Fidel Castro dies: How Cubans (and the rest of Latin America) reacted

Fidel Castro's death may well mark a new era in Cuba's political scene. That doesn't mean his influence won't endure.

People watch a television set showing news of the death of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 26, 2016.

Even before his death on Friday night, Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro was already a kind of myth, and interpretations of his life's work varied.

In Miami, local reports described the mood of the exile community as jubilant and sometimes angry: traffic closed on Calle Ocho, the heart of Little Havana, as hundreds of people honked car horns, waved flags, danced and called for Raul Castro, Cuba’s octogenarian president, to hurry up and join his brother. The city’s Cuban-born mayor, Tomás Regalado, spent the night outside with the throngs, according to the Miami Herald.

“Everything has been spontaneous,” Mr. Regalado told the paper. “The only thing that the city has done is accommodate the people.” 

“The written plans are no good because people do what they want. I’ve gotten calls from some organizations saying how they want to organize an event,” he added. “But to tell people to go to a specific place, you can't. People go where they want to go.” 

That contrasted with what Cuban opposition blogger and journalist Yoani Sanchez described as a subdued tone in Havana. 

“Some see him off with pain, others with relief … the great majority with a certain tone of indifference,” she wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning.

Fidel’s death comes as Cuba’s antiquarian political class continues to tiptoe away from its hardline policies on private enterprise, and many observers assume that a broader liberalization of the country’s political scene could follow, however miniature the scale. Reactions to the event may hint at the durability of Fidel's legacy in setting the basic terms of Cuba’s future politics.

In Latin America, where his legacy as a gadfly to the North American colossus served as a precedent for the hemisphere’s growing sense of common interest and willingness to buck Washington on key issues, Fidel’s death prompted exaltation among Castro understudies like Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro as well as the more temperate-tongued governments of Mexico (which called him an “emblematic referent of the 20th century”) and Uruguay, which declared a national day of mourning

And as in Venezuela, where the late Hugo Chavez pulled much of the opposition toward the left in its policies even as it rallied against him, some features of Castro’s legacy could well remain staples of Cuba’s politics, as Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer noted.

"If the Communist Party remains a powerful force in Cuban politics, as Argentina's Peronista Party did after Peron's death, Castro's followers will most likely rally around the memory of his achievements, real or imagined,” he wrote. "Some aspects of his regime – such as his defying the United States, or his policies to guarantee free health and education services for all – may be supported by future Cuban politicians, even if they are likely to distance themselves from Castro's totalitarian ways." 

Fidel’s death also silences his voice of skepticism toward the US-Cuba normalization, delivered in columns that reminded Cubans of the history of US aggressions toward Cuba’s sovereignty. But many in the opposition doubt that this will quicken the pace of economic reforms. 

“Hopefully something will move in the power structure, and there will be voices that dare to tell [Raul] that the father of the dictatorship is dead, there’s another administration in the United States,” said José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest opposition organization, in an interview with El Nuevo Herald. “But probably they’ll end up in prison."

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