Watch CBS News

Country's Second-Largest Cuban Community In Union City, N.J. Reacts To Fidel Castro's Death

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - The death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro prompted a wide range of reactions Saturday, with some world leaders, celebrities and many of the country's exiles in Miami weighing in on his legacy.

Here in the Tri-State area, Union City, New Jersey is home to the second largest Cuban community in the country, sometimes referred to as "Havana on the Hudson."

Many Cuban-Americans cheered and waved flags when they heard the news, CBS2's Dave Carlin reported.

"I think most people aren't celebrating his death per se, but the end of something that was horrific for a very, very long time," Heather Hernandez said.

Some put their thoughts and prayers for the Cuban people in writing.

"I wrote 'from the Morgados.' That's my family, we are Cubans, my parents came here," Union City resident Leslie Morgado said. "We hope they can have just a sliver of the taste of freedom that we have here."

"Hopefully have some free elections and have the people's right to choose the leader that they really want," Felix Alfonso said.

"Some people are not happy -- the communists are not happy, but the people who love freedom are happy," a man named Rudy said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Mendez, of New Jersey, who was born to Cuban immigrants, stood with former Cuban political prisoners. He hopes Cuba can now be drastically changed.

"Release all political prisoners, hold free elections, have a free press, let the U.N. commissioners on human rights enter the country, and then you can have a relationship with the United States," he said.

West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque lived under Castro's tyranny as a child, CBS2's Christine Sloan reported.

"I remember asking a teacher for a pencil. I remember her saying, 'pray to Castro.' I said, 'why not pray to god?' She said 'Castro is god in this country,'" Roque recalled.

Castro ceded power to his brother, Raul, in 2008, and many in Union City said they worry profound change will take time.

For Antonia Martinez, that's reality that brings mixed emotions.

"I'm happy, I'm sad," she said.

The Cuban-Americans gathered there said they hope his death leads to the rebirth of Cuba as a country they feel safe visiting.

"I would love to walk in and say, 'I'm proud to be Cuban and this is my land,'" Martinez said.

As 1010 WINS' Roger Stern reported, Castro visited Union City in the 1950's to raise money for his budding revolution. Few at the time could have guessed that his efforts to overthrow a dictatorship would result in a dictatorship of his own. 

In a statement released Saturday morning, President Obama pledged to extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people.

"We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation," said Obama.

Florida senator Marco Rubio was critical of the president's statement, saying that no mention was made of the thousands of people that died and were jailed at the hands of the Castro regime.

Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the role that Castro played on the world stage for more than a half century, extending his condolences to the Cuban people as they mourn the former leader's passing.

"The United States reaffirms its support for deepening our engagement with the Cuban People now and in coming years," said Kerry.

President-elect Donald Trump also issued a statement Saturday.

"While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve," said Trump. 

Within half an hour of the Cuban government's announcement Saturday of the death of the 90-year-old revolutionary leader, cheers were heard in Miami's Little Havana. Thousands of people banged pots, waved Cuban flags and whooped in jubilation. "Cuba si! Castro no!" they chanted, while others screamed "Cuba libre!"

"This is a very meaningful day that the dictator is dead," said Maylen Diaz, whose father was a political prisoner. "I saw the suffering as a small child. Now, I'm here, I'm really thankful to be here, this is my country. I'm hopeful, I'm very hopeful for Cuba."


"He is loved around the world because he is standing up to the American powers, but the people that lived in there know the true story," said Jose Suau.

"Feels weird," said Gabriel Morales, a 40-year-old financial executive in Miami, whose parents left Cuba after Castro came to power.

"Been waiting to hear this news all my life. Seems unreal," Morales said in a text message to an AP reporter.

MORE: Funeral Plans Set For Fidel Castro

Some celebrities of Cuban descent offered their thoughts on social media as well.

In a post on Instagram, singer Gloria Estefan wrote that she believes that the Cuban exile community is now filled with a renewed sense of hope.


Former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco posted on Twitter that Castro was the reason he came to the United States.

Castro was mourned by some present and former national leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a telegram to Raul Castro: "Free and independent Cuba, which he (Fidel Castro) and his allies built, became an influential member of the international community and became an inspiring example for many countries and nations. Fidel Castro was a sincere and reliable friend of Russia."

Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the president of El Salvador, said he felt "deep sorrow ... of my friend and eternal companion, Commander Fidel Castro Ruz."

Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that "Fidel Castro was a friend of Mexico, promoting bilateral relations based on respect, dialogue and solidarity."

"India mourns the loss of a great friend," Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi said on Twitter.

The country's president, Pranab Mukherjee tweeted: "Heartfelt condolences on sad demise of Cuba's revolutionary leader, former president & friend of India, Fidel Castro."

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Castro "made immortal historical contributions to the development of socialism around the world."

"With his death, the Chinese people have lost a close comrade and a sincere friend. His glorious image and great achievements will be recorded in history forever," Xi said in a telegram to Raul Castro, state broadcaster CCTV said.

In a telegram to Raul Castro, Pope Francis offered "my sense of grief to your excellency and family."

In a sign of his personal esteem, Francis signed the telegram, breaking from the Vatican's usual practice of have the secretary of state send such messages. Francis met Castro during the papal visit to Cuba in September 2015.

Peter Hain, a former member of the British Cabinet and anti-apartheid campaigner, tempered praise for Castro with criticism of some aspects of his long rule.

"Although responsible for indefensible human rights and free-speech abuses, Castro created a society of unparalleled access to free health, education and equal opportunity despite an economically throttling USA siege," Hain said. "His troops inflicted the first defeat on South Africa's troops in Angola in 1988, a vital turning point in the struggle against apartheid."

A statement from the Spanish government hailed Castro as "a figure of enormous historical importance."

"As a son of Spaniards, former president Castro always maintained close relations with Spain and showed great affection for his family and cultural ties. For this reason Spain especially shares the grief of Cuba's government and authorities," the government statement said.

There were shouts and insults in Madrid as a small crowd composed of both pro- and anti-Castro supporters met in front of the Cuban embassy.

"Fidel Castro in the 20th century did everything possible to destroy the colonial system, to establish cooperative relations," former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.

"Fidel survived and strengthened the country during the most severe U.S. blockade, while there was enormous pressure on him, and still led his country out of the blockade on the road of independent development."

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recalled Castro's departure from Mexico on the yacht Granma with his brother Raul and several dozen supporters to start their revolution.

"Sixty years after the Granma sailed from Mexico, Fidel sails toward the immortality of all those who fight their whole lives," Maduro tweeted. "Onward to victory, always!"

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said he and his wife Rosalynn "remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country." The couple visited Cuba in 2002, long after Carter left office.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Twitter that Castro was "the leader who taught us to fight for the sovereignty of the state and the dignity of the peoples of the world."

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tweeted: "Goodbye, commandante. Until the peoples' eternal victory."

Ed Royce, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said "no one should rule anywhere near as long as Fidel Castro did."

"His legacy is one of repression at home, and support for terrorism abroad. Sadly, Raul Castro is no better for Cubans who yearn for freedom," Royce said.

Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group described Castro as a great leader. Ammar al-Moussawi, who is in charge of the group's international relations, lauded Castro as "a historic symbol whose life was a lighthouse to all revolutionaries around the world."

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.