MERCEDES SCHLAPP: Thousands of Cubans, my father included, paid heavy price during Castro's rule

I woke up my 81-year old dad with the news of Fidel Castro’s death.  His eyes swelled with tears, and he smiled with a sense of relief that a dictator who destroyed his homeland, stole his homes and businesses, killed his friends, and divided our family was finally gone.

When Mr. Castro overthrew the Cuban government in 1959, some believed in his vision of a revolution, yet it quickly turned into a nightmare when he and his thugs transformed this peaceful and thriving island into a totalitarian communist regime where the Cuban people were denied their basic rights and freedoms.

Mr. Castro changed the course of history and sadly, thousands of Cubans paid a heavy price for his actions.  Many who disagreed with the Castro regime including my father were imprisoned, tortured, or assassinated.  My father knew the destructive path of Mr. Castro, and he became a freedom fighter – outspoken and critical of Mr. Castro.  He was thrown into jail.   On the first day of his imprisonment, he spoke to one his friends and had to tell him that he would be executed the next day by a firing squad.  It is just one of many stories of the horrors of the Castro brothers who are both guilty of the countless executions of innocent men and women.

Despite Mr. Castro’s atrocities, leaders from across the globe will remember him in a positive light.  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement calling Castro “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century . . . a legendary revolutionary and orator.”

It was President-elect Donald Trump who said the right words.  Mr. Trump stated: “Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”

The only ones who have benefited from the dysfunctional and absolute powerful regime have been Mr. Castro’s loyal colleagues, authoritarian military and intelligence agents, while the Cuban people have spent their time figuring out how to feed their families with very limited resources and living in poverty.  Mr. Castro’s motto was “patria o muerte, venceremos” (Homeland or death, we will win).  For close to six decades, the Cuban people have lost.  They have lost their homeland, many loved ones, and their freedoms.

In Cuba, there is no freedom of speech or the press, ownership of private property or free elections.  It is ultimate power and control by the Castro brothers and his military.  While one brother is gone, the other more destructive brother Raul Castro will continue the same fear tactics on the Cuban people.

While the Cuban people long for freedom, there will be one day that both Castro brothers will be gone, but it does not guarantee that communism will cease to exist on the island.  Political persecutions will continue and freedoms denied.  But for one day, an old man can smile and an exile community can celebrate to know there is one less dictator in our world, and we can only hope and pray for a free Cuba soon.