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Dancing, Music, Emotion Fill The Streets of Little Havana Days after Castro's Death

The crowd filled two city blocks near a memorial dedicated to soldiers who died in the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961.

They danced to a Celia Cruz cover of “I will survive” and chanted "libertad, libertad, libertad." 

For many in Miami's Cuban-American exile community, the pain of Fidel Castro's rule, and the joy of his death, are deeply personal. Less than a week after the reviled and revered Cuban revolutionary passed, Little Havana continued to celebrate life after Fidel with a rally on Calle Ocho. 

Janet Ray says her father was a secret casualty of the Bay of Pigs invasion, as a CIA pilot shot down and executed when he survived the crash. "Castro kept him in a morgue for over 18 years," she says.

Credit Rowan Moore Gerety / WLRN
Janet Ray holds a photo of her father, a CIA Pilot shot down during the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Ray was six years old when her father died. The official story was that he had drowned while flying a cargo plane. It would be decades before she found out what really happened.

"I came from Alabama when I was in college, and would walk up and down the streets of Calle Ocho, looking for my father, trying to find out the truth," she says.

She went out Wednesday to have that weight lifted. 

"And this is the first night that I have really come out, because I just couldn’t get the elephant off my chest." 

Like many others there whose relatives died fighting the Castro regime, Ray carried a sign showing her father’s photo. 

People waved Cuban and American flags alongside portraits of loved ones assassinated under the Castro Regime. Some danced in circles holding each other's hands on the police-barricaded street, lights illuminating their faces as they sang in elation.

For Vivian Betancourt, the jubilation has been misunderstood. "We're not celebrating his death because we're bad people," she says.

She carried a sign that explains: If you haven't live our pain, you cannot judge our happiness.

After 37 years in the U.S., Betancourt says she's still waiting for the day the Cuban government will allow her to return home.

Katie Lepri Cohen is WLRN's engagement editor. Her work involves distributing and amplifying WLRN's journalism on social media, managing WLRN's social accounts, writing and editing newsletters, and leading audience-listening efforts. Reach out via email at klcohen@wlrnnews.org.
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