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Cubans in Havana shocked by Miami celebrations of Castro’s death

MIAMI — For more than a decade, Maria Vazquez’s store had a special gift basket to celebrate Fidel Castro’s death.

For $24.99, it includes a bottle of cider with the label “only open after Fidel’s death,” and toilet paper bearing the Cuban leader image. She’s sold more than 250 since Castro’s death at 90 was announced Friday night.

“It’s a way to close the chapter,” said Vazquez, who moved from Cuba to Miami when she was 8. Fifteen years ago she opened her store selling Cuban goods like domino tables and pleated guayabera shirts.

Some Cuban-Americans have been celebrating Castro’s death with jubilation and vulgar humor, calling it a well-earned release after decades of exile and insults from the man they blame for ruining their homeland. In Cuba, the bawdy reaction to Castro’s death has shocked and offended even critics of the government, who are taken aback by the celebration of any death with dirty jokes.

“It really seems pretty sick to me,” said Ernesto Ortega, a 42-year-old souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I can’t understand one person celebrating the death of another.”


Dissatisfaction with the socialist government and economy is widespread in Cuba. Many do not share the worshipful attitude toward Castro that has dominated state-run airwaves and rallies in recent days. However, the personal enmity toward Castro so widespread in Miami is largely missing even in private conversations on the island.

Many in Cuba are dumbfounded by the scenes in Miami, which they call deeply alien to a bicoastal Cuban culture that generally emphasizes friendliness, politeness and respect.

“Fidel was a human being with virtues and defects, that explains why they’re crying here and raising glasses there,” said Diuber Perez, 33. “But it’s really ugly to go after someone who’s dead, regardless of who they are.”

The disparate reactions to Fidel’s death have at least momentarily widened the cultural gap between Cubans and their friends and relatives overseas, after years of growing closer thanks to increased communications and travel between the U.S. and Cuba.

As Cuba silently bid farewell to Castro’s ashes Wednesday, an ice cream shop in Miami’s Little Havana district was selling “go to Hell Fidel,” a mix of chocolate with red peppers.

Even some Cuban-Americans were put off by the jokes and vulgar celebration, particularly the more recently arrived who have maintained closer ties to the island than those who fled in the first years of Castro’s revolution.

“I don’t like it; it doesn’t interest me,” said Fernando Piedra, 41, who was a doctor in Cuba and moved to the U.S. six years ago. “I’m happy about what’s happened, that’s it.”

Pedro Llanio, a 71-year-old who came to Miami when he was 14, said the sale of celebratory items was “ridiculous,” but in the U.S. “everyone has the freedom to express themselves as they like.”

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