My grandfather has called many times with false news of the death of Fidel Castro, originating from who knows where. But on Friday, that news was finally real. I watched as CNN aired a pre-recorded segment about Castro’s life and the Revolution that he sparked, a segment they had probably been prepared to air for years. It was real this time: Castro, the man who caused such an unimaginable amount of pain for so many of his own countrymen, was dead.
As I watched, I thought back to the first time I realized the immense impact of this man’s cruelty. My father had stumbled upon a cassette tape my grandpa had made. As he plopped it into our cassette player and pressed play, my grandfather’s voice came loudly through the speakers, eloquently reciting poetry about Cuba. Poetry about the home that he fled when he brought his wife and two sons to this country over 50 years ago. Poetry so beautiful you could hear the longing in his voice as he recalled walking through the streets of Sancti Spiritus, the town they lived in. You could here everything he lost, everything he sacrificed, everything that was stripped away from him and from the millions of Cubans who fled Castro’s regime along with him. It was all right there in that cassette tape and as I listened to it, I reflected on the sacrifices my family made. I reflected also on the fact that the man I hate so much is also the reason I am alive. Had my father’s family never been forced out of Cuba, I would have never been born.
The emotions came sounding through my speakers that night were the same emotions that had been building inside the hearts of all Cuban exiles for decades. My grandfather stored his in his poetry and my father put every ounce of his into paving a better future. On Friday, for many, those emotions were finally released. Stored up for far too long, they came gushing out as people came pouring into the streets of Miami, waving Cuban and American flags, hoping for a better future.
But Cuba and the Communist Party prepared a thousand times more diligently than even CNN for this day. Castro’s death means everything to the Cuban exile community, but very little for the communist dictatorship he left behind. The nation will go through its (mandatory) 9 days of mourning and then all will go back to normal. Fidel’s quiet death, though it seems a victory to us Cuban Americans, pales in comparison to the victories he has stolen. This man succeeded in silencing any and all of his opposition, torturing or killing those who disagreed with him. He succeeded in establishing a dictatorship based on false hope and promises he would never deliver on. He succeeded in creating a one-party system that disguised itself as a “democracy” but really pressured people into compliance by way of fear. He succeeded in enslaving his own people, who by now have lost hope in the ideals of the revolution.
Cuban Americans celebrating in the streets of Little Havana chant “Viva Cuba Libre!” but just 90 miles south, Cuba is still anything but free. So, for me, this still feels like another false claim from another one of my grandfather’s friends who heard “Fidel Castro croaked today,” when a sportscaster said “The Houston Astros choked today.” Because although Fidel is really gone this time, his legacy of oppression stays behind to further haunt the Cuban people.
I am awaiting the day that Cuba is truly free, because although the nation remains relatively unchanged by Friday’s events, there is still hope for a better future. Castro’s rise is the reason I am alive. His demise is the reason I have hope that one day his dictatorship will fall—that Cuba will be free.