Thousands from Miami’s Cuban-American community are showing up in Little Havana to demand a democratic future for Cuba now that Fidel Castro is dead.

Five blocks of Southwest Eighth Street have been shut down as people of all ages, families and veterans call for democracy in Cuba. Some at the rally brought signs with pictures of loved ones who, they said, were killed by the Castro regime. Others waved Cuban flags and danced.

“We’re not celebrating death, because we’re human,” said Odalys Fuentes who is attending the rally. “We celebrate that the symbol is gone. The symbol is gone, and that’s what Cuba needs.”

Leaders in the Cuban exile community organized the rally for liberty and democracy in Cuba, which began at 5 p.m. at the Bay of Pigs Memorial.

“It’s our time. It’s the moment to say we’re here, we support Cuban freedom,” said Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat from the Cuban Democratic Directorate. “We ask the world to back us up.”

Food vendors had already begun to line up in the streets and Miami police has shut down Southwest Eighth Street between 12th and 17th avenues.

“We ask anyone that is coming out here to please plan ahead,” said Miami police officer Kenia Fallat, “and make sure to use the major arteries such as Southwest Seventh Street and Southwest Ninth Street as ways to commute here.”

Speakers addressed the crowd from a stage.

“Today we gather to pray for all those who died fighting for the freedom of Cuba,” said one speaker, “for all those who drowned in the Straits of Florida, for all those who gave their lives so that their children can live free, for my grandparents who did not live to see this day, for all of our parents, all of our ancestors, that they may find peace.”

“It’s very important for me to be here to support my community and support what we believe in,” said one woman, “and we believe in freedom, democracy and Cuba, just like we have here, just like I’ve always had here, because I practically was born here, although I was not.”

When asked how she felt about Castro’s death, her mother, who moved to Miami from Cuba in the 1970s, said, “For Castro, nothing. I feel nothing.”

Rain fell on the rally but that didn’t stop Rafael Paz and his mother, Mercedes Paz, from attending.

“I am here in memory of my nine cousins that were executed and memory of my grandparents who suffered under Castro,” Rafael said.

“Very happy and very happy that my mother is alive to see all of this,” Mercedes said.

Richard Sixto said he is celebrating Castro’s death.

“We decided to make this because Castro died and he is in hell. We know is in hell because he murdered a lot of people,” Sixto said.

For Lucrecia Bolet, the rally was about calling for change.

“Right here I just feel like everyone is here for the same reason,” Bolet said, “We want changes in that freakin’ island once and for all.”

Perhaps the most emotional moment was when people saluted as the Star Spangled Banner played. And then the Cuban national anthem played.

“It’s fantastic. There is a sense of patriotism. A sense of Cubanism and there is one down and one to go,” Carlos Allen said.

The rally was peaceful, according to Miami police. Another rally may be planned over the weekend to coincide with Fidel Castro’s funeral.

 

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