Cuba woke to the news of Fidel Castro’s death with a mixture of shock, grief and uncertainty about the new era it might usher in.
With very few homes connected to the internet, most people found out by television or radio, though many were asleep when the announcement was made, reports The Guardian.
Castro died at 10:29pm on Friday, but it was not until more than an hour later that the Cuban public were informed in a midnight broadcast by the president, Raul Castro.
The news was not unexpected. In his final months, the elderly commandant had said goodbye in thinly veiled public statements. But for many – particularly those who had lived through the 1960s – it was still a shock.
In a southern suburb of the city, the Rodríguez family watched in a stunned silence that continued long after the broadcast had ended. “El Caballo is dead,” said Leo Rodríguez, finally, referring to Castro by his nickname of “The Horse”, as his voice cracked with emotion.
The airport worker is a devoted Fidelista who still drapes a revolutionary flag from his apartment window on national day. He met his wife Clarita at the Union of Young Communists. They credit the government for subsidised housing, free university education and free healthcare, which is of particular importance to their daughter who needs to see a doctor every two weeks for treatment of a chronic condition.
Given such benefits, they expect huge crowds to gather at the capital’s Plaza de la Revolución to show their respect. “The plaza will be overflowing,” Clarita predicted.
Their neighbour was also shocked. Like many in her generation, 36-year-old Mariana Valdés hates the restrictions imposed on free speech and Cuba and has long wished the “dictatorship” would collapse. But she was in tears when she heard the news. “Of course I’m crying,” she said. “We Cubans are Fidelista even if we are not Communist.”
Elsewhere in the city, residents expressed their sense of loss. “I’m speechless. Many Cubans are dismayed,” said Mercedes Copa, a 59-year-old housewife. “Fidel’s death opens a period of uncertainty. Perhaps today is the start of a new stage in Cuban history,” said Irma Guzman, a neighbour.
Outside Cuba, many expatriates were stunned. Cuban journalist Marita Pérez Diaz has long desired political change, but she was overwhelmed by the death of such a central figure in her political life.
“This is huge. It is the death of the symbol of an era. It will be devastating for my parents and my grandparents’ generation. But even the young – who know all the faults of Castro – also respected and admired him. He is one of the most important figures of the 20th century, one of the most influential people in history, whose thinking will be studied.”
Democracy activists were invigorated by news they have been waiting for decades.
The US-based activist Rosa María Paya said that the demise of the revolutionary leader was only the start of the changes that Cuba needs. “Today a symbol of terror dies, but not terror itself. That we still have to bury along with totalitarianism,” she tweeted. - IH