Fidel Castro's death gives hope to Florida exiles

Two months after the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, Fernando and Carmen Palacios fled communist Cuba with babies Maria, 18 months, and Carmen, 5 months, for safety on American soil.

The couple arrived in Miami on June 9, 1961, and settled in Brevard County, where they went on to work long careers. When the Melbourne residents heard the stunning news Saturday morning that the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was dead at 90, they hoped a long-awaited wave of governmental reforms is coming.

Swiftly.

"Let me tell you: As a Christian, I'm not happy about his death. I'm happy about the freedom that will hopefully bring to the Cuban people," said Carmen Palacios, a retired Spanish teacher who worked 31 years for Brevard Public Schools.

"It was something that had to come — but it looked like he was going to live forever. People died around him, and he still was alive. It's about due, you know? A long time. We have been waiting for that," she said.

Fernando Palacios has practiced law in Brevard since 1977. He is retiring next month as a lawyer for Arcadier & Associates in West Melbourne, where he specializes in immigration and naturalization law. In March, he delivered a speech about escaping Cuba and business opportunities in his native country for the Space Coast World Trade Council at Orlando Melbourne International Airport.

"Obviously, he has committed many crimes. He has stolen from the Cuban people," Fernando Palacios said of Castro. "The problem is, we wonder now what kind of impact it will create on the Cuban people and the future of Cuba. This is what is concerning us now.

"I don't think that Raúl's going to keep complete control of the island, control of the government. I don't think so," he said.

Palm Bay Mayor William Capote was born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, in 1962. When he was in third grade, he fled the country with his parents, brother and sister, and their "Freedom Flight" touched down in Miami in Oct. 18, 1970.

"I'm completely shocked. I'm ready for what comes next. A generation now is coming to a closure," Capote said Saturday morning. "This is one of those moments in time that has become surreal.

"I'm looking forward to improvement of relationships with the island. It's time that we move forward and not stay stuck in time. I think that the people of Cuba are waiting to have the privilege that other people around the world do: to be able to travel at will," he said.

Capote last visited some of his relatives 46 years ago.

"I would like to see my aunts and uncles before they pass away. And hopefully, with (Castro's) passing and new conversations, we can start moving in that direction."

Contact Neale at 321-242-3638, rneale@floridatoday.com or follow @RickNeale1 on Twitter


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