MIAMI (CBSMiami) — For Cuban exiles everywhere, it has been an emotional and long-awaited day.
Fidel Castro, the man that nearly stripped them of everything they worked hard for nearly 60 years ago, has died at age 90.
Since the news of Castro’s death overnight Saturday, thousands who live in Miami, the largest exile community in the world, packed La Calle Ocho in Little Havana in front of the unofficial Cuban conference center, Versailles Restaurant.
With pots, pans, singing and dancing, Cuban and American flags waved with pride for much of the day.
“I came to Cuba when I was one years old,” said Ana Veloso, an exile. “There hasn’t been a day that’s passed, that I’ve been alive, that my parents haven’t talked about this man dying. And even though things won’t change immediately much, it does represent an end of an era. And we do believe that big change will come now.”
For many non-Cubans, the emotion, relief, and sense of peace the community feels may seem foreign. But after unjustly jailing and killing thousands, and forcing those living on the island to live in poverty and isolation under his decades-long dictatorship, it would be hard to not feel joy.
“We’re not hear to celebrate a death, we’re here really to celebrate a beginning. A beginning of things to come,” said Ada Perez. “The old ideas, things that never worked, that tyrant’s death, but most importantly what’s going to happen in the future.”
Beloved singer and exiled Cuban, Willy Chirino, stopped by with his wife Lissette to see and speak for himself.
“We have had thousands of people die by the firing squad,” said Willy. “We have had a few political prisoners who have done more years than (Nelson) Mandela. Nobody talks about that. We have had thousands of people disappear in the state of Florida looking for freedom, trying to get away from that absurd regime.”
Willy and Lissette both came from Cuba alone as children, two of the 14,000 kids sent to the U.S. clandestinely through the Catholic Church’s Operation Peter Pan, between 1960 and 1962.
Most lived in orphanages in South Florida growing up — until their parents could come to the U.S. and claim them.
Some never saw their parents again.