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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami’s Cuban exile community hosted a massive rally, marking the death of Fidel Castro and demanding democracy for Cuba – a moment they have been waiting for decades.
Dozens began flooding in Wednesday evening for the rally in Little Havana as Castro’s death is bringing a glimmer of hope for the Cuban exile community.
This may be the middle of the end says Angel Hernandez, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and who has owned ‘The Fruteria’ on the corner of 8th Street and 13th Avenue for almost 50 years.
Just feet from his family business, he will witnessed a massive demonstration with Cuban exiles calling for justice and freedom now that the tyrant is dead.
“All I ever wanted was this so, if I die tomorrow, I will be happy knowing Fidel is dead,” said Hernandez.
Castro was called “the most cruel dictator in the hemisphere” at the rally.
Thousands were killed on orders from the Castro regime. Others, who were incarcerated for years, endured torture day in and day out.
“In prison, what they did is unspeakable. The first thing they did is put explosives in our cells. They kept those explosives there for 18 months threatening us daily that they would blow us up,” said political prisoner Ignacio Cuesta.
Cuesta says he was just 19 years old when he was imprisoned for speaking out against Castro.
He says he spent the next 30 years in various prisons throughout the island – finally being freed when he was 48 years old.
Now at 77 years of age and living in Miami, he says he could not miss out on the opportunity to take part in a rally calling for democracy and freedom in Cuba.
Angel Pardo says he was a political prisoner for 24 years.
His wife, Emelina Nunez, was just 16 years old when she says she was imprisoned.
She spent five years behind bars and was able to make her way to the U.S. years after her release.
But the memories of her time incarcerated still haunt her to this day.
Emelina’s son, who was born and raised in the United States, has never gone through the hardships his parents experienced.
But he wants nothing more than for people in his parents’ homeland to have the same rights and freedom that he has always known in the U.S.
Cuban exile Christie Herrera came from West Palm Beach to attend the rally supporting a cause very close to her heart.
“My mother went to the university with Castro so she knew what he was all about – communism. They took me away in November 1959 right after he took over and I am so grateful for them. I am doing this for them and for all my brothers and sisters in Cuba,” said Herrera.
It’s an emotional day for all coming together for a free Cuba.
“We are here to tell the truth and we are here to tell the Cuban people that we are in solidarity until freedom, justice, and democracy returns to Cuba,” said Silvia Iriondo with the group Women Against Repression.
Young Cuban-Americans in attendance soaked in the event.
“I learned that this is the family tradition,” said Angela Lopez.
Angela Rocha added, “It is important to pass it on because they are our tradition this is what we bring from our country.”
And that is why you saw lots of kids at the Calle Ocho rally marking Castro’s death.
“I learned he was a dictator who did not do great things in Cuba,” said rally-goer Alessia.
The rally was all things Castro – all the horror, the death, the destruction of a vibrant society and economy.
And though the rally was boisterous and full of vigor, it was deadly serious for moms, dads, grandparents.
“I know what these people have gone through, my family here went through. There was a whole lot of suffering because of Fidel Castro. I am just as happy as they are right now,” said Jorge Gonzalez.
A few blocks away, at a domino park, the main topic of conversation is and has always been Cuba. Players are cautiously optimistic about the future of the homeland.
“Are you happy? Are you hopeful,” asked CBS4’s Marybel Rodriguez.
“Oh yeah, yeah that he’s gone and I’m also happy about their relations,” responded Cuban exile Felipe Sang.
The rally comes after a weekend of celebrations for Castro’s death in Miami and days of mourning in Cuba – a stark contrast.