HAVANA - Hundreds of thousands of Cubans filled Havana’s Revolution Square Tuesday night to bid farewell to Fidel Castro, who died Friday. We can’t know how many of them will actually miss the communist leader. But some of the mourners are not who you’d expect.
Like Marianela Pérez. She's an independent Cuban entrepreneur who owns Pizzanella, a popular paladar, or private restaurant, in Havana’s Playa district. So popular that Pérez is adding a gourmet expansion into the building next door.
Pérez doesn’t have any exile relatives in Miami. But she travels there frequently to buy supplies and learn skills from restaurants like Stanzione Ottanta Sette in Coral Gables. Ask Pérez what drove her to become a successful business proprietor, and she’ll tell you:
"Every human being feels it eventually, and so did I," says Pérez. "I was working for the state cell phone company and making a pretty modest salary, but I knew I wanted to own my own business" when the government opened up the private sector in 2010.
It’s paid off. Pérez has turned a tiny pizza café into a smart and thriving Cuban-cum-Italian bistro whose revenues have grown 15 to 20 percent a year she started it in 2011. She shook President Obama’s hand during his visit here this year.
So why would a model capitalist like her mourn the passing of Fidel Castro, whose dictatorial communist rule railed against free enterprise?
“I’m one of many people who thank the Cuban Revolution for the education and other benefits that prepared me to run a business,” says Pérez. "I don't consider that a contradiction."
That may be hard for Americans – especially Cuban-Americans – to understand. But in his later years, polls showed about a third of Cubans still admired Castro.
And many of them were in Revolution Square Tuesday night.