News of communist revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s death was greeted with solemn silence in Havana, but in its namesake Little Havana – a Miami neighbourhood home to many Cuban exiles – jubilant crowds waved flags and banged pots and pans.
Cars beeped their horns, while crowds sang the Cuban national anthem “La Bayamesa”. Dancing continued even after it started to rain, according to reports.
People shouted “Cuba libre! (Cuba is free) and “el viejo murió” (the old man is dead), while others chanted: “Fidel! Tirano! Llevate tu hermano!” (Fidel! Tyrant Take your brother with you!)
Under Castro’s regime, thousands of exiles and refugees fleeing poverty and persecution settled in the US — with Castro facing criticism for presiding over alleged human rights abuses.
Many travelled there as minors under programmes such as Operation Pedro Pan, or were part of the Mariel boatlift in 1980, which was triggered by a sharp downturn in the Cuban economy. Castro had declared: “Anyone who wants to leave Cuba can do so.”
Relations between the two countries appeared to warm in recent years, with US President Barack Obama conducting his first official visit to the country in 2015. Yet the scenes in Miami demonstrate that animosity between the nations remains.
One journalist reported that many of those leading the music in Little Havana wore hats bearing slogans supporting US President-elect Donald Trump, while an inflatable effigy to the billionaire businessman was also seen at the celebrations.
Meanwhile, those in Cuba reacted with sadness to the death of the leader, who had freed the nation from the clutches of dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
“I am very upset. Whatever you want to say, he is a public figure that the whole world respected and loved,” said Havana student Sariel Valdespino.
Carlos Rodriguez, 15, was sitting in Havana’s Miramar neighbourhood when he heard that Fidel Castro had died.
“Fidel? Fidel?” he told Associated Press in disbelief. “That’s not what I was expecting. One always thought that he would last forever. It doesn’t seem true.”
“It’s a tragedy,” said 22-year-old nurse Dayan Montalvo. “We all grew up with him. I feel really hurt by the news that we just heard.”
A towering figure of the second half of the 20th century, Castro had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006. He formally ceded power to his younger brother two years later.
For five decades, Castro defied US efforts to topple him. He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, as well as countless assassination attempts.
His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the United States that brought the world the closest it has ever been to nuclear war.
At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. But he also created legions of enemies and critics, concentrated among Cuban exiles in Florida who fled his rule and saw him as a ruthless tyrant.
Those who settled in Miami influenced US policy towards Cuba and plotted Castro's demise. Some even trained in the Florida swamps for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, but they could never dislodge him.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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