havana teemed with life — and cheers.
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 neighborhood — early Saturday. Honking and strains of salsa music from car stereos echoed against stucco buildings, and
fireworks lit up the humid night sky.
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!”
The president-elect offered up a four-word tweet shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, saying simply: “Fidel Castro is dead!”
Trump followed that up a few hours later with a lengthier statement, in which he called Castro a “brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades” and said he hoped Castro’s death gave Cuban Americans “the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.”
“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” the statement said.
President Obama provided a more subdued response.
President Obama, who offered condolences to the Castro family and extended “a hand of friendship” to the Cuban people.
Acknowledging that Castro’s death would be greeted by “powerful emotions” by Cubans in the country and in the U.S., the president left it to history to “record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
He walked a fine line in noting that there were “countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation.”
Senator Marco Rubio offered a more stinging statement:
“History will remember Fidel Castro as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery & suffering on his own people”
In another post to Twitter, Rubio further criticized Mr. Obama for his “pathetic” statement, slamming the president for neglecting to mention the “thousands [Castro] killed & imprisoned.”
Castro’s death caught many people in Havana by surprise.
“There will be no one else like him,” said Mariela Alonso, a 45-year-old doctor who calls the retired Cuban leader “the guide for our people.”
“We will feel his physical absence,” she said.
Mechanic Celestino Acosta, who was sitting on a porch in the capital’s central neighborhood of Vedado, called the news of Castro’s death “a painful blow for everyone.”