- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2016

As thousands rallied on the streets of Miami early Saturday to celebrate Fidel Castro’s passing, Cuban-American politicos with roots under his regime offered sobering reflections of the dictator’s rule and what his death could mean for generations to come.

The longtime Cuban leader’s passing was first reported on state television late Friday evening by his brother, Raul Castro, and instantly spurred emotional responses from individuals who experienced firsthand the repercussions of his regime.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who became the first Cuban-American elected to Congress upon winning a House seat in 1989, called Castro’s death a chance to “write a new chapter in the history of Cuba.”

“The day that the people, both inside the island and out, have waited for has arrived: A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western hemisphere,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said in statement early Saturday.

“Those who still rule Cuba with an iron grip may attempt to delay the island’s liberation, but they cannot stop it. Castro’s successors cannot hide and must not be allowed to hide beneath cosmetic changes that will only lengthen the malaise of the Cuban nation. No regime, no matter who leads it, will have a shred of legitimacy if it has not been chosen by the people of Cuba in free and fair elections,” she continued, adding, “Not until the gulags are closed, elections are held, political prisoners are freed and liberty is restored can the United States lawfully end its embargo against the communist regime in Havana.”

Senator Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, called Castro “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.” Reacting to Castro’s death in a Facebook post early Saturday, Mr. Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, said the event “represents an historic opportunity for the United States.”

“Instead of condoning the continuation of repressive actions of a repressive regime simply because some believe it’s been long enough, the United States and the international community must stand up and support the Cuban people as they seek ways to implement changes that bring the fundamental principles of democracy, reinstate the freedoms that inform society and unleash the creative and inventive power-of-people to build a better life for themselves and their families,” Mr. Menendez added.

“Contrary to the romanticized idea being peddled by some, recent lopsided concessions in U.S. policy towards Cuba have not led to an iota of positive changes in the way the regime rules or the Cuban people live. We know that the Castro regime is still a brutal totalitarian dictatorship that continues to deprive the Cuban people of the basic human rights we so proudly proclaim to support around the world,” he added.

Mr. Menendez’s statement critical of the Obama administration’s efforts to thaw U.S.-Cuban relationships bares similarities with remarks made following Castro’s passing by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican whose father formed Cuba’s first anti-Castro organization prior to immigrating to the U.S. more than a half-century ago.

“Today, a tyrant is dead,” Mr. Diaz-Balart wrote on Facebook. “Although his totalitarian dictatorship deeply scarred a once prosperous nation, his death ushers in a renewed hope that the Cuban people finally will be free. Now we must work even harder toward achieving liberty, basic rights and free, multi-party elections for the Cuban people.”

“As an evil dictator finally faces his Creator, the malevolent Castro dictatorship continues,” he continued, “Shamefully, President Obama has spent the past eight years attempting to cede important leverage to the ailing Castro regime. Despite President Obama’s collaboration and betrayal of America’s longstanding mission to promote freedom, the American people continue their strong solidarity with the Cuban people in their struggle for free elections, human rights.”

Senator Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and former White House hopeful, said in a statement of his own that “Castro’s death cannot bring back his thousands of victims, nor can it bring comfort to their families.”

“Today we remember them and honor the brave souls who fought the lonely fight against the brutal Communist dictatorship he imposed on Cuba,” added the senator, whose father, Rafael Cruz, fled Cuba for the U.S. in the 1960s.

For his part, Mr. Cruz’s fellow senator and Republican presidential primary rival Marco Rubio appeared via telephone on Fox News Saturday morning, saying he hopes the Obama administration does not send a delegation to Castro’s funeral.

“While you may want to open up to Cuba, there’s no reason why we should be opening up to Fidel Castro’s legacy of anti-Americanism, of murder, of dictatorship, of imprisonment, of exile, which is what his legacy’s all about,” Mr. Rubio said.

“His passing closes a very painful chapter for Cubans on the island and Cuban-Americans throughout the world,” said Carlos Gimenez, the Cuban-American mayor of Miami-Dade County in Florida. “My hope is that a free and democratic Cuba with the same freedoms we treasure here in the United States will soon emerge. It is what the Cuban people deserve.”

Weighing in early Saturday following an eventful night of demonstrations across the city’s predominately Cuban neighborhood known as Little Havana, Mr. Gimenez asked residents of the Miami area wishing to celebrate the Cuban leader’s passing to do so peacefully. According to CNN, celebrations on the streets of Little Havana continued into the early morning Saturday as thousands rallied in reaction to Castro’s death.


Ken Shepherd contributed to this report.

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