At a Cuban restaurant, Fidel Castro’s polarizing legacy on display

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Miami Cubans herald the death of Fidel Castro at La Carreta in Westchester. Photo Source: Ben Wolford. November 25, 2016.

He killed thousands of people.

He liberated thousands of people.

He was a voice of oppression.

He was a voice of justice.

He kept Cuba poor.

The United States kept Cuba poor.

His death is a victory.

His death is a tragedy.

I happened to be in Miami the day Fidel Castro died, and I went to the La Carreta on Bird Road and Southwest 87th Street to look at the crowd. The last time I saw Miamians so happy was when the Heat won the Finals. Now the man who killed or imprisoned their loved ones was dead. And that was cause for flag waving.

I can see both sides of public opinion about Castro, but his legacy will be deception and murder, not equality and justice. To take the extreme view on either side is not accurate. But in fairness, the view of these Cuban exiles is closest to the truth. Castro’s supporters may defend his repressive actions as justifiable and no worse than America’s deeds abroad. That doesn’t change what Castro was: a despot who chose ideology over liberty.

Still, the celebrations today in Miami seemed crass. The mayor told a local television station, “We are not celebrating the death of a human; we’re celebrating the death of a dictator.” But how can you separate the man from what he did? If there’s an afterlife, he’ll spend it answering for summary executions, persecution and lies. That was who he was. So yes, this celebration was for the death of a man. And at its root was revenge. Why else would someone write “Burn in hell Fidel :)” in soap on their rear window? Because they hope he’s suffering like they’ve suffered. Because they never got a chance to string him up on a public gallows.

I don’t blame them, but I couldn’t join them. After 15 minutes, I ordered a cafe con leche and left feeling emptier than when I came.

This article originally appeared in Latterly, a magazine reporting on social justice globally.

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