August 1, 2006

Cuban exiles dance in Miami over Castro news

By Jim Loney

MIAMI (Reuters) - Beating on cooking pots and honking car
horns, hundreds of Cuban exiles streamed into the streets of
Miami's Little Havana to celebrate news that Cuban President
Fidel Castro had handed over power.

Calle Ocho, the main street of the Spanish-speaking
neighborhood in Miami that is the heart of Castro's exiled
opposition, was awash in Cuban flags and dancing people who had
waited years, and in some cases decades, for this moment.
Fireworks exploded in parts of Miami.

Castro's announcement on Monday night that he was handing
over power temporarily to his younger brother and designated
successor Raul Castro while he underwent surgery was greeted by
Cuban exiles in Miami as a signal of his imminent demise.

"I am elated but I am sad at the same time, because there
are so many of us who could not be here to see this," said Ana
Maria Lamar, referring to exiles who spent their lives fighting
Castro and the thousands of Cuban rafters believed to have
perished trying to flee the communist-ruled Caribbean island.

An estimated 650,000 people of Cuban descent make their
homes in Miami, the Florida city remade by Cubans who left the
island in waves following Castro's 1959 revolution.

Lamar, 62, said her late father fought at the Bay of Pigs
in the 1961 U.S.-backed attempt to unseat Castro.

"He is celebrating in heaven," she said, tears in her eyes.
She was wrapped in a red, white and blue Cuban flag and nearby
were six of her relatives, representing three generations of

Cars streamed along Calle Ocho, drivers honking horns as
passengers leaned out windows, waving flags. Young women in
bikini tops popped up through the sunroofs of parading SUVs and
couples danced on the beds of pickup trucks.

Police blocked off streets as a crowd of at least 500
people gathered outside the popular Little Havana eatery
Versailles, where President Bush had breakfast on Monday when
he denounced what he described as Castro's "tyrannical regime."

A group of bare-chested young men wearing life jackets and
carrying paddles trotted along the street, a reminder of
rafters trying to escape the island 90 miles south of the
Florida Keys. A dapper man in a white suit, white fedora and
red tie chanted: "Cuba, yes, Castro is dead."


U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who left Cuba as a child,
said in a statement she hoped the news signaled the end of
Castro's power.

"Fidel Castro has only brought ruin and misery to Cuba so
if he is incapacitated, even for a short period of time, it is
a marvelous moment for the millions of Cubans who live under
his iron fisted rule and oppressive state machinery." A
Republican, she represents a Miami district.

While the Miami celebration was noisy and joyful, many of
the revelers were skeptical, remembering dozens of previous
times when rumors of Castro's demise spread like wildfire
through the community.

"I think it's a joke. I hope it's true but I think it's a
joke," said Lazaro Lorenzo, 43, who waved a beach towel bearing
a map of the island and wore a T-shirt that said "Fidel Castro.
Dictator. Terrorist."

Lorenzo said he came to Miami in the 1980 Mariel boatlift,
when south Florida took in more than 100,000 people who fled
after Castro temporarily opened the port of Mariel and told
Cubans they could leave.

For some, the joy of contemplating the end of Castro's rule
was tempered by fears a transition of power could be chaotic.

"It's going to be dangerous. There's going to be
bloodshed," said Nelly Vazquez, 49, a Miami schoolteacher whose
parents brought her to the United States when she was 3 years
old. "That regime is evil. They murdered a lot of people."