BY SABRINE BRISMEUR
Death rarely brings about cause for celebration and cheer, but the death of controversial former Cuban President Castro Fidel has left the Cuban population in the United States both relieved and exhilarated. Though Castro handed over the presidency to his brother Raúl in 2008, his reign of five decades sculpted the state of Cuba as it remains today.
Cooper City, just shy of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, is a demographic hotspot home to a significant amount of Cuban-Americans affected by Castro’s passing at 90 years old. Cuban-American students at Cooper City High School weigh in on the life, regime, and death of this divisive dictator.
“Castro changed so many people’s lives in horrific ways, and forced so many people to desperate measures for a chance at any kind of freedom,” Junior Bri Lageyre said. “The fact that he died is such a cause for celebration because it’s symbolic for getting rid of the fear and terror that so many Cubans felt in Cuba, and finding a sense of peace and relief at the new life that Cuban-Americans have found here.”
Through guerilla warfare, Fidel Castro led the effort to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and his regime during the Cuban Revolution in 1959. At the time, Castro was immensely popular and viewed as a revolutionary who was for the commoners — as many of his supporters said, he “gave Cuba back to the people.” But against the desires of many citizens, Castro turned Cuba into a one-party state, suppressing freedom of the press and persecuting, exiling, and executing thousands who he felt were critics of the communist regime.
While Cuban-American students at Cooper City High celebrated the death of Castro, others accepted his passing with quiet relief, describing it as symbolic and representative of the end of an oppressive and cruel dictator.
Senior Hunter Harrington agreed with the general Cuban-American consensus at Cooper City High.
“Fidel Castro’s regime has oppressed the people of Cuba and split Cuban refugees from their families. We had extremely limited communication with our relatives in Cuba until very recently,” he said. “His passing represents the fall of a communistic and oppressive tyrant.”
Despite Castro’s record of human rights violations, his supporters pointed out the benefits he had brought to Cuba. Castro improved health care and education in the country, where the population is now 99% literate. His resistance to American imperialism and influence appealed to many people disillusioned with imposing American capitalism. But Castro’s idealist supporters remain largely non-Cubans who have never lived under Castro’s presidency. The Cuban reaction to Castro’s presidency has generally been less than supportive.
“People die,” Physics teacher Jorge Rigol said with a shrug when asked about his opinion on Castro’s death. “I left that behind when I left Cuba.”
Castro’s Marxist-Leninist communist ideology led to close military and economic relations with the Soviet Union, which damaged Cuba’s relationship with the United States. Consequently, the strained tensions between capitalist America and communist Cuba and the Soviet Union reached their peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. In a thirteen day stand-off, Soviet Russia (USS) and the US remained at a standstill as the USS attempted to install Soviet-armed nuclear missiles in Cuba. While the Soviet Union backed off after a tentative deal in which the US agreed not to invade Cuba in exchange for the assurance that the USS would remove the missiles from Cuba, Castro’s oppressive regime remained.
“Being a third generation American, I was happy for my parents as well as my abuelita. I can’t say that I understand the full weight of his passing, but after that night I don’t think I’d ever felt more proud to be Cuban,” Senior Natalie Mendoza said. “I don’t know what this means for Cuba, but at last an evil tyrant is dead.”
There were a rumored 600 assassination attempts during his reign as president, including the failed Bay of Pigs mission. In an effort to overthrow him, the United States sent 1400 exiles back to Cuba in order to lead a coup. After a botched attack attempt from the US, Cuba gained 52 million dollars worth of baby food and medicinal supplies from the US in exchange for the American-supported exile hostages.
The wet-foot, dry-foot policy in the United States was created to allow fleeing Cubans a fast-track to permanent residency. Under this amendment, Cubans who reach American soil (“dry foot”) without being caught beforehand by the US Coast Guard are granted asylum. Those who are prevented from reaching American ground (“wet foot”) are sent back to Cuba unless they can prove they will be subject to persecution if returned.
Florida, a mere 90 miles away from Cuba, has been the recipient of hundreds of thousands of fleeing Cuban exiles. Accordingly, the Cuban-heavy demographic makeup of South Florida is due to the migration and family growth of fleeing citizens. The wet-foot, dry-foot policy has allowed thousands of Cubans to construct a new future, but has also split apart family members who were not able to make the journey.
Currently, Castro’s brother Raúl remains in charge of Cuba’s future, as he has for the last eight years. The strict embargo the United States has upheld with Cuba has begun to loosen under President Obama’s Presidency, but many are uncertain of the direction the Caribbean island will take.
“I do know that not much will change in Cuba, but his whole death is really just symbolic,” added Lageyre. “It has allowed people to remember what they went through and how blessed they are to be safe in America.”
Others are hopeful that his passing, as well as strengthening relations with the US, will allow for Cuba to develop and flourish.
“It’s bittersweet for my family because we are happy he is gone and hopeful for increased diplomacy,” said Harrington. “But [we] are reminded of the families he has destroyed and the generations of Cubans he has affected.”