Cuban-American families in Tampa reflect on Castro

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On the streets and in the diners of west Tampa, the news of Fidel Castro’s death spread quickly Saturday morning.

Many Cuban-American families told FOX 13 the timing was fortuitous: giving extended families gathered for the Thanksgiving holiday the chance to celebrate the news together.

“When we all got the news it was not only a time to celebrate family but also a time to celebrate the end of an era,” said  Elaine Sumner, the daughter of a Cuban refugee.

But for many, it’s news they’ve been waiting to hear for more than a half-century.

“When I came, we said ‘Ah! In a couple of months we’ll be back in Cuba!’” recalled Evelio Prieto, who as a child, left his parents behind to flee Cuba just weeks before the  Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Unbeknownst to Prieto and his family at the time, they’d never be able to return. Though he’s now celebrating with generations of family members, the long- anticipated news also brings back painful memories of a life shattered by Castro’s rise to power.

“From one day to the next everything my parents had worked so hard for was gone,” said Prieto. “You couldn’t go anywhere you wanted. You had to watch what you said. And you could be thrown in jail for next to nothing, or something that was fabricated. So that’s why today we are happy that he is gone.”

Tampa is home to the third largest Cuban population in the U.S. Descendants of Cuban refugees, like Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, whose grandparents and mom fled from Cuba just two years after Castro’s rise to power, have grown up with stories of escape, survival and the American dream. 

“Public executions, no freedom of speech, no right to bear arms: What our constitution protects, you can’t have that in Cuba,” said Maniscalco, who says Castro’s death is a symbolic end to an era. “The image of the illusion of the revolution, which was a lie, dies with Fidel Castro.”

Many celebrating, however, also acknowledge the death of Castro doesn’t mean the death of the dictatorship in Cuba.

“Change in Cuba now? Nothing’s gonna happen. His brother Raul is the one who has his handle on Cuba,” said Prieto.

And while others are more optimistic, considering the recent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, some Cuban-Americans aren’t quite ready to take a trip to Cuba anytime soon.

“I’d hate to go there now and do anything to support that regime that’s still there, even if it’s only hanging on by a thread,” said Tom Valdez.