The Cuban people have long obsessed over a simple question: When will he finally die? Over holiday dinners, cups of coffee, political debates and religious discourse, we obsessed. Fidel Castro was not a president. He was not a leader. He is a tyrant; even in death his regime continues to crush the Cuban people. Our obsession with his death is simple; the Cuban spirit is strong and will not be broken. For every life this man took, every voice he silenced, there are more who will not forget. He outlived many he suppressed, but his death is symbolic for us. It is the simple statement that he will not outlive our spirit. The Cuban people will not rest until the injustice he wrought has been rectified. Two simple words endured with every sip of cafesito and with every sunrise in Miami: “Cuba Libre.”
I come from Miami, a city built by those who had everything taken from them but refused to be beaten, a people who, in the face of loss, chose to build. And if you care about human rights, freedom and basic human decency, do not forgive him. The Cuban people still live in his dictatorship, under a system perpetuated by his disciples.
No, his death has in no way freed the Cuban people. The road ahead is long and difficult. Cuba is not a far off exotic nation. It is one of our closest neighbors. Its dictatorship is not something that died in the 1960s; it is a dictatorship that continues to deny human rights and imprison the press. Nor did his dictatorship die with him on Nov. 25, 2016. In Miami, there are thousands of families who all have their own stories of pain and suffering at the hands of this tyrant. My family is no exception. My grandfather was on death row for 20 years because of his political opposition to Castro, and my family still lies scattered and separated. The 90-mile stretch between the United States and Cuba is forever stained by the blood of those hoping for a better future.
So when you say that you stand for human rights, but “love and respect” Castro, all that comes to mind is the pain of thousands: the pain of those who saw loved ones beaten to death in extrajudicial killings, the pain of those executed by firing squad and the pain of families separated. To overlook the atrocities committed in the name of a false revolutionary is to condone those very actions. If we as Americans claim to be driven by the higher ideals of democracy, rule of law, justice and equality, then we must publicly and emphatically name the sins of this tyrant. Do not fall for the false propaganda of a communist country that thrives on lies perpetuated to enhance its image. Cuba touts false literacy rates, lies about the quality of its health care and claims false defense of human rights. I ask you not to mince your words or follow the route of many world leaders like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, who praised Castro out of decorum for the dead. At the end of the day Benito Mussolini made the trains run on time, Ted Bundy loved women and Adolf Hitler was a proponent of the arts.
Instead, remember that political dissidents continue to rebel and face persecution on a small tropical island only 90 miles from our shores. Families continue to weep for the death of loved ones be it decades or weeks ago. The death of Castro has been a reminder of a long and painful history and, also, a revival of hope. Castro has not broken the Cuban people, but only empowered our spirit to defy injustice. Saybrook’s motto stands “Qui transtulit, sustinet” or “He who transplanted still remains.” The Cuban people know this to be true. When tossed from our lands, we built. While tyrants fought to destroy and oppress us, we grew.
So as we continue to rejoice at the death of a monster, we ask you to question why. If you stand for refugees, listen to our pain; if you care for human rights, listen to our history. If you care for justice, help fight for our future. To be Cuban is to exist in a paradox. It is to suck the marrow out of bone and to build for tomorrow, but to mourn the past. To be from Miami is to stand in a vibrant haven, a “paradise lost” to the casual observer but salvation for others. I have heard those who say “You should not speak ill of the dead” to which I respond: “I am, but speaking for those with no voice.”
Leonardo Sanchez-Noya is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact him at email@example.com .