Cuban-Americans in Miami rejoice at Castro's passing: 'Fidel was Hitler for us'

On Southwest Eighth Street in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, a gaggle of about 10 demonstrators march in front of Versailles Restaurant. They grip a large, unfurled Cuban flag, while chanting, “Viva Cuba Libre!” and “Abajo con la tirania!”

Miguel Saavedra, the 48-year-old founder of the Miami anti-communist organization Vigilia Mambisa, leads the procession west for a couple of blocks, before returning to the iconic Cuban restaurant where the group rejoins other Cuban-Americans and Latinos cheering the death of Fidel Castro, the charismatic communist dictator who divided his countrymen for more than half a century. Outside a police perimeter, motorists who adorned the cars in Cuban flag regalia honked their horns incessantly.

“Americans and the entire world have been victims of Castro’s terrorism,” Saavedra shouts. “That is why we are here today to celebrate the death of the assassin, Fidel Castro.”

Castro haters like Saavedra have been waiting decades for this moment. On previous occasions, false reports of the strongman’s death had led to premature celebrations and deflated spirits. Not this time. From children to senior citizens, revelers waved American and Cuban flags. One man dressed up like the Santeria god, Chango, and danced for the jubilant crowd.

Castro’s passing comes at a time a majority of Cuban Americans are changing their minds about opening up free trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba. A Florida International University poll in September found that 56 percent of local Cubans “strongly” or “mostly” favor reengagement with the communist nation. A Latino Decisions exit poll of the Nov. 8 presidential election shows Hillary Clinton, who would have continued the Obama administration’s engagement with Cuba, won 46 percent of the Cuban American vote in Miami-Dade.

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However, the hundreds of people who showed up at Versailles definitely fell within the anti-Castro camp.

Javier Baez, 28, watched the show from the sidewalk while holding a small Cuban flag. He arrived in Miami five years ago. “I’m here to celebrate,” he said. “While nothing ever happened to me, I have family members who suffered from the terrible decisions by this dumbass dictator.”

A raspy voiced Cuban with a trimmed beard and short cropped hair, Baez said it felt a little weird cheering the death of a human being, but that Castro deserved much worse. “We are going to be out here screaming until whenever,” Baez said. “My father was a political prisoner for five years.”

However, Baez is not sure Castro’s death will lead to faster democratic reforms on the island. “His false, hypocritical ideology should have died along with him,” Baez said. “But it hasn’t. So we have to pray for positive changes.”

Jose Rodriguez, a 32-year-old day laborer who left Cuba 10 years ago, said he wished Castro would have died years ago so his father could have outlived the dictator. “We put up with that son of a b*** for far too long,” Rodriguez said. “Everyday I lived in Cuba it got worse. My father would have thrown a big party. Fidel was Hitler for us.”

Like Baez, Rodriguez said full democratic reform will not happen quickly, especially with Castro’s brother, Raul Castro, still in charge. “Raul has to die too,” Rodriguez said. “There may be some small changes. But real change that makes a difference? No way.”