MIAMI (CBSMiami) – While January 1 is a day of celebration for many, for exiled Cubans it’s a somber anniversary of the communist revolution on the Caribbean island.

It was 55 years ago Wednesday that dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the island nation to avoid being directly overthrown by a group of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. Batista fled to Europe and a week after he left, Castro’s forces entered Havana and a new government was established.

Since then, despite multiple attempts by the U.S. government to get rid of Fidel (like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion), the Castro family has maintained an iron grip on Cuba and imposed communist rule on the island. The U.S. and Cuba also spent decades as fierce enemies during the Cold War.

The U.S. has maintained a tight embargo against the Cuban government which, along with harsh and often failing communist policies, has helped cripple the island nation’s economy. Still, Castro ruled with an iron fist and drew worldwide scorn for human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch said earlier in 2013 that Cuba is ruled by a regime that “represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”

Some thawing of the icy relationship with the United States has been attempted in the past decade. Monday, the first commercial passenger flight from Key West to Cuba in more than 50 years landed in Havana.

President Barack Obama also shared a stage with Cuban President Raul Castro at the memorial service for South African leader Nelson Mandela. Despite the two having a respectful handshake as they passed each other, no major changes are expected in U.S.-Cuban policy anytime soon.

South Florida remains inexorably tied to the largest Caribbean island as many of the refugees and other exiled Cubans settled in Miami and the surrounding area. For most, Wednesday marks an anniversary of the land and home they lost as much as it does a New Year.


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