Cuban-Americans in Miami reflect on Castro’s death

By ADRIAN SAINZ and CURT ANDERSON

Associated Press

MIAMI — Celebration turned to somber reflection and church services Sunday as Cuban-Americans in Miami largely stayed off the streets following a raucous daylong party in which thousands marked the death of Fidel Castro.

One Cuban exile car dealer, however, sought to turn the revolutionary socialist’s death into a quintessential capitalist deal by offering $15,000 discounts on some models.

And on the airwaves, top aides to President-elect Donald Trump promised a hard look at the recent thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba.

At St. Brendan Catholic Church in the Miami suburb of Westchester, a member of the chorus read a statement by Archbishop Thomas Wenski about Castro’s death before the service. There was no overt mention of Castro during the Sunday Mass. But during the reading of the Prayers of the Faithful, one of the two priests celebrating the Mass prayed for “an end to communism, especially in Cuba and Venezuela.”

“Lord, hear our prayers,” churchgoers responded.

Outside the church, Nelson Frau, a 32-year-old Cuban-American whose parents fled the island in 1962, said he wasn’t surprised that Castro was not mentioned. He said Wenski’s statement reflected the role of the Catholic Church in Miami as a mediator toward peace between the Cubans in Miami and those on the island.

“I think the church is trying to act as a mediator at this point, to try to move the Cuban people forward rather than backward, not only the exile community here, but also the Cuban people on the island,” said Frau, who works in customer service.

Frau said celebrations of Castro’s death on the streets of Miami were a “natural reaction.”

“Let’s not forget that this is an exile community that has suffered a lot, over 50 years,” Frau said. “He’s an image of pain to a lot of people. It’s a celebration not of his death, but a celebration of the end of this image of pain and suffering.”

The pot-banging, car horn-honking, flag-waving throngs were much thinner in Little Havana and other Cuban-American neighborhoods on Sunday. People quietly sipped their morning coffee outside the Versailles restaurant — which had put up signs in Spanish calling itself the “House of the Exiles” — where many of the demonstrations have been centered along Calle Ocho, or 8th Street.

Later Sunday afternoon, people gathered anew outside the restaurant, forcing police to close the street down again as a chanting group carried a large Cuban flag. One group of Cuban exiles held a news conference at the Bay of Pigs museum, which commemorates the failed CIA-backed invasion in 1961. They called for a large rally Wednesday afternoon in Little Havana.

Castro was still on the minds of many, however, including exile Arnaldo Bomnin of Bomnin Chevrolet. He was offering $15,000 off on Corvettes and several sports-utility vehicle models.

Bomnin said the idea for the discount sprang from a conversation with a marketing company about a press release discussing his Cuban heritage after Castro’s death. Bomnin said he studied medicine in Cuba, but left the island after finding out the government was planning to place him as a doctor with a military unit. He arrived in Miami in 1996, and worked at an avocado farm and selling seafood before moving on to real estate and car sales.

The offer is not intended as a gimmick to sell more calls and profit on Castro’s death, he said. Instead, it’s a way for him back to the community and reflect the hope that Miami’s Cubans now have for a democratic government on the island.

“I don’t celebrate the death of anybody, he said. “What we’re celebrating is that we’re one step closer to democracy in Cuba; we’re one step closer to freedom in Cuba, to a free society in Cuba.”

Cuba also was a main topic on all the Sunday news programs, particularly Trump’s plans for U.S. relations with the communist island and whether he will reverse the thaw pushed by President Barack Obama.

Trump’s former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, and incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, both said Trump wants to ensure Cuba is not benefiting from unilateral decisions that don’t benefit the American people or Cubans living on the island.

“We’re not going to have a unilateral deal coming from Cuba back to the United States without some changes in their government,” Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners — these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships, and that’s what President-elect Trump believes,” he said.

The two aides would not discuss details. And Conway said on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump is not flatly opposed to a changed relationship with Cuba.

“He is open to researching and, in fact, resetting relations with Cuba,” she said. “But his criticism of what has happened in the last couple of years is very simple: it’s that we got nothing in return.”

Back in Miami, the Rev. Martin Anorga, 89, was a pastor at a Presbyterian church in Cuba, starting when he was in his 20s. He fled Cuba, and later served as head pastor of the First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Miami for nearly three decades before retiring.

Anorga said he participated in anti-Castro groups in Miami for years. But in church services, he only would talk about the victims of Castro’s regime, not the man himself.

“During services, they won’t talk about politics,” Anorga said. “When I was a pastor, we would pray for the victims of Castro in Cuba. The people who were hurt by Castro will never recover. Families were separated, estranged. We would pray for them.”