NJ Cubans Skeptical About Post-Castro Future

(Photo via Reporte Hispano)

(Photo via Reporte Hispano)

In Union City, the largest hub for Cuban immigration in the United States after Miami, Cubans are not quite ready to celebrate the arrival of new times for their native country despite the passing of Fidel Castro, citing the absence of free elections and an independent press.

Municipal authorities swiftly raised the Cuban flag as the news of Cuba’s head honcho for over half a century was heard – a dictator to some, a revolutionary to others.

Mayor Brian P. Stack was clear and blunt about his repudiation of the dictatorship in the United States’ number one enemy in Latin America.

“Today marks an important day in history: the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro […] The commissioners and I hope that [this] is the beginning of the end of this oppressive communist regime and the birth of a democratic and free Cuba,” said Stack.

Commissioner [Lucio] Fernández, also from Union City, believes that the time still has not come to fully celebrate because there is no free press in Cuba and everyday Cubans are not able to express their political opinions on the ballot with autonomy and liberty.

“Cuba will not be free until human rights are observed, they hold real elections and the people have freedom of expression,” said Fernández, born in Caraballo, Havana.

For his part, U.S. Senator for New Jersey, Robert “Bob” Menéndez, who has always maintained a strong opposition to the regime led by the Castro brothers, said that the deceased leader does not leave a positive legacy for his people.

“Since he took power over half a century ago, Fidel Castro proved to be a brutal dictator who must always be remembered by his gross abuses of human rights, systemic exploitation of Cubans, unrelenting repression and stifling censorship upon his own people,” he said.

“Fidel’s oppressive legacy will haunt the Cuban regime and our hemisphere forever,” added the Democratic senator. “Under the Castros’ reign, Cubans have not had one single free election. Not one Cuban has been allowed to fully own his or her own company. Not one legitimate trade union has been allowed to be organized. Not one peaceful protest has occurred without being brutally squashed by the regime. This was Cuba’s reality when the Berlin Wall fell and it continues to be its reality in 2016.”

Democratic Rep. Albio Sires, who represents the 8th District of New Jersey, completed the unanimous group of elected officials of Cuban origin who will not pray for Castro’s soul and who hope for the return of democracy. “Fidel Castro defiled democracy, oppressed innocent people and imprisoned a nation with his totalitarian tactics. His passing needs to serve as a new dawn for the Cuban people who are yearning for freedom,” said Sires in a statement.

“The Cuban people deserve to live in a society where they have the freedom to access information, to organize, to worship and to speak what is on their mind without fear of being thrown into the gulags.”

It remains to be seen how the policies on Cuba will be applied by incoming president Donald Trump, who seems to be inclined to revising parts or the entirety of the process of renewal of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba initiated near the end of President Barack Obama’s tenure.

Israel Abreu, who spent 14 years in a Cuban prison and is the executive director of the Committee to Aid Human Rights Activists, said: “We are not happy about a person’s death but we are about a tyrant’s death, as, because of him, the people have been divided, thousands have been executed, others have died, there are millions of refugees.”

He is hopeful that, with Raúl Castro at the helm since 2008, some change will come to Cuba, which Abreu left in 1979. “I believe that there will be some kind of change, but not the way one would like,” he said, adding: “Raúl is not a leader. He ended up there, but he doesn’t like it. He is more pragmatic than Fidel.”

His friend Aurelio Candelario, on the other hand, who spent 18 years in prison and was also celebrating Castro’s death, is not as confident that the changes they are awaiting and which he has fought for from a distance will happen.

Upon Fidel’s death, Candelario’s first reaction was: “One less.”

“We are not here to celebrate anyone’s death but honoring the victims of that man, who killed so many people in Cuba,” he said.

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