Reaction to Castro's death is mixed, but will not be a transformative time for Cuba: expert

Mariam Matti
Fidel Castro, former president of Cuba, died on November 25, 2016. Photo from Getty Images.

Say Fidel Castro’s name to the Canadian-Cuban community and you will incite a mixed reaction to the news of his death.

For Luis Mario Ochoa, relief is what he felt when he heard of the 90-year-old politician’s death.

Ochoa is a 53-year-old Toronto-based musician born in Cuba. He sought political asylum in 1990 and moved to Canada after doing so.

“I am not happy because no one should rejoice in anyone’s death, but Castro is a symbol of repression,” Ochoa said Monday.

“So many people died because of his political views. Nothing is going to change in Cuba, for now, because the dynasty is still in power,” he said.

That is one thing that many do agree on — that Castro’s death does not symbolize a transformative period in Cuba because the passage of power to a younger generation has been in the works for the past decade, according to Dalhousie professor Isaac Saney.

Saney has visited Castro’s Cuba over 40 times and describes him as, “an extremely powerful, insightful and intellectual man.”

Students place candles around an image of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, at the university where Castro studied law as a young man, during a vigil in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Photo from AP/Ramon Espinosa.

“He’s a humanitarian who imagined the world free of exploitation and oppression. He wanted access to education and health care for Cubans,” Saney told Yahoo Canada News on Monday.

The author and professor was in shock when he heard the news of the former leader’s death.

“Fidel played an important historical part on the world stage contrary to the reaction you see in Miami to his death. I have profound respect for the role that Fidel played in Cuban independence in the face of one of the most powerful countries. It’s not a small feat,” he said.

There are some in Toronto that echo that feeling.

Julio Fonseca is a professor at York University who grew up in Cuba, but left in 1994 to come to Canada. He is also the president of the Association of Cuban Residents in Toronto.

“I am very sorry for the physical loss of Fidel Castro. However, I am also, like millions of Cubans and people around the world, confident that his legacy will live on, not only in Cuba or Latin America but for humanity in general,” Fonseca said.

“His legacy can be summarized by saying that Fidel turned into reality the dream that a better world is not only possible but certain, and also that a small country, assisted by the truth and history, can stand up to the giant and succeed,” he wrote in an email.

Alexis Mora Blanco, who lives in Calgary with his wife Cristina, is neutral about Castro.

That might be because he grew up in a household of mixed political views. Blanco’s dad is a communist and his mother isn’t.

“I feel bad about Castro’s death,” the professional dancer admits. “I grew up in Havana so I had free education, access to good health care and doctors. There was culture, dance and sports.”

“There are good parts about living in Cuba under a communist government because all the social programs produce amazing athletes and dancers,” he said.

He left Cuba after 35 years in 2006 and came to Calgary because he could not bare the economic downturn of the country. Blanco studied chemistry and worked in a lab but the salary was barely enough, prompting a career change based on the booming tourism industry. In Calgary, he and his wife, Cristina, run a Cuban dance company.

Blanco says there’s still limited Internet access in his home country.

He found out about the news of the late Cuban leader’s death before his parents did.

“My mom found out Fidel died because I called her,” he said.

One thing that Blanco is sure of?

“What Fidel did was make sure that Cuba was independent.”