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Anti-Castro Miami Celebrates The Former Cuban Leader's Death

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Many Cuban-Americans in Miami got the news around midnight. Fidel Castro was dead.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

(CHEERING)

SIMON: There were celebrations throughout South Florida. People came out for spontaneous demonstrations that continued until dawn in Miami's Little Havana. The crowds forced police to close the street to vehicles. NPR's Greg Allen was at an early-morning celebration in Miami and joins us. Greg, thanks for being with us.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Sure, Scott.

SIMON: Describe the scene for us.

ALLEN: Well...

SIMON: People have been waiting for this for 50 years, arguably.

ALLEN: Oh, yes. And, you know, we had so many kind of false alarms in the past of Fidel's passing that we've had kind of fire drills on this kind of thing. People have come out to these same venues and and banged their pots and pans before and then learned that, in fact, he was not dead.

So there was a lot last night. I stopped at one in some southern Dade County outside a Cuban-American restaurant. And the people were saying, you know, is it real this time? And they had to convince themselves it's real. But they were very happy.

So we saw lots of young people out there - people who were born in this country - many of them who never knew life under Fidel. We saw men in ties and women in dresses. People had been out for a night in the town and came out to celebrate.

You heard the cars honking, people waving Cuban and American flags. And then you see these elderly people standing there with joy on their faces, banging pots and pans. So there was really a lot of emotion there last night. And it was affecting to me.

SIMON: It may sound to us in 2016 in the United States insensitive to cheer about the death of someone. But let's pause to note - for many Cuban-American families, their feeling about Fidel Castro is quite personal. And many have very personal stories of family members who they believe were jailed and even murdered by the regime.

ALLEN: That's exactly right, Scott. I mean, you know, it's one way to view Cuban-Americans and Castro and the relations between the two from outside of Miami. When you're here, and you meet people, and you hear the stories over and over again - how they were affected personally - you really realize that - why this is such an important moment for them. And so that's what I saw last night.

SIMON: About 20 percent of the Cuban population wound up living outside - has wound up over the past 50 years living outside of Cuba. A good chunk of that, obviously - in Miami and South Florida. It's brought about huge changes to Miami and South Florida, hasn't it? - in many ways, stepped up Florida's identity and profile and importance in the United States.

ALLEN: Right. Anyone who's visited Miami in their life has seen it here. And it's just - it's happened over the course of 50, 60 years here. And, you know, the waves of migration started in the early '60s. And they've continued.

Even now, we have unprecedented waves of migration because of the normalization that's happening. Many Cubans are coming, thinking that the laws are going to be changing. And so it continues today. I mean, an important one was the Pedro Pan program, which brought all these young people whose families sent them to Miami away from the Castro regime in the early '60s.

Many have gone on to become business leaders in Miami and America throughout the area - came here, left their families, got educations and have really helped build the city and been an important part of America. So it's really changed Miami here. The Cuban-American influence is very clear.

SIMON: Is there a feeling among people with whom you spoke last night or early this morning that this represents not just a passage in history but an opportunity to open a door right now?

ALLEN: I'm not so sure that a lot of people last night were willing to talk about that. It is clear this is a very important passing. But it's kind of symbolic. You know, Fidel has not been an important part of Cuban government for some time now. There's still a lot of enmity toward Raul. People want to see him gone before they really consider things.

But we know that many more Cuban-Americans are embracing these moves towards normalization. We've seen polls suggesting 70 percent support it. We'll have to see what Donald Trump does about that now.

SIMON: NPR's Greg Allen in Miami, thanks so much.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.