Fidel Castro's Death Elicits Mixed Reactions in Cuba
Some expect little real change, others see a new chapter opening in
island nation's history
Nov. 27, 2016 7:50 p.m. ET
HAVANA—Cubans have stumbled through a collective haze since Fidel Castro
died Friday night at age 90. Many have known him only as a grandfatherly
figure, excoriating the U.S. in occasional columns or being interviewed
on television by fawning admirers.
But one 36-year-old Cuban, a technology buff who says he has big dreams,
stressed on Sunday that Mr. Castro had created almost every aspect of
the country that affects him and his friends—from the state-controlled
companies and free health care to the continuing crackdown on free
expression. He said he expected an extra measure of repression now, as
has happened before when the government faces an uncertain moment.
"I don't think it's going to change; it'll be the same with Fidel or
without Fidel," he said of Mr. Castro, calling him by his first name, as
has long been custom with friend or foe of Cuba's revolution.
"The old people don't see it like the young. This system is diabolical,"
he added, speaking freely on a dilapidated street of the capital but
asking that his name not be used for fear he could get in trouble.
The death of the strongman, who led the island nation for 49 years from
the day his bearded rebels overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959 until
2008, doesn't mean the Communist regime that rules over 11 million
people will collapse. Mr. Castro's younger brother, Raúl, who is 85,
plans to rule until 2018. He tightly controls the military and
intelligence apparatus, keys to power.
But for another Cuban, Lisandra Funes, 25, the death of the elder
Castro—not unexpected for a man who was infirm and increasingly
frail—opens another chapter in this country's tumultuous history. Older
Cubans here, those who experienced what they consider golden years of
romantic revolution in the 1960s and '70s, shed tears and shuddered
about the future. They cherish a certain stability in this system, and
have long heard their leaders—Fidel Castro most prominently—tell them
they wouldn't have gotten elsewhere the health care and education they
But Ms. Funes, sitting in a public park and eyeing her cellphone, said
she wanted to see elections and a free press. "I'm awaiting change
because there hasn't been any," she said.
Little differentiated this Sunday from any other in Cuba's largest
cities. People strolled the streets on a mild fall day. But the
government and its supporters were preparing in coming days to mark the
life of the man known to people here as "el líder máximo," the maximum
Many stores were closed and liquor sales were banned across the island
in observance of the national mourning decreed by the Cuban government.
On Saturday, a concert of Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo in Havana was
canceled. The government has also suspended sporting events and police
officers have told people to keep their music down, said Félix Navarro,
a dissident in Cuba's Matanzas province.
After a mass homage in Havana's Revolution Square on Tuesday, the
remains of Cuba's revolutionary leader will be carried to the city of
Santiago de Cuba, evoking his revolutionary victories in the late 1950s
that began in the east of the island. Mr. Castro´s burial ceremony will
take place on Dec. 4 at that city's Santa Ifigenia cemetery, near the
mausoleum of Cuban patriot and martyr José Martí.
"There is surveillance everywhere, especially in front of the homes of
opposition members," Mr. Navarro said, adding that security officers
have been stationed outside homes of well-known activists, including his
own. Calls to Cuba's Interior Ministry weren't answered, and Cuban
government officials don't usually comment on security operations or
"There´s extreme silence, not even the noise of a can being kicked,"
said Kryster Álvarez, a 40-year-old art manager who lives in the city of
Cienfuegos, in central Cuba. "What you see on television is
overwhelming, images and documentaries about Fidel on a full-time basis."
The streets of Cienfuegos were deserted on Saturday night, Ms. Álvarez
said. On Sunday morning, some older pedestrians expressed sadness over
Mr. Castro´s death, "but younger generations were mostly indifferent,"
In Havana, it wasn't hard to find people who described feeling at a loss
at the news of Mr. Castro's death.
A 46-year-old cabdriver reeled off what he said were the bounties of the
revolution and called Mr. Castro "unique, totally unique." And he
repeated the often-quoted words of Mr. Castro: "Capitalism exploits,
exploits." But he acknowledged having never been abroad or having family
in the U.S., like many other Cubans.
In contrast, a group of younger Cubans, speaking freely near the
University of Havana, where Mr. Castro first became a public figure,
snickered and joked as they talked about his death.
When Cosmedulfo Prado, 24, paid tribute to Mr. Castro, his friends
laughed and yelled "Liar." He giggled, too.
He admitted liking the idea of going abroad to work or seeing things
change here. "Everyone would like to see things change," he said,
lowering his voice. "If prosperity comes here, it's welcome."
A companion, Alexei Rodríguez, 36, says he makes ends meet working for a
company that does interior design work here, but that he has other
dreams. Asked what kind of opportunities he would like, he said, "There
are so many I can't even begin to tell you."
Such opinions aren't the ones the state wants people to hear.
On Sunday, Cuba's Communist Party newspaper Granma published photos of
young people congregating at the promenade and staircases of the
university to voice their grief. Some of them carried signs with the
slogan: "Fidel is Cuba."
And even Mr. Castro's most determined opponents toned down their
criticism—if anything, because it just wasn't the right moment.
Berta Soler, the head of the Ladies in White dissident group in Cuba,
said her group suspended its weekly march on Sunday in Havana out of
concerns that the state would crack down on the activists more than
usual because it could be seen as a provocation following Mr. Castro's
"I'm not happy about the death of a human being, I'm not happy about the
death of a man," she said. "But I am happy for the death of a dictator.
The death of a dictator must be celebrated because he did things that
were very negative for the Cuban people."
—Santiago Pérez and Ryan Dube contributed to this article.
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