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Local Cubans React

Cuban expats celebrated modestly in Miami yesterday, after hearing that Fidel Castro will officially step down as Cuba's President.

Boston's small Cuban community is pondering what the change in power might mean for them. WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness reports on local reaction.

TEXT OF STORY:

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: El Oriental de Cuba in Jamaica Plain serves up fried plantains and cafe con leche just like they do in La Habana.
That's why Leuva del Toro comes here everyday.

LEUVA DEL TORO: IN SPANISH
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: And many Cubans come here, I like to chat with them, and hear people speak Spanish.

TONESS: Even though he's inside, the 65 year-old is wearing a fur-lined cap that covers his ears. A cane rests against his leg. Del Toro says he spent 16 years in prison for planning to assassinate Fidel Castro. So it's no surprise that he's happy to hear Cuba's leader is officially stepping down.

DEL TORO: A lot of people say they want him to die. I want him to go on living and suffer the way he's made the people of Cuba suffer.

TONESS: Del Toro thinks Castro's younger brother Raul will be better, if he ends up in charge. Since Fidel Castro's been sick, Raul Castro has been president, and del Toro says has shown signs he might reform the economy so capitalism and communism coexist.

DEL TORO: Cuba needs economic change. When people have economic freedom, they can think.

TONESS: Down the street, at La Casa de los Regalos — or, The House of Gifts — campaign signs for Arizona Senator John McCain hang next to posters
calling for the release of political prisoners in Cuba.

Inside, shop-owner Aida Lopez can't stop talking about going back to Cuba now that Fidel Castro has stepped down.

TONESS: And why do you think Raul is going to be better?

AIDA LOPEZ: Because they can't hold no more the country. The country is destroyed. Everything is destroyed. No work. No transportation.

TONESS: Lopez has curly grey hair and is wearing a pastel floral blouse.
She left Havana 37 years ago, raised her kids here, and donates to the Republican party. But she's never applied for U.S. citizenship, hoping that one day she might go back to Cuba.

She believes Castro's official resignation is the first step to her return, although she thinks Fidel Castro was out of power long ago since no one has seen him in public.

LOPEZ: Every time he comes on TV, he's in the same clothes. The same clothes. It's a video. He's dead for a long time.

REPORTER: You think he's dead?

LOPEZ: Long time ago!

TONESS: Boston's Cuban community is relatively small. The 2000 census estimated a little over 2,000 Cubans here. Lopez has made her business selling gifts and party decorations to Puerto Ricans, but Cubans have come here for years to talk about Cuba.

Manuel Bolivar of Brookline is sitting in a rocking chair next to the shop counter. He left the island--and most of his family--when he was 18, right after the revolution. He's never been back.

MANUEL BOLIVAR: My son wanted to take me, and I said, "No, I don't want to go back."

TONESS: Why?

BOLIVAR: I'm afraid to go back.

TONESS: You're afraid to go back? Why?

BOLIVAR: They might keep me there.

TONESS: Bolivar says he might take his kids to visit if the country changes, but he won't stay there. For one thing, he gave up his Cuban citizenship a long time ago, which causes some die-hard Cubans to tease him.

BOLIVAR: I hate it when people ask you what side you on. I'm both. Nobody can take away where you are. I'm Spanish and Cuban. But I belong here, too. My kids are born here. They're going to have their kids here. I appreciate this country. But when they ask you what side you're on, I'm both. I feel for both.

TONESS: As Bolivar is talking, Aida Lopez cues up the Cuban national anthem, and they sing along.

The battle hymn was written during Cuba's fight for independence from Spain. The lyrics include one line that translates this way: To live in chains is the same as dying dishonorably.

In Jamaica Plain, Aida Lopez says those chains are finally coming off her island of Cuba.

For WBUR, I'm Bianca Vazquez Toness.

This program aired on February 20, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Bianca Vázquez Toness Twitter Reporter
Bianca Vázquez Toness was formerly a report for WBUR.

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