MIAMI - Hundreds of Cuban exiles in Miami rallied Wednesday for freedom and democracy on the communist island following the death of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
People gathered along the city's famed Calle Ocho street in Little Havana, parts of which were blocked off by police. People waved Cuban and American flags, carried signs denouncing Castro and listened to speeches and Cuban music. A podium on a stage included the words “All for a Free Cuba.”
A moment of silence was held for those who died trying to escape Cuba by crossing the treacherous Florida Straits and for those who were killed fighting Castro. Prayers were held for political prisoners.
“Let's be clear. We are congregated here to remember what we have been through. Cuba demands complete freedom now!” said Humberto Arguelles, head of an association of veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
The crowd responded in unison with the chant, “Now!”
Bay of Pigs veterans attend
The event was held at a memorial for the CIA-backed assault that attempted to topple Castro. Many veterans of that battle remain in Miami and were rally organizers.
Speaker Sylvia Iriondo, president of the Mothers and Women Against Repression, called for an end to what she called “unilateral concessions” made by the administration of President Obama in a recent thaw in relations with Cuba. Iriondo also said she hopes for support for their cause from President-elect Donald Trump and for greater support for resistance on the island.
People from very young children to the elderly in wheelchairs attended. The Miami area is home to the largest number of the estimated 2 million Cuban-Americans in the U.S., most of them exiles who long opposed Castro and the communist government.
Rally “a beautiful, beautiful thing”
Before dark, a plane circled over the area towing a banner that said, “Vive Cuba Libre,” which means “Long Live Free Cuba.”
Antonia Quintero, 90, sat on a small beach chair along the outside wall of a business near the speakers' stage. She came to the rally with her niece and was holding a “Viva Cuba” placard.
The rally is “a beautiful, beautiful thing. You can't ask for more,” she said. “I'm very happy that [Castro is] dead, but I'm also happy that I'm here in this country because of him. This type of thing can't happen in Cuba. In Cuba, you can't do anything.”
U.S. provides “a better life”
Inaldo Rodriguez, 25, said he came to the U.S. from Cuba with his parents by plane after obtaining a visa.
“I think it's important for the younger generation to continue what these people here started,” he said of the exiles.
He said his parents brought him to the U.S. “to give me a better life and so nobody imposes their ideology on me.”
Celebration after death
Shortly after Castro's death at age 90 became public early Saturday, thousands of Cuban-Americans took to the streets for spontaneous celebrations that lasted most of the weekend.
Despite all the demands for democracy and change, many Cuban exiles also say their homeland is unlikely to undergo a major transformation as long as Castro's brother, 85-year-old Raul Castro, and his allies remain in charge.
At the Miami rally, two men carried a banner that read: “Freedom for Cuba is Near if Raul Joins Fidel in Hell.”