South Florida Cubans React To Death of Fidel Castro

Across South Florida, the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro is being met with a sense of celebration from members of the exile community.

The leaders of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance held a news conference Sunday at the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association Brigade to discuss Castro's death. The Ladies in White and activist Sylvia Iriondo spoke passionately about continuing the fight to bring democracy to Cuba. A march and rally will be held Wednesday at the Bay of Pigs Memorial in Little Havana.

Castro, who spent nearly five decades ruling the country after launching a military takeover in 1959, died Friday night at the age of 90. His death was announced on Cuban television by his brother, Raul, who took over as leader of the nation in 2008 when Fidel Castro stepped down.

Hundreds of Cuban Americans crowded to the roads in Hialeah and Little Havana to celebrate the demise of the father of communist Cuba.

People waved Cuba's flag and banged on pots and pans along Bird Road and southwest 87th street.

The front page of Sunday's Miami Herald is a special edition with a simple headline, DEAD, and a photo of Castro.

For more than five decades, thousands of Cubans have been escaping the communist island to gain freedom in the United States and elsewhere.

Many South Florida Cubans told NBC 6 Fidel's death is symbolic and may pave the way for true change in Cuba.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who had vocally opposed the Castro regime, said the crowds were not celebrating death, instead they were celebrating "an opportunity to begin a new chapter of freedom".

Other South Florida members of Congress, including Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart as well as Debbie Wasserman Schultz, echoed those thoughts in calling for a change to the island to ensure freedom for those still living on the island.

The mayors of City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, who are both Cuban American, also reacted to the death of Castro. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, described his death as a "victory", while Miami-Dade Carlos Gimenez said the announcement was "something that we've been waiting for".

Florida Senator Marco Rubio released a statement saying that "the dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not. And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro; it will remember him as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people."

Florida's other U.S. Senator, Bill Nelson, said that the U.S. should "continue to take steps to support the Cuban people" until Raul Castro provides basic rights. Governor Rick Scott said today's news should "usher in an era of freedom, peace and human dignity".

Other politicians have also chimed in - including Texas Senator Ted Cruz. His father came to America from Cuba in the 1960s:

Alan Gross, an American citizen who spent five years in a Cuban prision following his arrest on charges of being a spy, also reacted to Castro's death:

In the religious community, Pope Francis called the death "sad news" while Archbishop Thomas Wenski called for peace for both Cuba and its people.

Fidel Castro's death comes on the 17th anniversary of when Elian Gonzalez was rescued off the Florida coast.

In 1999, the Cuban boy landed in Miami after his mother and her boyfriend drowned during their journey from Havana.

Elian, who was five years old at the time, became embroiled in an international custody battle and eventually returned to Cuba.

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