Miami's Little Havana celebrates Fidel Castro's death

On his right shoulder, Ulises Flores has a tattoo of Cuba’s coat of arms. He bears another, above his heart, of the island country’s flag.

Flores, 54, sat on a newspaper vending machine early Saturday morning while around him a jubilant crowd in Little Havana carried on an hours-long celebration of former Cuban president Fidel Castro’s death. Castro was 90.

Flores’ presence at the block party — like his tattoos — are in honor of his own father and countless dissidents whom Castro outlived, he said.

“This is a good death,” Flores said.

Cuba’s current President Raul Castro confirmed in an announcement on state television that his older brother, Fidel, died at 10:29 p.m. Friday.

Cubans in Miami, by instinct, knew where to find each other in that inevitable moment of surprise — Little Havana, the capital they created for their exiled community.

Miami’s police department closed off parts of “Calle Ocho,” Spanish for “Eighth Street,” in anticipation of crowds. Versailles restaurant, a long-time beacon for Cuban immigrants, was the center of revelry.

Rafael Cruz, 34, of Golden Gate Estates, said he drove across the state from Southwest Florida to Little Havana because he wanted to share his joy with the exile community. Cruz and his family fled Castro's Cuba.

"This is as good as it gets away from home," Cruz said of Little Havana. "I've been waiting for this for a long time."

In front of Versailles, the boisterous group’s cheers and whoops mixed with patriotic chants of “Viva Cuba libre” — “long live free Cuba.” An audio speaker set up at a storefront blared an instrumental version of Cuba’s national anthem at random moments.

As is common among Cubans in times of triumph, people banged on pots and pans. Cuban flags waved above their heads.

The news was almost unbelievable, said Oscar Miro, a 22-year-old who came to the United States 10 years ago. He only has known a world with Castro in it.

In January 1959, Castro seized power when he pushed out dictator Fulgencio Batista and rode into Havana as a victor.

Miro, who wore a Cuban flag like a cape, was caught off guard by the Cuban government’s public admission that Castro, icon of a Communist revolution that disrupted countless lives, was dead.

“We always thought they were gonna hide it to prevent an event like this,” Miro said, referring to the outpouring of emotion.

Hanoi Rodrigues, 21, Miro’s friend since middle school, said Castro’s death is a necessary step toward a Cuba that can be free of oppression and political persecution.

“Cuba should be like this country,” Rodriguez said.

Stephania Valentin, 32, said she made her way to Little Havana because it felt right.

Valentin is of Haitian and Cuban descent. Her Cuban grandmother, who passed away, was pro-Castro, Valentin said, but the gathering was about more than politics for her.

“I wanted to be part of the energy — the happiness,” Valentin said.

Cuba’s government has declared nine days of mourning. Castro’s ashes will be transported from Havana to Santiago, a city on the other side of the island.

His ashes will remain at the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia.

After Castro, life will go on, and so will Cuba, said Flores.

“One man is not the revolution. He was its flavor. Its patriarch,” Flores said. “The revolution has begun to die in everybody’s heart.”

Contributing: The Associated Press and USA TODAY


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