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LITTLE HAVANA (CBSMiami/AP) — Cuban exile Armando Garcia was at the Versailles restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana on Sunday when Fidel Castro was being interred in the island’s eastern city of Santiago.
Regulars sipped espressos and smoked cigars at the restaurant that serves as a hub for exiles in South Florida.
Garcia is a 76-year-old retired electronics salesman who left Cuba in 1963. He said Castro’s funeral offered no simple closure for those people who left the country chafing under his rule. But Garcia added that the moment did represent a “light at the end of the tunnel” in hopes for democracy on the island.
Garcia said it was painful to see leaders in some Latin American countries praising Castro “‘for supposedly liberating the poor, when in reality he has enslaved the poor.”
He joked that there was no sadness at the restaurant over Castro’s interment, calling it “the best funeral ever.”
Garcia said, “Look at us. No one is crying, everyone is happy, no need for handkerchiefs. It’s a party.”
Many exiles in Miami say they aren’t planning to watch news coverage of the funeral. Waves of Cubans have emigrated to South Florida to escape political repression or other hardships since Castro’s 1959 revolution.
Still, others gathered at the Cuban Memorial monument in Tamiami Park. There, they honored the thousands of people that died under the Castro regime in the 60 years of power — victims’ names etched forever on the monument’s walls.
Miriam de la Pena is the mother of Mario de la Pena, a pilot killed in 1996 in Cuban airspace while trying to rescue people leaving the island. She says watching the coverage would cause “a lot of pain.”
“He flew 92 missions together with other men and women who flew those tiny planes to look for rafters and to try to save them and to try to save them,” she said. “It is not pleasant to watch because all the pain comes back, all the suffering that we have been through because of him.”
And just like his father, Mario de la Pena, Jr. continues to push for freedom in his native country.
“We have to tell the world that this is not democracy,” he said. “This is not freedom. This is a dictatorship. This is dynastic. And they wanna remain in power.”
Fidel Castro’s ashes were interred in a private ceremony Sunday in the Santa Ifigenia ceremony in the eastern city of Santiago.
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