Cubans in Florida Have Waited to See Castros Go, but No One Is Celebrating


They know that not having a Castro atop the Cuban government is a significant occasion. But, with Mr. Castro still heading the island’s all-powerful Communist Party, they fear that the ascension of Mr. Díaz-Canel will merely result in more of the same.

“It’s a moment in history,” said Tomás Regalado, 70, a former Miami mayor who hosts a daily Spanish-language radio show. “But it’s not a historical change.”

Journalists from Argentina, Colombia and Argentina have called to interview him on the handoff of power, he said. “And I’ve answered: ‘What handoff?’”

For years, exiles clung to hopes that they might someday be able to return to Cuba. Once Fidel is gone, they thought. But the elder Mr. Castro relinquished power to his younger brother 12 years ago. When he died in 2016, Miami erupted in joyous street celebrations. By then, however, it had long become clear that the revolution would continue to outlive both its leader and its fiercest critics.

“I’m 80 years old, and this has hit me pretty hard,” said Esteban Bovo Caras, a Bay of Pigs veteran who said he was too depressed to attend Tuesday’s ceremony and reunite with his friends. “It’s sad. I thought there would be a revolution against the Castros. But nothing has happened. They’re so entrenched. And Cubans are going to have to keep suffering.”

“I don’t think the fight has been lost, because there will always be someone who will do something,” he added. “But I feel sad, upset, to see how the situation continues, and there’s no way out, and the free world turns its back on it. They could not care less.”

Photo

President Raúl Castro of Cuba, left, with Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who is expected to succeed him as president.

Credit
Ismael Francisco/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While his children also worry about Cuba, he said, they have built their lives here. “It’s a generational shift,” he said. “My grandchildren are more into baseball, soccer and all the nonsense in this country. The battle horses are hanging up their sabers.”

Andy Gomez, the former interim director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, blamed “Cuba fatigue” for the relative apathy among Cubans in the United States surrounding Mr. Díaz-Canel’s ascension. When Fidel Castro died, he was inundated with media inquiries for days. This time around, he has fielded maybe 15 calls, and no one asks if a major change is underway.

“The Cuban community has moved from a politics of passion to a politics of realism,” Dr. Gomez said. “How many of us are going to go back?”

Jorge L. Piedra, president of the Cuban American Bar Association, which helps independent lawyers on the island, said Mr. Díaz-Canel’s ascension had been met with “a sense of helplessness” by many Cuban-Americans who otherwise care deeply about Cuba policy.

“I don’t know whether it’s the state of politics and everything that’s going on at home and in Washington that has kind of distracted everyone, but I certainly don’t feel that it’s getting the attention that I would have expected for such a major event,” Mr. Piedra, 48, said.

Patrick Hidalgo, 39, an entrepreneur who was director of the White House Business Council under President Barack Obama, suggested that some Cuban-Americans born in the United States are more concerned with what’s happening here than with Cuba’s future under a new president who is unlikely to veer from Raúl Castro’s hard line.

“The problems in the U.S. are so significant that that’s what we’re more focused on. It affects our daily lives — health care, education, lack of jobs, lack of rising wages, authoritarian tendencies under our own leadership,” he said.

At the Bay of Pigs ceremony, Victoria Armengol Gempton, 34, helped her two children, Emma, 6, and Charles, 3, lay flowers on the monument to the fallen. Four generations of her family — starting with Ms. Gempton’s grandmother, Myrna Millán, whose husband, Pepe, died in the invasion — continued the tradition of attending, as they did when Ms. Gempton was a child.

“I want my kids to know what it’s like to fight for freedom,” she said.

Brigade 2506 veterans greeted friends they had not seen in months or years, sometimes commenting on each other’s appearance and health. The priest who used to lead their Mass has developed Alzheimer’s and cannot deliver it anymore, said Felix Rodriguez, 77, cane in hand as he sat in a plastic white chair to protect his frail back.

Mr. Rodriguez dismissed questions about the importance of Mr. Castro’s succession, calling Mr. Díaz-Canel’s selection political window-dressing.

“We know that absolutely nothing is going to change. It’s going to be exactly the same,” said Mr. Rodriguez, a former C.I.A. agent who helped capture the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967.

“The Communist Party controls Cuba. Raúl Castro has put up a figurehead. The only time when there might possibly be a change is the day Raúl dies.”

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