RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The River City at one point was considered a destination for those fleeing to the United States from Cuba. Now, Cuban refugees in Richmond are reacting after the death of Fidel Castro.
“My reaction was relief,” Jorge Benitez said. “This gentleman had cast a long shadow. I pretty much didn’t have a childhood because of him.”
Jorge Benitez, now a professor at VCU, came to America from Cuba when he was just four-years-old, but he still remembers the impact of escaping Castro’s regime.
“What it meant was survival,” Benitez said. “I mean the most immediate effect was that we were still alive. My dad had been threatened by the regime for no other reason than being an American-educated chemist.”
Benitez said the celebrations, like those in South Florida are complicated because they’re not just simply a celebration of someone death.
“I think for them, these celebrations are a way of saying maybe there’s a future for the people back on the island,” Benitez said.
Manuel Mendez, also a Cuban refugee and now owner of Kuba Kuba, agrees,
“Fidel was a tyrant and he killed thousands of people but no one I think celebrates death,” Manuel Mendez said.
Mendez came to the United States with his mother and sister when he was five years old and said really it’s his parents’ generation that would feel the most impact.
“They’re the ones that lost everything,” Mendez said.
He added that Castro’s death is not a cure all.
“I think that the celebration will come when the policies of Cuba are different,” Mendez said.
Those policies include having elections and no longer having Fidel Castro’s family in charge.