Even in the middle of the night, the reaction to the death of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was swift from South Florida lawmakers and those with Cuban-American ties.
“The day that the people, both inside the island and out, have waited for has arrived: A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western Hemisphere,” Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Havana, said in a statement.
“The message is now very clear to those who think they will continue to misrule Cuba through oppression and fear,” she said. “Enough is enough. The Cuban people have been shortchanged for too long to continue down this reviled path.”
Ros-Lehtinen called the death of the communist leader an opportunity, but cautioned against continued easing of relations with Cuba until there are far more significant democratic reforms.
“Not until the gulags are closed, elections are held, political prisoners are freed and liberty is restored can the United States lawfully end its embargo against the communist regime in Havana,” she said. “The time to act is now.”
Sen. Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey who has been the most critical of President Barack Obama's shift, said Saturday morning that Castro’s death should be an opportunity to support change on the island.
“Instead of condoning the continuation of repressive actions of a repressive regime simply because some believe it’s been long enough, the United States and the international community must stand up and support the Cuban people as they seek ways to implement changes that bring the fundamental principles of democracy, reinstate the freedoms that inform society and unleash the creative and inventive power-of-people to build a better life for themselves and their families,” Menendez said in a statement. “Contrary to the romanticized idea being peddled by some, recent lopsided concessions in U.S. policy towards Cuba have not led to an iota of positive changes in the way the regime rules or the Cuban people live.”
“The passing of the dictator marks the end of a long, horrifying chapter in #Cuba’s history,” he wrote. “The #Cuban people need our solidarity.”
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of the Cuban-Americans serving in Congress in other parts of the country, focused his Saturday morning statementon victims of Castro's repression, saying, “Today we remember them and honor the brave souls who fought the lonely fight against the brutal Communist dictatorship he imposed on Cuba.”
Castro’s brother Raul Castro, the current president of Cuba, made the announcement on state television that the 90-year-old former leader died just before 10:30 p.m. local time, according to the Agence France-Presse and other media reports.
Rep. Gwen Graham said that growing up in Miami, she saw how Fidel Castro's control of the country “tore apart families and destroyed lives in both our countries.”
“He will forever be remembered as a failed tyrant who neglected human rights and brought more than 50 years of poverty to Cuba,” she said. ”Fidel and his followers are relics of the previous century, and I pray that with his passing, we double our nation’s resolve to see Cuba libre, a free nation and free people at last.”